The closure of the Imperial Hotel comes less than three months after James Street pub the Logie Baird shut up shop on October 31 when owners Bramwell Pubs and Bars Ltd went into administration.

Despite a refurbishment in June last year, the ‘Imps’, as it is known locally, closed on Monday.

The West Clyde Street business – a leasehold – had been listed for sale on several websites at £35,000 rent per annum.

An advert claimed the three-storey property had been in the hands of the current owner since 2000, and cited ‘other business interests’ as the reason for sale.

The closure goes against recent hospitality developments in the town, exemplified by the opening of Indian restaurant Masala Twist, the re-opening of the Garth, and the ongoing development of the new Riverhill premises.

Alan Trail, chief executive at Helensburgh and Lomond Chamber of Commerce, said: “Helensburgh has recently seen a spurt of growth and development in the catering sector, with a number of new businesses opening and others changing hands and undergoing transformation, and the town is rapidly gaining traction as a destination for foodies of all types.

“Business closures are always a reminder that times are still tough and that there are plenty of challenges ahead for small business owners, but there are plenty of positive things happening in Helensburgh and overall the future is looking hopeful.” Councillor Vivien Dance, the council’s tourism spokeswoman, said the closure is a reflection of tough times for consumers and staunch competition – not just in Helensburgh but across the country.

She said: “This is another reflection on the downturn in spending as people have to cut back on evenings out to reduce outgoings for increased household costs and the increased competition in the town with the opening of new licensed premises.

“I hope a future can be secured for this prime site and the staff are successful in finding new jobs.” It is thought the hotel was built in the early 19th century, with former Provost Billy Petrie describing it as ‘part and parcel’ of the original Helensburgh.

He said: “It was initially the Tontine Hotel, then the George Hotel, and then the Imperial Hotel. It was a coaching house from the horse and cart age and it used to provide stables and accommodation.

“In the early days Helensburgh was seen as a holiday town, but times have changed – Helensburgh is no longer a holiday town, it is a day trippers’ town.” Mr Petrie added businesses must keep-up with the changing demands as well as ‘tremendous’ competition.

Donald Fullarton, of the Helensburgh Heritage Trust, said ‘the Imps’ was Helensburgh’s oldest hotel ‘by a very long way’. He added: “Because of its proximity to what once was a very busy pier, and the fact that it was opposite the bandstand, it was a thriving business in those days.

“Injured survivors of the 1842 Telegraph steamship disaster, in which 20 people died when the vessel exploded yards from the pier, were taken there. The landlord, Mr Liddell, and his family did their best to help them.” The modern Imps has long been a magnet for Faslane sailors.

Former patron Iain Walworth said: “I went few times over the years. A big one was in May 1998 when USS springfield was in town and 300 USA sailors decided on to the town – many in the Imperial Hotel.

“My cousin Robert Foxx and I don’t remember a thing once the Americans got the After Shock shots out and the pitchers of beer. Helensburgh was rocking that weekend.” An Advertiser source, who asked not to be named, said Anne McAulay, the landlady, had been looking to pass on the lease for some time after more than 20 years working in the industry.

They said: “She had a reputation for being an excellent landlady and she was well respected.

“She didn’t have bouncers and if she had any trouble she dealt with it herself – she was a real traditional and she didn’t take any nonsense.

“She did most of the work herself and she was in there almost seven nights a week – I think there was a handful of other staff members.

“A lot of people feel sorry that it has come to this.”