ONE of Chester's best-known landlords has called time on his 25-year association with a city boozer.
Frank Marnell took over the Watergate Inn, next to Chester Racecourse, in 1992 but he has now pulled his last pint there, having relocated with his wife Paula to a house in Deeside.
Frank, 63, has not decided what he will do next, though he has stayed on as chairman of the Chester Pubwatch organisation and Westminster Park FC.
Straight-talking Frank told the Leader he felt the time was right to leave as a combination of factors had left him with little choice but to call it a day.
The Liverpudlian said regular trade had dipped in recent years, with race days being the only lucrative occasions for him.
He was also unhappy with parking restrictions outside the pub, which he said would put off visitors and end up with him occasionally falling foul of traffic wardens.
“I got one parking ticket too many, and I decided to throw my hand in in Chester because of that. It was time we moved,” said Frank, who ran two clubs in the Dingle area of Liverpool before moving to Chester.
Chester Race Company bought the Watergate Inn from Enterprise Inns last year, with Frank staying on as the licensee.
But earlier this year, he struck a deal with the race company’s chief executive Richard Thomas which enabled him to move out in April.
The pub has been closed since, although it reopens on race days.
“I went into the racecourse and said I needed some more money to pay for that house, and that my agreement would be that I would leave the Watergate if they gave me what I wanted – and that’s what they did,” said Frank, who had lived above the pub ever since he moved there in 1992.
“Let’s be fair, I came here in 1992 and always knew the Watergate Inn would at some time be sold to the race company.
“I have had an agreement with Richard Thomas that he would have that offer. He stuck by his word, and I stuck by my word. Both parties are amicable over that.”
During Frank’s tenure, the Watergate Inn has hosted meetings by the Chester and Wrexham branch of Amnesty International UK, the Labour Party and the Unite trade union. It had a pensioners club on a Tuesday and a quiz night on a Wednesday.
After being bought out by the racecourse, Frank was given freedom to continue to run it as a traditional-style pub rather than turn it into a trendier bar which might have suited more race-goers.
Frank said he was happy with his relationship with his racecourse landlords but was fiercely critical of the so-called ‘pubcos’ – pub companies backed by venture capitalist companies – which he feels are bad for the industry.
“The pubcos are rubbish,” said Frank. “To me they are glorified estate agents.”
Looking back on his time in Chester, Frank added: “There are lots and lots of fond memories.
“We were dwindling in customers, but the ones we did have were very, very good ones.”
Frank’s departure led to speculation on social media the pub would be bulldozed at the end of the racing season.
But Chester Race Company’s head of marketing Stephanie Hughes was quick to scotch the rumours.
She said: “There are no immediate plans for it currently. We’ve invested in the aesthetics of the place to make it more presentable for race days and it is open for the season on race days.
“It’s a good meeting point.”
See full story in the Chester Leader