Just 175 years ago, William Nicholson, a highly regarded distiller and owner of gin bars in London and, above all a philanthropist, was a key figure in the formation of the Marylebone Cricket Club.

Over the years, in much the same way that the MCC grew and established a great reputation, so the bars that Nicholson ran also began to develop their own identity and high reputation. In 1873, the gin bars became high quality, prestigious public houses with their own distinctive and iconic identity.

Nick Mackaness, Brand Manager for Nicholson’s Pubs, explains, “William Nicholson was very particular about whatever he did and we have endeavoured to maintain that care for all that we are doing. We started to expand the size of our operations about 20 years ago and we now have a chain of 80 pubs across London and five other cities in England and Scotland, with 45 in London. Over the next few years, we will be looking to expand the number of pubs, with four new sites – Windsor, Chelmsford, Oxford and Central London – opening in 2011. All of our pubs are freehold and each is very distinctive in its own right. We are very careful how we renovate our pubs as we believe that much of their success stems from their unique atmosphere. When we acquire a new one, we make sure that we retain its historic character while at the same time ensuring that what we offer is of the highest quality.”

Until now, much of the emphasis has been on serving quality ales. Typically, the company offers to its landlords a selection of 20 prize winning real ales and at any time each pub will have eight hand-pulls on offer with up to five of them on rotation. According to Nick, “We have regular monthly meetings and so if a pub manager has a particular new beer that he wants to offer, these can be discussed at that meeting. In this way we can ensure that we continue to offer not only what we consider to be the best but also what a pub in a particular area might feel he needs to offer to meet the demands of his customers.”

Nicholson’s Pubs’ has also gained a good reputation for the quality of its food. Each pub will have a dedicated area, maybe on the first floor, at the back of the pub or even in the basement. Among its famous dishes are its Sausage and Mash, Lamb Shank Pie and its Beer Battered Fish and Chips but, now, in an attempt to widen its range of clientele, new dishes such as sea bass in lemon and basil sauce, Scottish salmon en croute and porterhouse steaks are among the offerings. Attention is also being given to improving the range of wines on offer. Again, Nick explains, “Typically all of our pubs are in high footfall areas and have become the meeting place for many professional people. We are now looking to maintain this but are also seeking to widen the appeal to draw in a more diverse audience so that they can enjoy a good drink, good food and a great ambience.”

Looking around the names of some of the hostelries, there is an interesting link with history in many of them, for example, the Coal Hole in the Strand (formerly the drinking hole of the staff at the nearby Savoy Hotel!), the Dog and Duck in London’s Soho, The Old Contemptible and The Shakespeare in Birmingham, in Edinburgh there are the Conan Doyle and Deacon Brodie’s and, back in London Horniman’s at Hayes Galleria on London Bridge. This is truly a case of small being beautiful!

For further information visit www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk.