Lawrence and his Wife Emma have been on Koh Phangan permanently for 7 months now but prior to this they have been visiting the island for 11 years.
‘My Mum and Step Dad retired here 12 years ago so I would come and see them so I know the island fairly well already’.
Hi Lawrence and Emma, so tell us the story of the Mason’s Arms...
The previous owner moved to the island 17 years ago and him and his wife ran the Vantana Pub in Thong Sala. His dream was to build an English bar which he did 10 years ago, that is The Mason’s Arms.
We were here on holiday in December 2015 and that’s when I found out the pub was available to lease.
We didn’t think much of it, but back in England once again back in the routine of wiping ice off the car, leaving the front door when it was dark and coming home when it was dark reminded us that things could be very different. My Wife who is normally the sensible one suggested ‘why don’t we do it?!’. I couldn’t think of a reason why not so here we are.
Emma was in education and I was in the Royal Marines so we left and moved to Koh Phangan. It’s very different as neither of us had done anything like this before.
There is a picture of a pub in the corner and that was the inspiration for The Masons Arms. It was the previous owners local pub back in the UK when he was younger. The mock Tudor design is a striking contrast to all other buildings on Koh Phangan.
He did want to call it ‘The Stoneham Arms’ but decided against it and took after the Thai tradition of naming a business after their kids or parents. His Mother’s maiden name was Mason and her picture is still above the door. He went with all the symbols of the trade of masons which has attracted a few free masons here. They make an assumption that it’s a Mason’s lodge which it isn’t.
Have you changed much since being here?
Not really, the previous owners have done a great job establishing the business, it works very well and just needed some new energy.
We now have very successful live music nights on the 1st and 3rd Thursday of each month, it took time but we now have some great live music with a fantastic local band called Uchaka as our house band, other musicians are encouraged to jam too.
We have music in the garden for people sat outside which has had very positive feedback.
What’s the concept of The Mason’s Arms?
It’s an English Pub, so it is essentially a theme pub. We like to have locals as well as tourists but we don’t have a specific demographic, we’re open to people whether you’re here on holiday or a bit longer and try get that ‘pub’ feel.
By recreating the feeling we used to get in pubs when we were younger, we hope that our customers can enjoy the comforts and familiarity of a community pub from back home.
Why do you think British and Western people love the English pub culture?
I think we are everyone’s guilty pleasure. There are a few different types of people we get; some are backpacking around Southeast Asia, embracing the culture and food but have been away for a year and not had a roast or gravy or yorkshire puddings and they miss or are craving it. Also people with children, trying to eat with kids can be difficult and here it is enclosed with air conditioning and no smoking. I believe we are the only restaurant on the island that does that.
We do get the ‘Brit tourists’, they eat sausage and mash and love the beauty of the island but not necessarily the local food. We get a lot of Russians who love our Guinness. The clientele is probably 40% British and 60% everywhere else.
The other evening we had Swedish, Iranian, French and German all at the bar together and you can’t get it anywhere else, it’s very multicultural which is great.
Tell us about the menu...
We pride ourselves on our food; all generous portions and at a reasonable price. The menu is largely inherited from the previous owners. It offers a lot of variety and has all the dishes you can expect from a pub in England; proper pub grub.
Since we arrived we added a Thai menu as we found a lot of our guests have Thai partners who are not so enthusiastic with western food, and also a few more vegetarian options so we now offer greater variety. We have also introduced a small dessert menu.
All our kitchen staff are Thai but have all been taught to cook Western food despite the fact they don’t eat it. They have all been here a long time. They cook better than most chefs from the UK, one of our chefs has worked for the business for 15 years coming from the Vantana to here.
We try to use English produce like Marmite, Branston Pickle and HP sauce, sometimes it has to be packaged from the UK. We get our meat locally or from Samui but are quite selective to get the right bacon, sausages etc.
What are some of your most popular dishes?
Roast dinners and English breakfasts, the brekkie is very popular. We do large group bookings as well around Full Moon, the biggest was 50 which is usually our limit.
Last November we catered for a group of 63 Americans celebrating Thanksgiving. Travel companies or resorts bring big groups, they come for roast dinner before the party to prepare themselves and after to recover.
Christmas Day and New Year's day are always very busy, it’s packed as it has got that nice feeling of the festive season to it but with better weather!
Every pub has loads of funny stories, have you got any?
Not to put in here, ha-ha!
Are you enjoying your new jobs running a bar?
We enjoy it and are in no rush to get back to the UK, we like the social side. There has been a few ups and downs because of the King, the late monsoon and the storms. We work long hours but we can still get out to visit other bars and resorts in our community.
The nice thing is that most people are on holiday and in a good mood, they’re happy and you hear amazing stories of where they’ve been and what they have been doing which you rarely get in a pub in England. We learn a lot and have a list of places we want to visit since being here, from every person we get more ideas.
What do you hope for the future of The Mason’s Arms?
To be here as long as possible, we have a 3 year lease so let’s see where it goes. We are looking to promote the pub as a venue for large bookings, weddings receptions and other celebrations. We have lots of ideas and very are positive about the future!
And leave us with the philosophy of The Mason’s Arms...
Everyone’s friendly local pub no matter who you are!!
From people who are travelling and looking for home comforts to groups and all kinds, they sometimes walk in here and feel emotional, it is a taste of home!