‘No machines, no jukebox and no frills’ - Bristol landlord shares the secrets of running an award-winning pub

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Landlord Mike Wilkins has been in the pub trade more than 40 years

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.

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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.

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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.

The Merchants Arms serves a range of local ales and cidersThe Merchants Arms serves a range of local ales and ciders
The Merchants Arms serves a range of local ales and ciders | Google

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.”

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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.”

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