Former Portsmouth gay bar Martha’s to become a Taco Bell

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A once-famous gay nightclub in Portsmouth has been given permission to turn into a Taco Bell. 

An application to change the use of the building in Commercial Road, which has fallen into a derelict state and not been used since it closed in 2011, was approved by Portsmouth City Council this month. 

Workers are renovating the former Martha's nightclub in Commercial Road, Portsmouth, which will be turned into a Taco Bell 'Picture: Kimberley Barber

Workers are renovating the former Martha's nightclub in Commercial Road, Portsmouth, which will be turned into a Taco Bell 'Picture: Kimberley Barber

Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said he was pleased to see plans to bring the building back into use. 

Read more: What is Taco Bell and what food will be on the menu?

He said: ‘It is good that we have another shop on the high street being taken over by a well known international brand, but like many people in Portsmouth, I kind of miss Martha’s.’ 

He said that there are hopes this will bring life into the heart of Portsmouth. 

He added: ‘In reality we all know that shopping is changing dramatically, not just in Portsmouth, or in Great Britain, but across the world. The rise in internet sales has put enormous pressure on all the shopping areas. I don’t see it ever returning to how it was in the 70s or 80s – the days of big department stores selling clothes and household goods on the high street are over. 

‘This has been replaced by the internet, so we need to encourage places that sell food, or coffee, or hair and beauty businesses, things that you cannot buy online – like Taco Bell.’ 

Taco Bell, a famous American brand which offers a Mexican-inspired menu, first opened in 1962 in Downey, California.

Today, the brand has more than 7,500 restaurants across the globe – 7,000 of which are in the US.

The company has started an ambitious plan to enter the UK market, and has opened more than 20 stores over the past two years. It has been reported that Caskade Caterers, which owns the franchise to Taco Bell, secured £29.4m of finance from HSBC to fund a new phase of expansion.

In the south, a store opened in Chichester in June 2017 and in Southampton in November 2016. A store opened in Brighton in January. 

It is not the first time Taco Bell has tried to make itself a UK name. It opened two stores in London in 1986, which both closed in the 1990s. 

In Portsmouth, T Bello Group Ltd, run by Hamid Ali, was granted a change of use of ground floor from public house (Class A4) to restaurant and takeaway (Class A3/A5), plus permission for external alterations to include installation of new shopfront, access ramp to side elevation and external extract flues to internal courtyard. The News has contacted Mr Ali, and Taco Bell, for comment.

Martha’s was open for 26 years and became famous within the gay community in the 90s.