The votes have been counted – and now it’s time to raise a glass to your Best Bar 2014.
It’s been a long road to find this year’s number one haunt in Edinburgh and the Lothians. From Davidson’s Mains to Musselburgh, your nominations have been pouring in telling us why you thought your local was the region’s best.
But after a heated final round, one winner emerged at closing time: The Mercat Bar and Grill – the Evening News’ Best Bar for 2014.
The pub in Whitecraig Road, Musselburgh, secured the most votes in our contest after a major revamp.
Formerly The Dolphin Inn, the pub was rebranded The Mercat in 2011 with a simple goal in mind: to re-establish the well-worn nightspot into one of the leading lights in the Lothians.
And according to staff manager Derek Dinse, the village local is well on its way down that road to regeneration.
“We’ve got huge plans for this place, and those plans are still just in their infancy,” he said.
“The Mercat has come a long way since we took it on, and the business as most of our customers know it has only started to materialise in the past year-and-a-half. The team has been working extremely hard to rejuvenate the family-friendly atmosphere of the place, and to ensure it’s welcoming for everyone.
“I think that’s where The Mercat really stands alone.”
To snag the top spot, The Mercat Bar and Grill had to beat some of the Capital’s top pubs and clubs.
Greenside Lane’s Cafe Habana just narrowly missed out on the title for its lauded entertainment line-up, coming in second place.
Davidson’s Mains favourite Ye Olde Inn came in third in this year’s vote.
One way The Mercat has been turning its heads this year is by pursuing a freshly-placed emphasis on providing diners with exquisite meals that are all locally sourced.
Fellow manager Ann Ferguson said she thought it was the bar’s fresh meals that had been the secret behind winning.
“We’ve had a lot of changes recently, and one of the biggest changes has been our menu,” she said.
“Everything is fresh, and something that I think we do really well is change the menu regularly. There are some pubs in the area that never change what’s on offer, and if you go there to eat regularly you get to the point where you don’t even have to be asked what you want any more.
“We like to steer away from that. We like to slip in new dishes for customers to try, because it keeps things interesting.”
Whitecraig resident and Mercat regular Donny McLean, 64, says that fresh take on food has kept his family coming back for more.
“The Mercat has got great ales, but it really shines on the food side of things,” he said.
“It’s a wee bit pricier than if you were to go a few hundred yards up the road, but you get what you pay for.
“It’s a wee bit more special, and the quality can’t be beaten.”
He also added that the pub’s family atmosphere has been heavily bolstered by its knowledgeable and accommodating staff.
“The staff there are just brilliant,” he said.
“Nothing is too much trouble for them. They’re just so warm and very welcoming.”
According to Mr Dinse, much of The Mercat’s up-and-coming reputation as a foodie destination rests upon its focus on sustainability.
It’s part of the Scotch Beef Club, a network of top restaurants committed to serving only locally-sourced and fully-certified meat.
And The Mercat also strives to take advantage of the bountiful produce growing just outside the village of Whitecraig.
“We’re truly blessed, in that East Lothian has some of the finest produce of anywhere in the country,” Mr Dinse said.
“Our chefs have got an incredible selection to choose from, and that allows them to ensure that only the best ingredients are being included in our menu.”
But maintaining ethically-sourced supplies hasn’t been the bar’s only show of social responsibility.
“We’re also involved in various environmentally-friendly initiatives, including planting trees to offset our CO2 emissions, switching to energy-saving lights and buying a less power-hungry dishwasher,” Mr Dinse added.
“We have a real passion for what we do – and that’s why it means so much to be named this year’s Best Bar winner.
“Our staff are putting in 150 per cent every day, all day, and it’s extremely gratifying to know that people are seeing that.”
Evening News deputy editor Euan McGrory presented the award to the staff at the pub.
He said: “The Best Bar competition has really caught the imagination of our readers and you voted in your thousands for your favourites.
“There are some cracking pubs in Edinburgh and the Lothians and it has been great to hear about the cream of the crop, from well-known and well-loved names to relatively undiscovered gems.
“Congratulations to all our finalists and especially to everyone at The Mercat Bar and Grill who can be really proud to come out on top against such fierce competition.”
Tim Donald, regional marketing manager for Johnston Press Scotland, added: “Congratulations to the winner, the runners-up Cafe Habana and Ye Olde Inn and, of course, to all the bars and their customers.
“We’ve had a fantastic response from Evening News readers to the Best Bar 2014 campaign – from the initial call for nominations and continuing right through each of the shortlist stages.
“It’s been great to see so many people get behind their local bar and show their support and loyalty.”