One of Chester’s longest-serving licensees has received a prestigious award to mark his 21st anniversary running the city’s oldest pub, The Victoria* on Watergate Street, overlooking Chester Cross.
The award from the building’s owners – Star Pubs & Bars – recognises the contribution that Ellesmere Port born-and-bred Mark Farragher has made to the Grade I listed pub and the city over the last two decades. Not only has Mark revitalised The Victoria – which dates back to 1269 – but he has also revived two other historic venues in Chester with his business partners, Jason and John Davitt. In 2006 the trio took over and turned round the eighteenth-century Oddfellows Arms on Frodsham Street, and in 2018 they revamped and reopened The Commercial Hotel on Northgate Street after it was forced to close.
Mark, a trained chef, started out his career in hospitality, aged 16, washing and drying glasses at Aphrodite’s Palace on Lower Bridge Street in Chester before leaving to work in night clubs, bowling alleys and bars across the North West. Recalls Mark: “It was always my dream to have a pub in Chester one day – it’s a stunning city and very friendly. When The Victoria became available, I jumped at the chance to take it. It’s a privilege to be the licensee of such a beautiful pub with so much history, and the customers make it even more special. All ages mix here, and the staff are fantastic: it’s like one big happy family. I can’t ever imagine leaving. The Victoria has been part of the city for nearly eight hundred years, and I want to preserve it for future generations to enjoy.”
Determined that The Victoria should survive the pandemic, Mark invested in refitting the kitchen, adding screens to show everything from the tennis to the Jubilee and revamping the outside area, installing a stage. The improved outdoor space hosts regular festivals and parties for events, ranging from Chester Races to national celebrations like the Coronation. In addition, it provides a venue for Chester Gay Pride. Mark is now seeking licenses to enable the garden to hold regular events, such as film screenings, as well as weddings.
Whilst Mark has changed many things at The Victoria, its historic interior has been lovingly conserved. The old main beam (which is nearly 1,000 years old), wattle and daub walls and iron fretwork booths still have pride of place.
Adds Mark: “The last three years have been incredibly challenging for everyone. People are looking for positivity. Good pubs where people can come together and enjoy themselves are more important than ever for lifting morale.”
Comments Paul Alldis, Star Pubs & Bars’ area manager for The Victoria: “It’s an honour to present this award. Other trends have come and gone in Chester over the last 20 years, but The Victoria has stood the test of time. It’s better than ever and really adds to all Chester has to offer. It’s a tremendous tribute to the passion and commitment of Mark, Jason and John.”