Last ale house lets in the G&T crowd

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IN A quiet street five minutes' walk from the madding crowd of Sloane Square, a working-class revolution is under way

After 170 years, the Fox & Hounds - the last ale house in London - has finally capitulated and will sell spirits. They go on sale on Monday.

The perfect little pub, once one of 400 licensed to sell only beer and wine, dates from a time when wealthy Londoners did not like their workers imbibing liquor. The Georgian novelist turned magistrate Henry Fielding warned that lower-class vice was exacerbated by an "ocean of gin. If not put a stop to, it will infallibly destroy a great part of the inferior people," he wrote.

James Symington, the new landlord, said yesterday: "The drivers used to come in here after they dropped off their lords in Belgravia. They made sure the pub didn't have a spirits licence so the drivers wouldn't get too pissed."

The Fox & Hounds has proudly maintained that tradition and it has never proved much of a deterrent. Peter O'Toole and Richard Harris would dash down from the Royal Court Theatre to neck Guinness during intervals.

"I don't drink spirits so it is a matter of supreme indifference to me," said Albert Bourke, 67, echoing the view of most of the regulars.

"Fancy putting spirits in here," said Joyce Christmas, 76, a neatly dressed lady, perched upon a bar stool for her customary lunchtime bottle of beer.

The tiny Pimlico inn with its oak bar and wooden pews has changed little since Mrs Christmas first visited in 1949 - when it was run by the family of the comedian Dickie Henderson.

Later another family, Lionel Wells and his daughter Diane Harvey (names still uttered with reverence) preserved its unique tradition during their 30 years in charge.

But four weeks ago a revolution began. Young & Co, which bought the freehold from Mrs Harvey last year, brought in new licensees - a group of young men whose company, The Establishment Ltd, prides itself on "quality not quantity".

There are signs of change. Bruschetta has replaced Mrs Harvey's toasties and bottled water is on offer. Once it was the tap or nothing.

"This will be a boozer rather than a food pub. We aim to serve the perfect pint at all times," added Mr Symington.

The pub has appeared in all 25 editions of the Camra Good Beer Guide. But Mr Symington asked the locals whether he should sell spirits and he said 99 per cent supported him.

"It's not going to become all Martini and Malibu. Just a decent house whisky, two malts, a nice brandy and premium gin and vodka," he added.

But you would not fancy his chances of sneaking a juke box in there.