The Landlord of Edinburgh’s famous LGBTQ+ real ale pub, Alan Nicholls, has celebrated 20 years at the helm.
The Regent, with its comfortable sofas, quirky décor and relaxed ambience is one of Edinburgh’s most popular pubs, which has amassed a strong and loyal customer base over the years.
With an array of cask ales available and offering an open door to the LGBTQ+ community, the award-winning pub was a breath of fresh air compared to what the scene of Edinburgh was offering 20 years ago.
Once an Astronomy undergraduate, Alan had no idea that at 40-years-old he would be taking on what is now an iconic pub on the outskirts of the Scottish capital, which many people both locally and afar desire to enjoy a pint in.
Reminiscing of his journey from coffee shop manager to Publican, he said: “I came to Edinburgh to study Astronomy at University but quickly decided it wasn’t for me. A friend of mine ran a café in the city but gave it up, so I took it on and stayed there for several years. Whilst doing that I got involved in the dance/club scene when raves started up in the late 80’s and was running parties in the café before progressing to a venue.
“We hosted an LGBTQ+ club night which then continued for 13 years, its popularity exploded! And, although I loved being a DJ and club promoter, once I hit 40 it was time for me to explore another avenue.”
Finding himself behind the bar of The Regent was accidental fate for Alan, who walked past the building on his morning commute each day. Having seen that it was advertised as for sale for a number of weeks, he expressed his interest and on the 1st of May 2003, was handed the keys.
“It was all kind of accidental,” said Alan. “I hadn’t been looking around for pubs particularly, and didn’t have my eyes on this one, it was just a coincidence.”
Having spotted a gap in the market for an LGBTQ+ friendly bar that offered cask ales, Alan jumped at the opportunity to ensure that The Regent would be the go-to place to relax and enjoy one.
Now, a fundamental part of the LGBTQ+ scene, The Regent has transformed into a proper community pub that offers a safe and welcome space for all.
Looking back on the last two decades and from recessions and bank crashes to international wars and the Covid pandemic, there’s always been one thing in particular that kept Alan going.
“I’ve been really fortunate to have a fantastically dedicated and loyal team around me and I’ve never felt alone,” he said. “With the support from the team alongside my Operations Manager Chris and everyone at Punch, I’ve always felt like there was somebody holding my hand.
“I would have hated to be in this industry alone so even during the most challenging times, I’ve always had a shoulder to lean on. Business isn’t the same as when it first opened, things develop and they change but you have to be open to that. In this business you must be flexible, aware of what the trends are and how things are going.
“You couldn’t possibly please everybody and you can’t be all things to all people, but as long as you know that, I think anybody could be successful in this industry.”
Whilst there have been numerous stand-out moments for Alan in the last two decades, he says that he is most proud of being declared the Campaign for Real Ale’s (CAMRA) Edinburgh Pub of the Year 2008 – which was also a first for an LGBTQ+ venue in Scotland – and for becoming a Punch Publican of the Year Finalist in 2022.
Just like all traditional pubs, The Regent is one which offers a relaxing space where people go to for conversation and friendship. It is also host to several sporting groups; welcoming local LGBTQ+ badminton and running clubs, and rugby and football teams who use the pub for pre and post-match days.
As Alan’s anniversary fell in the midst of the Edinburgh Festival, he opted to keep his celebrations low-key, but inevitably enjoyed a pint, or two, of his favourite cask ale surrounded by his closest friends and loved-ones.