Barry Hayes, says he has to try to start paying off a £71,000 backdated rent bill (Image: MEN MEDIA)

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A tiny English pub nicknamed “Europe’s smallest bar” where social distancing rules made it almost impossible to operate is to reopen as it faces mounting bills.

The Circus Tavern boss, Barry Hayes, says he has to try to start paying off a £71,000 backdated rent bill to landlords Star Pubs and Bars.

Barry had been intending to keep the central Manchester bar closed until the next stage of lockdown easing on 21 June when social distancing rules had been due to be scrapped indoors, reports the Manchester Evening News.

Now with that date pushed back until 19 July, he says he has no choice but to reopen.

Current rules mean the absolute maximum amount of customers Barry can take inside the pub's tiny two rooms is 18.

Barry said: "We’ve had to open because I’m having that much of a problem with the landlords they’re demanding full rent backdated to the start of the pandemic.

The pub has been nicknamed the " Europe's smallest bar" and has struggled to operate under social-distancing rules
(Image: MEN MEDIA)

"I had a Zoom meeting with one of the credit controllers, I lifted the computer up and said 'look at the size of the pub, look at the size of the rooms'.

"She’s said if we can pay £30,000 by the end of June they’ll give me three months rent-free and put in a payment plan to pay the rest off but that's still £40,000.

"I’ve got no choice but to open because I’m getting further and further behind with the rent.

"But the weekends are not anywhere near what it used to be like, and I understand that as we have an older clientele a lot still haven't got the confidence to come out.

"I feel like everything is against me. The stress of knowing I have £71,000 rent is not helping whatsoever.

"With the numbers I can feasibly get in here, I’ve only been taking about £150 a day – it’s not even worth opening, but I have to at least try and open otherwise I’ll go under.

"I’ve got to pay £71,000 before I can even start making any money… it starts to feel like am I flogging a dead horse here?"

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Barry has done the best he can to adapt to social distancing rules inside the tiny premises even getting perspex screens that he can pull in and out on a washing line, as and when required, to separate groups.

Barry said: "The police said that was ingenious when they came in to check what we were doing and saw it."

But there's still the core problem that he cannot serve the volume of customers required to make a profit. Pre-Covid he would expect to be serving around 45 people inside the pub.

"I think the Government have got to step in but I can’t see that’s going to happen.

Social distancing rules have made it near impossible for the Circus Tavern to operate
(Image: MEN MEDIA)

"Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had the grant from the government and that’s covered me for the last 15 months and has enabled me to do a refurbishment including a £12,000 rewire that was needed.

"But I feel like everything has gone against me. I lost my best pal to Covid, he said to me 'I don’t know anyone who’s been as unlucky than you', and then five days later he died."

Barry, who has run the pub for 11 years, decided to take out a Market Rent Only lease agreement with Star Pubs in February 2020. Such agreements allow pub managers to buy their own beer which, in theory, enables them to make more of a profit.

But that was without counting on a global pandemic closing the pub a month later.

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The agreement meant he saw his rent go up from £750 a week to £1281 a week.

"I signed a new MRO lease in February, which means I pay a higher rent, but in theory it would help as I can buy my beer a lot cheaper," he says.

"I signed the new lease in February but then the pandemic hit in March.

"I understand we're all in a bad situation but Christ almighty, meet me halfway."

A spokesperson for landlords Star Pubs and Bars said: “We have supported our pubs throughout the pandemic with substantial rent cuts totalling £62million.

"We understand the pressure that pubs are under and are doing our best to help them.

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"Those pubs that have chosen to operate their pubs on a Market Rent Only lease basis make up a tiny proportion of pubs in our estate.

“Our arrangement with them is that of a conventional commercial landlord as they have chosen to take a greater risk than leased and tenanted pubs who receive more support from us.

“We know through benchmarking that the support we have put in place for Market Rent Only leases goes above and beyond that of other commercial landlords.”

Barry remains determined to make the best of the situation, and says punters can expect the same huge welcome inside the pub.

He said: "It's a family-run pub and we look after people. That's why we have the slogan outside the front to say the smallest bar in Europe, the biggest welcome in the world.

"People have a good time when they come to us. I'm trying to make the best of a bad situation and I know there are people worse off than me.

"People have died, people owe millions of pounds. At least we're still here."

But Barry is also worried about the new government advice which is encouraging people not to travel as much in Manchester to try and combat the Delta Variant.

He said: "People aren't coming into town as much, you can see it. People are staying away because they're being told to for the next four weeks.

"Even when England were playing at the weekend we only had five people in."

He adds: "People have said why don't I do a GoFundMe page but I'm too proud for that – it feels like they've won then.

"Surely there's somewhere we can meet halfway with negotiations."