The history of The Coach & Horses, Soho
There’s something unique and special about The Coach & Horses…
The Coach & Horses, Soho, was originally opened in 1734 as a coaching inn by its first landlord Peter Rowlandson. The building the current pub resides in was re-built in 1847 and, more than 170 years later, remains untouched by modern trends.
Step inside the Grade II-listed building and you’ll notice the original wooden panels that adorn the walls, and even an old horse feeding trough below the bar.
But while the pub itself is historic, it’s the people that made The Coach & Horses famous.
Introducing London’s grumpiest landlord
On 3 February 1943, 16-year-old Norman Balon took the reins of the pub after his father was granted a licence, and thereby began The Coach & Horses’ legacy.
Norman wasn’t a typical London landlord. He didn’t allow music in his pub, he didn’t let anyone buy him a drink, and he had no qualms in telling customers to leave (using colourful language) if he didn’t like them – which happened often. He didn’t let the local gangsters intimidate him for protection money either – which took courage in a time where such activities were the norm.
Throughout the 70s and 80s, The Coach & Horses became a place of refuge from the rat-race in London. Welcoming to all – yet unwelcoming to those who tried to be something they weren’t, the pub celebrated all that is unique, eccentric and ‘real’ in Soho.
In the 20th-century the pub became the local haunt for journalists that worked for Private Eye magazine and The Spectator, who liked Norman’s no-nonsense approach – including columnist Jeffrey Barnard. They published several satire pieces and cartoons about Norman – earning him the title of the ‘grumpiest landlord in London’.
The pub hosted Private Eye‘s fortnightly lunches and it was the setting for the Keith Waterhouse play, Jeffrey Barnard is Unwell.
Famous Piano Sing-Along Nights
Piano sing-along nights were introduced in the pub in 1988, which became a Soho institution. The pub continues this tradition today, with sing-alongs taking place every Wednesday and Saturday night. Everyone is welcome. Visit our What's On page for more information.
Norman Balon retired in 2006, after a 63-year tenure, and Alastair Choat took on the pub’s lease in 2006. During his tenure, The Coach & Horses became Soho’s first vegan pub – serving only vegan-friendly pub meals. Soho’s Secret Tearoom was also introduced – a secret upstairs function room that sold tea and cakes.
In May 2019, The Coach & Horses was also recognised as London’s first nudist pub. The pub was granted a nudist licence allowing patrons and employees to be naked while in the pub for special nudist events. However, the pub only hosted a few nudist events before the clothing policy was restored.
The Future of The Coach & Horses
Fuller’s bought The Coach & Horses in 2009, and Alastair continued as the licensee of the pub until 24 June 2019, when the pub was transferred into Fuller’s managed estate.
The future of The Coach & Horses is bright. What makes the pub so special will be retained – from the wooden panelling on the walls to the sticky bar top – and the famous weekly piano sing-alongs, of course. The future of the pub will be guided by the local community and will outlive us all, remaining a treasured Soho entity.
We would like to thank, and celebrate, the pub’s previous publicans and tenants who have made the pub so special, and we look forward to continuing The Coach & Horses’ legacy in Soho for many years to come.
As Norman once said, “Yesterday is dead. Live for today and look forward to tomorrow.”