When Mark Gourdie opened The Chancery in Lillie Road, Fulham, in February 2007, becoming a leaseholder for pub giants Punch Taverns, the future looked bright.
Drinkers were still coming in their droves and the word 'recession' hadn't been mentioned since the early 90s.
But, six months later, along came the biggest financial crisis in years, and the traditionally high rent and beer prices paid by leaseholders like Mark suddenly weren't as manageable.
What followed, though, was the stuff of publicans' nightmares. The smoking ban had seemed bad enough, but then in 2008 former chancellor Alistair Darling introduced the controversial duty escalator, and things got worse. Much worse.
In the last three years, taxes on beer have risen 26.1 per cent and, coupled with January's VAT rise, the average price of a pint has rocketed way beyond three pounds.
Mark says business has been dropping steadily in line with the rises and believes that if, as is expected, duty increases still further in this month's budget – this time by six per cent, two per cent above inflation – a tipping point will be reached.
"There comes a time when people will just say 'enough is enough'," he says. "We have been hammered over and over again by successive governments and the downturn in trade has been huge.
"People just can't afford to come out as much as they used to, and this will push a pint up to over £4. The government is making it harder and harder to survive, and when supermarkets are allowed to sell packs of 16 Stella for £14, it's just madness. That has to stop."
Mark says he has had to introduce other forms of entertainment to survive.
"You have to try and attract them in other ways, like with food and sports. We get a lot of people playing table tennis and pool and watching football but even a Sky subscription costs £1,600 per month.
"We still get busy but people aren't spending as much as they used to. The Great British pub is in danger of dying."
Further south, in Wandsworth Bridge Road, is The Hurlingham, run by Ben Hurley. More of a 'foodie' pub than The Chancery, the two venues have little in common apart from one thing - their subservience to a major pub firm.
Ben is at the behest of Greene King which he believes, as with the other major industry giants, could do more to help tenants.
He doesn't hold out much hope, though.
"They could lower rents, but they won't because they know someone else will come in an pay if you don't," he says. "And there is nothing we as leaseholders can do about it."
Ben had previously run 'boozers' boozers' but taking over three years ago, he quickly realised the only way to survive was to focus on the kitchen.
He has even arrived at the staggering conclusion that alcohol, especially beer and lager, could soon become a 'loss leader' for many.
"By making this a food venue, I was choosing the safe option but it was the only way to go. Alcohol is still our bread and butter - and more tax rises will have a definite effect - but I don't think it will be as catastrophic as it would be for others.
"The part of Fulham I'm in helps, but there is no question the industry as we know it is being destroyed."
Thomas Finnegan is another Punch leaseholder, who runs the Bird in Hand in Masbro Road, Brook Green. He says the pattern of trade has changed markedly over the last four years.
"We still do okay but people are coming more in groups now, as opposed to ten years ago when you had a lot of daytime drinkers.
"Going out has become more of a special event than an everyday thing, and I'm not surprised – I certainly couldn't afford to spend £4 a pint every night."
Further tax rises, he says, will likely force many leaseholders to quit. "A lot of people I know are thinking of getting out – it's quite depressing."
The disparity between what leaseholders and brewery-run pubs pay for barrels of beer is also too great, according to Fuller's leaseholder Tom Gavaghan, who runs the Andover Arms in Aldensley Road, Hammersmith.
"If I was managing the pub for Fuller's, rather than leasing, the beer would cost 50 per cent less," he says.
"It would be nice if things were shared around a bit more – it would make the tax rises easier to take but the industry is just being pillaged. It goes on and on and on and on and I'm not sure how much more pressure we can take."
Punch Taverns denies many of its tenants are in peril, but admits pubs will have to 'adapt' to the changing financial climate. In the meantime it says it has increased its support budget to £2million a month.
"Our business relationship managers continue to work closely with our partners and provide access to a range of expertise to help them build successful businesses," a spokesman said.
Mark Gourdie and Thomas Finnegan, however, believe only a voice in Parliament can arrest what has been a dramatic slide that, without action, could ultimately prove fatal.
MP Andy Slaughter says he will try to help. "I am very concerned about the future of local pubs and will be happy to bring this up with the chancellor," he said.
Mark added: "I would urge people who want to save their local pubs to join us in contacting Mr Slaughter to put as much pressure on the government as we possibly can."
* Greene King and Fuller's could not be contacted for comment before publication.