Updated: Dec 4, 2021
December 2nd is a very important date. That's right, it's Britney Spears' birthday. But there's more, it's also our Birthday! Our 30th Birthday!!! Back in late 1991 (When Britney was already a star on Disney's Mickey Mouse Club) we were born. The pub scene was very different in the 80s and early 90s. Real ale in Norwich was in the midst of a titanic comeback thanks to pubs like ,The White Lion, The Ten Bells, The Reindeer etc. Breweries such as; Woodfordes and Adnams also played a major part in the regional real ale revolution. So, the timing was perfect for Colin & Marjie to open a brand new traditional style real ale boozer.
The couple had eight solid years of running The White Lion under their belt. But, in the years that followed, and a few dodgy leasehold pubs later, they were in a rather precarious financial situation. I won't bore you with the details but Colin recalls thinking "If the Fat Cat isn't a success we're finished". The pressure was on.
Luckily (well a bit of luck and a lot of hard work) their gamble paid off. Many of Colin and Marjie's White Lion customers found their way to the new watering hole. Some of whom still drink here today which is, perhaps, the biggest testament to the reputation of the place. Joining them were people of all backgrounds from far and wide. Drawn to The Fat Cat for its huge range of cask conditioned ales from across the UK. As well as imported kegged beers such as Erdinger Weisbier & Timmermans Peche. (Something very few pubs in England were selling in the early to mid 90's - now we take it for granted that most pubs will have a decent range of products from Europe and USA.)
In 1998, just 7 years after opening (and a year before "Hit Me Baby One More Time" was a global hit), The Fat Cat was awarded CAMRA National Pub of the Year. Effectively the Palm D'or of the real ale world - only slightly less glamorous. (think beards and beer bellies instead of red carpets and Gucci dresses). Colin describes winning this accolade as his "Crowning glory". And although the pub went on to win several other major awards in the years that followed, he stated, "Winning CAMRA National Pub of the Year in 1998 would have to rank as my proudest moment in my long long long career in the industry."
I asked Colin about making it to 30 years and he had the following to say:
"With the amount of pubs closing (and opening/reopening) in Norwich to make 30 years seems even more special. Times have changed and customers' tastes have evolved. Kegged beers have made a massive resurgence in the form of unique and quirky Craft Ales. We've had the Gin Revolution. Cocktails are massively making a comeback. Ciders are now flavoured with any fruit you can think of. It’s very competitive now. When I started in The Fat Cat not many places did what we did. Now you can walk into nearly any half decent pub and still have a range of hundreds of drinks.”
"Obviously real ale will always be at the forefront of what we do here. To that effect we may actually become more and more unique. But I do realise that there needs to be more than just real ale on the menu."
"I'm very excited about the future. Let's hope we can manage another 30 years. I'll be 101."
When asked about the secret of the success of The Fat Cat Colin replied, "It's no secret. Serve a good range of well-kept products. Keep the pub clean and try to make sure you keep your customers happy. Whether they're 30 year long solid regulars or just pop in from time to time, the customers make a pub what it is."
With that in mind. Colin & Marjie would like to say a massive thank you to all the wonderful customers past & present. Special shout out to the many lovely punters that have sadly passed away - some of whom are framed on the wall. Also a mention to all the hundreds of members of staff that have worked here over the years. (Even the useless ones!) We love you all!
Colin and Marjie xx
p.s Happy 40th Birthday Britney.