‘No machines, no jukebox and no frills’ - Bristol landlord shares the secrets of running an award-winning pub
Landlord Mike Wilkins has been in the pub trade more than 40 years
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For many pubs, flashing machines, noisy jukeboxes and the latest 2-4-1 drinks promotions are all part of the customer experience. But for one Bristol landlord, it’s all about the simpler, more traditional things that make for a proper pub.
Mike Wilkins runs the Merchants Arms in Hotwells, which this week came runner-up in the CAMRA Bristol & District Pub of the Year. The small, two-room pub near the Cumberland Basin narrowly missed winning the top spot, which went to the Siren’s Calling in Portishead.
But Mike says it’s still a ‘great honour’ to get the accolade from CAMRA members and added that such recognition ‘demonstrates that there is still a place in this fantastic industry for a traditional real ale pub’.
And Mike should know. He has owned the Merchants Arms for the past seven years but has been in the pub trade for 40 years.
In a former life, he was area/operation manager for a number of big breweries and pub companies including Marstons, Smiles, Young’s and Bath Ales.
The Merchant’s Arms is very much a family affair, with daughter Clare and son Matthew helping behind the bar when they’re not running sister pub The Eldon House in Clifton.
The cosy pub runs a number of events including poetry nights, cheese nights, a brass band and carols at Christmas.
The food choice is a straightforward range of pork pies, Cornish pasties and homemade Scotch eggs, as well as crisps and nuts.
And when it comes to running successful independent pubs, Mike says it’s all about simplicity and great customer service.
“No frills, no machines, no jukebox but a selection of excellent, mainly local cask ales, an eclectic mix of background music and great conversation,” he says. “Oh, and a roaring log fire in the winter.”
And Mike says that’s only half the story of the success of the Merchants Arms.
“I also have the best team I have worked with in my very long career in this trade, brilliant customers and the best local breweries we could hope for.”