The Caledonia pub in District VI is fighting an order to close for two months that owners Patrick McMenamin and Zsuzsanna Bozó fear could ruin their business. After an inspection by customs officials, the popular Scottish-themed pub was told it had flouted rules on the storage of alcoholic drinks. McMenamin and Bozó will have to shut up shop on 3 October if an appeal they lodged last week fails.
Broken by bottles
“We have been informed that we cannot have two bottles of the same spirit open behind the bar and that we cannot have alcohol in the kitchen area, even though we use red wine and whisky for cooking”, Bozó said in a statement. She and her business partner say they are bemused by the “heavy-handed” reaction of the authorities. However, this is not the pub’s first run-in with the powers that be.
In 2009, the Caledonian was at the forefront of a campaign against a draconian local council by-law forcing all bars in District VI to close by 10pm. The regulation was eventually overturned after opposition politicians, business organisations and the Budapest Chamber of Commerce joined the chorus of protest, citing the devastating effect the early closing time could have on the tourism trade. By then, several pubs including the Caledonian had been raided for defying the curfew.
Won’t comment on case
The National Tax and Customs Office (NAV) declined to comment on the present case, nor did it respond to a question about how frequently and for what type of infraction such temporary closure orders are usually issued in Budapest. However, customs and excise spokesman Attila Suller told The Budapest Times that NAV is obliged to act whenever the rules are broken.
Rules over reason
“If a business breaches the specific rules… on the improper storage of alcoholic drinks on the premises… it must be closed for 30 days for the first infraction and 60 days for all further instances,” Suller said, citing the relevant legislation.
Besides servicing devotees of single malt, Belhaven Best and decent pub grub, the Caledonia has racked up an impressive track record of charity fund raising during its six years in business. But even in this it has fallen foul of officialdom, its owners say.
The business was fined HUF 10,000 in 2010 while taking part in a Red Mud Aid concert for victims of the devastating industrial waste spill at a aluminium plant.
“We offered to set up and run a bar at the event to help raise some extra funds,” McMenamin said. “My staff worked for nothing and all the sales proceeds went to charity. I simply didn’t realise you had to give at least five days notice of an outdoor event,” he said. “I only gave three.”
In these tough economic times, McMenamin is clearly worried about how his business – and suppliers – will cope with being deprived of two months’ revenue. “It seems that we are legally bound to keep paying our staff. But quite how I do that I have no idea,” he told this newspaper.
Friends in deed
However, regulars at the Caledonia are rallying round, McMenamin says. Some have already offered to pay up front for two months’ worth of food and drink, and a local bar has offered to employ the pub’s staff for a week.
“Whilst we have taken a real knock of confidence in our attempt to run a small business, we have been extremely encouraged by the support of our expat and Hungarian customers,” the publican said.
Other restaurateurs The Budapest Times spoke to did not wish to comment.