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Last orders to be called on Fife pub where darts ace Jocky Wilson honed skills

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Last orders have been called at a legendary Fife pub where two-time world darts champion Jocky Wilson perfected his trade.

The Alpha Bar in Kirkcaldy’s Hayfield Road has been a much-loved institution in the Lang Toun for decades, best known for hosting the darts pub team where Wilson honed his skills before becoming a professional in 1979.

With footfall falling significantly and the licensed trade facing unprecedented challenges, it seems the pub has closed its doors for the final time.

King Enterprises has applied to Fife Council for change of use consent to turn the pub into a retail unit, with staff to be redeployed to some of the company’s other establishments in the region.

The Alpha Bar in Kirkcaldy.

A spokesperson for D7 Architecture, on behalf of the applicants, said the cost of running and maintaining the pub – which has been owned by the same family for 26 years – had become “unsustainable”.

“The numbers of users visiting the bar have been declining over the years.

“Data monitored by the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) has shown that this is apparent throughout Scotland.

“My client carried out a refurbishment five years ago to help try and increase the numbers. Although this helped, the number gradually started to decline again.”

Noting the pub’s “remote” location, away from the town centre, the spokesperson added owners have been in talks with one of the world’s largest healthcare companies to occupy the building.

“The company works closely with the hospital and doctor’s surgery that is located west of the Alpha Bar.

“They see this as an opportunity as it is ideally located for the use that they require and is within walking distance from the hospital and doctor’s surgery and has more than adequate bus stops encouraging public transport.”

The Alpha Bar still had its core of regulars before closing due to the lockdown, and many will see plans to close as a pub for good as a sign of the times.

Jocky Wilson was an integral part of The Alpha Bar pub team.

A statement on the pub’s Facebook page confirmed the news.

“To say that we’ve been apart of the Smeaton community for over 50 years and have owned and run the bar for around 27 years, shows it’s not just a business as some might think but much much more,” it said.

The truth is that despite the smoking ban, the many many changes in licensing laws, the changes to driving regs etc more recently, it really has been a difficult and downhill road as only people in our trade could really explain.

“Sadly Corals next door closed their door due to gambling regs which was another disappointing assessment of the way things were going and to our detriment as it supported our trade.

“To ensure the long term economic viability of the Alpha we took the strategic decision about eight months ago to split the Alpha in half in order to reduce overheads (such as paying well over £1000 a month for the likes of sports) with often less and less people coming to the bar throughout this period especially throughout the week due to economic and other factors.

“Then came this dreaded virus which has sadly affected so many lives in different ways.

“While the off trade has benefitted the on trade has possibly had its final nail into the coffin.

“If only it was only going to be a few weeks as we may all have expected when this all started back in March, however the stark reality is that with social distancing likely to be implemented in July/August a small venue the size of the Alpha would be lucky to have in a dozen people and how can this ever be possible?”

Darts fans will also lose another piece of history as local hero Wilson – who won the world title in 1982 and 1989 – played for pub teams such as The Alpha Bar and the Lister Bar, the latter of which closed many years ago.

A young Jocky Wilson pictured with the successful Alpha Bar team.

With many pubs facing a struggle to survive, Fife Conservative Councillor Dominic Nolan has called for a fresh look at the grants available for pubs, restaurants and visitor attractions.

He explained: “Grants of £25,000 are available for businesses with a rateable value under £51,000.

“The problem is that licensed premises are assessed for rates in a different way. They are assessed not on their turnover like other businesses but on their theoretical potential turnover.

“This results in their rateable value being much higher than comparable premises and means that they don’t qualify for a grant.

“Without this support many pubs and restaurants and licensed visitor attractions will go out of business and as the lock-down eases they simply won’t be re-opening.”