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Sunshine at the Golden Mermaid

Mark Powell, centre-stage, receiving the awards from South Herts Branch Cider Representative Brian Page (left) and Branch Chairman, Les Middlewood
Written by Tom Blakemore

Many congratulations to everyone at the Mermaid, Hatfield Road, St Albans, who have won South Hertfordshire Branch’s Pub of the Year competition along with further important Cider accolades. The awards were made at the pub’s sunny Cider and Perry Festival held in late May. Winning for the first time, the 19th Century-built Mermaid has made great strides since John Cusworth and Mark Powell took over almost four years ago and has gained a loyal band of customers seeking out the well-kept real ales and ciders and perries for which the pub is now rightly renowned. The Burlison Inns Pub Company-owned pub is now firmly on the radar of the city’s beer drinkers and its Good Beer Guide status brings visitors from all over Britain. With Oakham Citra a pub favourite, five or so other beers complete the line-up on the bar – almost always with a dark beer among them. Meanwhile 12-15 different ciders and perries are kept in the cellar – and are elevated to the bar by the glass on request – keeping the staff fit! The wooden paddle of third glasses is a favourite for visitors. Meals are available at lunchtime and during the afternoon. A single-bar pub since refurbishment in the 1980’s, this year there have been significant external improvements at the back of the pub – a new garden area has been added and Mark and John are planning a big charity event – “Merm-Aid” for later in the year.

Progression is the Key

The Mermaid has seen excellent year on year progression over the last four years to become a great advert for what a good pub should be – in tune with its customers, serving brilliant beer and cider and providing a friendly and warm welcome. It has rightly become a St Albans firm favourite and is now rewarded with the Branch’s top pub award. At the presentation Mark said “John and I are so pleased to win this CAMRA award – we try to provide a friendly atmosphere and listen to what our regulars want to see at the pub and that means a strong commitment to keeping quality beer and cider plus providing an atmosphere full of conversation and fun. We have a keen following for TV sport, with rugby in particular, and people like traditional pub things like darts and our quizzes but then also our live Wednesday music sessions. Our beer and cider festivals are really popular and I must thank our staff and regulars who often help at our events”.

How the Mermaid Does It

John was away filming on the day of the award but here he gives us an insight into how he and Mark moved into the pub business and what drives them today…

“We always strive to do better. Mark and I both have a competitive streak, sometimes with each other competing for the best new idea to improve the pub or next pub sign. You need that kind of drive for your pub to stay afloat.  As Mark and I became friends at drama school competitiveness and determination became second nature and good jobs, like great customers, had to be fought for. In all honesty fighting for terrible acting jobs that we didn’t want was the inspiration to get our own pub. So, after decades of working for a variety of pubs we knew we could do it on our own. We’d learned so much under some great (and some awful) landlords. What could go wrong? Well plenty but I think we struck gold with The Mermaid as a first pub. It was very quiet and run down but there was a definite love for the place from the fantastic regulars who stuck with it and from those who used to frequent it, as we’ve since heard.  First it needed a declutter and some Cillit Bang (or any other high street cleaning product) then a clear idea of how the pub fits in within the area, what the customers want and which type of customers we are missing and how we can attract them. Ultimately, it’s researching other pubs that is key. We still do it. We very rarely copy ideas, we find out what everyone else ‘isn’t’ doing and see if we can. Like with our Festivals we’re always striving to find the beer and cider that we’ve not had before. Looking further and further afield. That’s what’s great about CAMRA’s awards. They make you try harder because you can’t deny that it’s great to win things. It’s possible now to win a branch ‘Most Improved’ pub award. What a great inspiration. An award to say you’re on the right track. Onwards an upwards. And I think that might be our motto – “What more can we do?”.

The Mermaid has a hearty pub community with staff and regulars that are always prepared to lend a hand – and offer you a warm welcome the next time you are out and about for a pint in St Albans.

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