Popular pub makes it a double at tourism awards
- Credit: Anthony Cullen
The Alma Inn and Dining Rooms had double reason to celebrate at the East of England Tourism Awards 2021-2022. The pub, located in the centre of Harwich, Essex, won both the Pub of the Year award, sponsored by Everard Cole, and the B&B and Guest House of the Year award, sponsored by Tiptree.
“We won the B&B award first – and I was incredibly grateful to win that – but I really wanted to win the Pub of the Year award. And then we did, which was phenomenal,” said owner Nick May.
It isn’t just Nick and his 40-strong team that have been celebrating the awards. “The whole of Harwich is on a bit of a high,” he added. “Everyone is coming in and saying well done.”
The awards have also given Nick a readymade retort to any witty troublemakers. “If somebody says ‘I’ve been thrown out of better places than this’, I can say, ‘Actually, you haven’t’,” he joked.
The Alma occupies a 16th century building that has served as a pub since the 1850s, when its customers included locals, sailors and soldiers alike. Nick bought the pub in 2010, reopening it after a period of closure. “It was on its knees at the time, which was good for me in some ways because I wanted to do my own thing here,” he said.
He previously ran a number of pubs in London – but with family in Harwich, he’d always been looking for a move to the seaside. “We were just waiting on pubs, and then this one came up.”
Since taking over, Nick has transformed the Alma into a popular pub for regulars and visitors, while retaining much of the building’s original character. “We have thousands of regulars – some of them come in every day and others come twice a year on their way to and from Holland,” said Nick.
The pub’s ethos is to “do the best of what we can get – as simply as possible”. All food is locally sourced where possible, from the vegetables and artisan sausages to the fish caught just beyond Harwich harbour. “My supply chains aren’t breaking down because if I want to, I can drag the produce from the sea myself,” said Nick.
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The five bedrooms and family suite, which were added in 2015, offer comfortable accommodation and facilities that align with Nick’s personal tastes. “The rooms have got Nespresso coffee machines, flatscreen TVs and power showers,” said Nick. “That’s what I want when I stay in a hotel.”
They also helped the pub generate income during the first lockdown in 2020. “We had a bunch of divers in who filled all the rooms,” Nick added. “They were on government contracts, so they had a special pass to stay in hotels. It was good money for the 14 weeks they were diving in the port.”
Nick also offered takeaway food during lockdown – and opened an off licence so customers could buy beer that would have otherwise gone to waste. “My initial thought was there is no way I am throwing beer away,” he said. “Either I’ve got to drink it all, or I’ve got to sell it.”
The off licence was so successful that Nick bought additional pallets of beer from Adnams. “They also had gallons of beer that they needed to offload – so we were helping each other,” he added.
Plans are now in motion for four additional bedrooms and a new food offering, which Nick describes as “where fish meets fire”.
“I don't like to use the word barbecue, but we're going to basically cook lots of fish and seafood over fire,” he explained. "We’re kind of experimenting at the moment.”
Asked what makes his award-winning pub so special, Nick cites a George Orwell essay entitled The Moon Under Water, in which he describes his perfect pub. “I think we encapsulate a lot of The Moon Under Water,” said Nick. “There's cheery, friendly staff, the food is a great standard, and everyone feels at home.”
Archant organise and host the annual East of England Tourism Awards to recognise and celebrate those businesses and individuals that contribute to the regional visitor economy. To register for more information on the 2022/23 competition please visit https://www.tourismawards.co.uk/live/en/page/contact-us