On Sunday 13th December at 11pm, The Happy Return rang its bell for last orders for the last time. A victim of the recession, of changing student tastes, or the country-wide demise of the ‘local’: whatever the reason for its passing, it shall be missed by many. Since it opened in the 1960s, The Happy Return has played host to numerous sports and society socials, initiations, and student run events – from Karni’s Mr Cav to set ups like Demo and Dub in the Pub, The Happy was a mainstay of the Lenton student community. Named after the first of the Horatio Hornblower novels by C.S. Forester, the main bar with its entirely wooden furnishing was designed to look like the inside of the HMS Lydia – scene for the action of the books – and this design never really altered throughout its four decades in business despite the occasional refurbishments.
The Happy Return is owned by Punch Taverns, and its future is currently undecided. Although closing for the moment, it is not yet clear whether the pub will eventually pass into new ownership or the site be sold off altogether. Steve Cann, landlord for the last two years, could not offer further clarification but described his time at the helm of The Happy as “two years of a lot of fun – in fact, two years I can’t really remember!” He also pointed out that the misfortunes of The Happy Return were not unusual, and the closure of The Happy was simply reflective of the situation for many local pubs at the moment. We only have to look across the other side of the Derby Road divide to note the closure of The Peacock on Ilkeston Road just last year, and El Gordo’s one year prior to that.
The final night of trading was characterised by a decent crowd at the bar, the rejection of the smoking ban in protest at the closure, and plenty of reminiscing over times past. The loss of the famous Happy dinners was lamented particularly sorely. “Sometimes we used to go to Jackson’s and buy food to cook a house dinner, bring it home and then think – ‘nah, The Happy can do it better’ and end up here with a plate of Cajun chicken or a steak”, recalled one ardent fan of The Happy’s fayre. There were the inevitable questions, too – where are we going to do initiations? Hold raucous socials? Dress up as women? And, finally, most importantly, watch a man play the piano with his feet?
These are questions neither Impact, nor the staff at the Happy could answer. But despite the sad loss, The Happy Return will be remembered fondly by many in Lenton, both students and locals, for a long time to come.