Annie's Bar, scene of political plots, to close

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Indy Politics

The bar was a favourite haunt of Kenneth Clarke, the cigar-smoking, beer-loving Tory MP, when he was the Chancellor of the Exchequer in John Major's government. Barbara Windsor, the former Carry On and EastEnders star, was among the VIP visitors. Entrance to the bar was limited to journalists and MPs, who joked that it was the only place in the Palace of Westminster where they could escape their constituents, or their wives.

Government whips also used to make a point of dropping into the bar to find out what was being plotted in the dark recesses of the Commons by their own MPs.

The drinking den was woven into fictional works about the Palace of Westminster, and was a favourite meeting place for MPs and journalists in television political dramas such as House of Cards.

But MPs on the Commons Administration Committee found that it was under-used, takings had halved over the past 10 years to £9,000 a year and it was relying on a £20,000-a-year subsidy from the taxpayer. They have recommended it should be closed, and it is likely that the decision will be approved by most MPs.

"It now costs two and a half times as much to run as it takes in sales," said the committee. "It is clear that the time has come for the bar to be shut and the space used for another more useful purpose. As a meeting place for MPs and Press Lobby [journalists] it has become largely obsolete."

Annie's Bar was established in a corner of the members' lobby in the early part of the last century, and would have served statesmen such as Winston Churchill with a whisky stiffener before major debates. However, the House authorities took a dim view of drink being dispensed so close to the chamber, and moved the bar to a basement room alongside the famous terrace overlooking the Thames in the mid-1960s.

The bar was reopened in 1967 by the late Robert Maxwell, who was chairman of the Commons Catering Committee, before becoming the owner of the Daily Mirror. Betty Boothroyd, the former speaker of the Commons, was also at the opening and once demonstrated her skills as a high-kicking former Tiller Girl there.

However, it was moved in 1995 to a more obscure corner of the Commons and its custom collapsed. There was an attempt to revive its flagging fortunes by installing a pool table, which attracted newer MPs, including Shahid Malik, the Labour MP for Dewsbury, who won the MPs' pool tournament, although he is tee-total. In recent months, it has become popular with smokers driven out of the Strangers' Bar, since it became a smoking-free zone but that is not enough to keep it open.

Suggestions for using the space include a take-away coffee bar, a dry-cleaning service, or members' dressing rooms, but when it closes, some of the older MPs believe the Commons will never be quite the same again.