Dome boosts pub into pounds 1m bracket

WHEN PHILIP Marron paid nearly pounds 50,000 for The Pilot Inn, a working man's boozer amidst the remains of one of the biggest, ugliest, smelliest gas works in Europe, his friends said he was "several pints short of a round".

Fifteen years later, Mr Marron has just turned down an offer of pounds 1m for the pub, which, being the nearest hostelry to the Millennium Dome in Greenwich, south-east London, could command an even higher price before the year is out.

In a few months' time, after government-funded landscape gardeners have finished their work, it will be in the heart of rolling parkland and at the epicentre of a tourism frenzy.

The Pilot sits on the Greenwich peninsula and with the Dome expected to attract 12 million visitors next year, occupies arguably one of the most sought-after sites in the world.

"When I bought the pub it was in a terrible state and in a very sad-looking area," Mr Marron said. "I took a gamble and it seems to have paid off."

Mr Marron, 58, arrived in Britain from Co Monaghan in Ireland when he was 17. He worked as a barman and eventually became a licensee, concentrating as much on food as drink. "The days of the old drinking pub are over," he said.

Having owned and run the Valley pub near Charlton's football ground, he decided to buy The Pilot, just a mile away. He built up a lunchtime trade of business people and in the evening drivers from the nearby lorry park used to feast on bangers and mash. "Building up the trade has been a long hard business; success does not come in the post," he said.

Since 1984 he has trebled the size of the 200-year-old pub and is challenging a decision by Greenwich Council refusing him permission for another extension. From a decrepit drinking house, it has already taken on the air of a country tavern in preparation for the lush lawns that will soon be laid around it.

"When I bought it I thought something was going to happen in the area. They couldn't leave it as it was. And then the Dome came up," he said.

Greenwich had to battle with Birmingham to be the main host of the millennium celebrations. There was a long period of uncertainty before the government chose the site next to the Thames. "I was at the Ascot races when the news came. I cracked open a bottle of champagne, I can tell you. I didn't need to back any winners that day," Mr Marron said.

Mr Marron has decided to close The Pilot to the public on New Year's Eve. "We just couldn't cope with the crowds," he said. However, he is negotiating a lucrative contract with a big company to use the pub for a private party.

So will his employees receive pounds 1,000 for working that night as other pub staff in the area are said to be getting? "If I'm successful, they will be successful," he said. It seems his regular helpers will be on a percentage of the takings.

Mr Marron said: "I can remember when I bought The Pilot I had to go into Greenwich to get a licence. My stock taker told me that while I was there I should go to the hospital and ask for an appointment with a psychiatrist."

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