When you picture a typical community pub, London is probably not the first location that comes to mind.

Sure, the capital is awash with lively and successful venues, but so many of them are trendy, transient and designed to serve communities that are always changing.

The Sultan is different. It is situated on a tree-lined road in south-west London, where gleaming motors straight from the showroom are parked next to rusty bangers that look like they belong on the set of Life on Mars.

This is a mixed community and somehow Stephen and Helen Tribbel, the married management couple at the helm of the pub, have created a hub that can be used by all.

In fact, so adored is the traditional wet-led venue, with its big wooden tables, wallpaper from your gran's house and classic swirly carpets, that it was recently voted "Most Loved Pub" in Time Out's Love London Awards.

 

Something for everyone

So, what does it take to generate such love? Well, first, you have to keep things interesting. The pub, owned by Salisbury-based Hop Back Brewery, has a strong cask ale customer base.

This has been supplemented by a range of events introduced by the couple, from open mic nights and traditional board game sessions to film festivals through to its very popular fortnightly quiz.

 

 

Stephen explains: "It takes over the entire pub now and we have had to cap bookings. It's good fun and we do creative rounds such as modelling something with plasticine, making a paper aeroplane and seeing whose flies the furthest and acting out a scene from a movie."

Helen and Stephen enjoy coming up with ideas for events because they "love throwing parties", but they are also happy for customers to suggest ideas.

"It helps us out," Stephen says, "but it also makes people feel this is their pub. They have very strong views and we are open to people getting involved. They like feeling part of a community."

This is the second stage of pub love: a sense of belonging.

 

 

A two-way relationship with customers is evident throughout. The walls are decorated with paintings for sale by local artists, there's a community bookshop run on donations and upstairs is a function room that is used by a range of groups, which take part in activities as diverse as pilates, darts and ukulele playing.

Helen and Stephen are also proud that local Labour, Tory and Green Party groups use the room — not necessarily at the same time, but they will have a drink afterwards.

There is an upright piano in the bar lounge, which was gifted to the pub because the owner wanted it to be played. There are also two 1950s-style radios that were a present from another customer who recognised the devices were created around the same time the pub was rebuilt, after the original site was bombed in the war.

It all sounds very harmonious, but it hasn't been plain sailing at The Sultan. When the couple from the West Country came to run the pub, fresh from a stint teaching English in Colombia, it took a little while to convince the regulars of their intentions.

"It wasn't easy at first, but we persevered with our vision for the pub. Some people voted with their feet but we now have a broader customer base," Helen, who has spent most of her career in hospitality, adds.

Some of the changes customers did not immediately welcome were simple things such as serving hot drinks, playing music rather than the radio and introducing a basic toasties menu.

But they stuck at it and perhaps that, more than anything, is the secret to a true loving relationship.

 

 

 

Old and new

Helen says the biggest challenge has been sticking to traditional values while tweaking the offer to broaden the pub's appeal to a community that is changing. The pub still has regulars who come in most days for a few pints but it also has that new wave of "regulars" who will come back every few weeks for a new event or a big night out.

This can be seen in the way the pub markets itself with both a traditional printed newsletter and social media. Both have been effective ways of getting to know the community.

What do the couple, who appropriately enough first met while working at a pub, think is the key to a loving relationship between pub and public?

"It's getting to know people," Helen says. Stephen agrees: "Learning and remembering things about people, remembering names and listening, getting people involved and helping people out. It works both ways. Everybody is prepared to help each other out."

The Sultan looks like a love story with a long and happy future.