Alcohol has always been an excellent way to lower everyone’s inhibitions. Speaking from personal experience, it’s much harder to feel physically repulsed by your own naked body when you’re too pissed to see. Though this has long been a more than acceptable status quo for the majority of British people, a pub in London has now decided it’s high time that we all upped the ante and came to terms with our horrible appearances in the starkest way possible.
Norman’s Coach & Horses Pub on the corner of Greek Street has been a Soho institution since 1847. The business has already gained notoriety for its recent conversion into the area’s only vegan watering-hole and for previously being home to "London's rudest landlord". But the bare-faced cheek of their latest stunt looks set to have heads turning once again in one of the city’s liveliest neighbourhoods. Going against all commonly held stereotypes about British sensibility, Norman’s Coach & Horses has taken the dramatic step of rebranding itself as the capital’s first ever nudist-friendly bar.
In an interview with CNN, landlord Alistair Choat revealed that his unconventional approach to bartending was not totally without precedent. As he explained, much of his motivation came from a desire to honour the “great British tradition of stripping off". What began as a series of nude calendars, commissioned to raise money for local charitable projects, is now a fully fledged nude haven, officially sanctioned by local authorities and appreciated by local patrons. It is one of the ballsiest business proposals in the area’s recent history.
Understandably, jumping through all the necessary legal hoops has not been a straightforward task. Choat, who runs the pub alongside his daughter, Hollie, revealed that "you have to apply for a special notice" in order to get this type of operation off the ground. He also added that "you do have to have the right staff on, because obviously the team have to be comfortable with it". This will come as a relief to any body-conscious bartenders fearful of being shanghaied into nude service.
Choat also explained how both he and Hollie remain committed to maintaining "the bohemian atmosphere so beloved by writers, journalists, actors and artists," for which the Soho area remains famous. Though there has been no firm date set for the grand opening of the nudist evening, Choat added "we are going to be planning, in June, a nude night...so that all these people phoning up wanting to get naked and have a pint in the centre of Soho will be able to do so."
Anyone used to spending an evening sitting quietly in a corner with a pint could be forgiven for thinking that a roomful of naked people might make the experience a little awkward. Choat, however, disagrees. “To be honest with you, when you do these things, after 10, 15, 20 minutes no one notices anymore,” he told CNN, continuing, “it's a bit like you go to a pub where there's a band playing and you're not very interested in it, after a while it's just background music.”
It’s obvious from Choat’s attitude that the new initiative holds a special place in his heart. However, if you dig a little deeper, it also becomes clear that there’s more at stake than a celebration of the human form. The pub itself is actually leased from Fuller’s - a large brewing conglomerate who run hundreds of similar businesses across the country and who are increasingly eager to take over operations from Choat and his daughter. The new nudist evenings are part of a wider initiative designed to raise funds to rebuff the takeover, which has also included the staging of a play and the creation of a petition, which has currently accrued over 10,000 signatures.
Despite the attempts of Choat to remain independent of the larger company, Fuller’s insist that they are just as invested in maintaining the pub’s character as he is. In a statement provided to CNN, a spokesperson revealed, “We have been patiently waiting since we purchased it for our time to run the pub. It is an amazing and historic pub in Soho and, when the tenancy comes to the agreed end, it will become one of the gems in our Managed Pubs & Hotels business. We intend to preserve all that is great about this pub and protect her future for locals and tourists to Soho alike and we look forward to meeting with, and listening to, the local Soho community when we take the pub on in June."
However, for all their reassurances, Choat remains sceptical that Fuller’s really will be able to maintain what makes Norman’s Coach & Horses so special. As he told CNN, the pub remains "very much a traditional old boozer," but insists that, "that's what people love." Of the proposals to smarten up the place, Choat mused, "they're going to make it glorious in terms of their painting and decorating, but it's never been like that, ever. And that's why people come here."
Whether or not the new nudist plan is a final hurrah or the turning of the tide in Choat’s favour remains to be seen. Whatever the outcome, it’s obvious that he and Hollie are determined to make sure anyone who wants to party naked has a place to go. Far from feeling doubtful, Choat insists that "if everyone's naked it's going to be hilarious, it will be very funny." While the idea of strangers finding your naked body “hilarious” might not be everyone’s idea of an ideal night out, it certainly sounds like Soho evenings may be about to become much more memorable for everyone. Here’s hoping that they will remain so for a while yet.