Friday, September 9, 2011

St. John's, NL - Guide to pubs not on George Street

Laura and I visited St. John's, Newfoundland in late summer 2011.  We loved it! In the next installment of an ongoing series of articles about this harbour city on The Rock, here's a recounting of the non-George Street pubs we enjoyed.

Yes, non-George street.  Why? Well, the George Street party scene in St. John's, Newfoundland has been well documented.  It's like a mini Bourbon Street with more bars per capita than any other street in North America.  Every visitor to St. John's should have at least one late night bacchanal here - preferably a Thurs, Fri or Sat - and merge souls with the university students and tourists.  But, once the magic of George Street wears off, you may want to explore some of the nearby pubs on Water and Duckworth Street, as well as the neighboring village of Quidi Vidi.  You'll find these pubs to be slightly more sedate, but all the more interesting.  Here's a guide to some of the ones we darkened during our recent 8 nights in St. John's.

The entrance to The Ship
The Ship Pub - 265 Duckworth Street at Solomon's Lane
The Ship, as it is known, may be the best bar I've come across while traveling...right up there with Dick Mack's in Dingle, Ireland and Gamli Baukur in Husavik, Iceland.  The Ship Pub is so welcoming that I think it took only two visits before we felt like regulars.  We kept going back, stopping in almost daily for a drink or ten.  It's the place to meet interesting, intelligent locals who, in our case, shared a lot of the same interests and world views.  The Ship had both the Storm Red and Quidi Vidi Iceberg on tap, plus Black Horse, Guinness, Smithwick's and more.  The food is good too. I wish we had been there when Ricky from Trailer Park Boys stopped in this summer.  Some locals still refer to it as The Ship Inn, although it hasn't been called that in several years.  You can simply call it The Ship.

The Rose and Thistle
At first glance the Rose and Thistle looks like it may be fairly intimidating, with bikers of the tough-looking motorcycle variety lurking about and an assortment of weird-o's inside.  I suspect that we must also be weird-o's because we found this place to be quite comfortable and saw some really good music here.  It had a dark, dive bar vibe that reminded me of Cary St. Cafe in Richmond, VA. The beer is cheap too.  I think they had Labatt Blue Star for $2.75 a bottle.  Compare that to $8.25 for a pint of Guinness up on George Street!

The Duke of Duckworth
This sports bar is arguably the most well known drinking establishment in St. John's.  I haven't seen Republic of Doyle yet (that will change soon enough!), but I've heard The Duke of Duckworth is featured in some episodes of this popular CBC show filmed on location in St. John's.  (Or they are using a set that's made to look like the Duke of Duckworth). We didn't spend a whole lot of time in this pub, but it had a friendly, laid back atmosphere.

Nautical Nellies
Nautical Nellies had a cool, down to earth, hard-working staff of young ladies manning the place.  We were in there a couple times during slower parts of the day, so it was a good location to chill and reflect on how awesome Newfoundland is.  Nautical Nellie's has a prime location right in the heart of Water Street downtown, and on a nice day if you get a table by the large retractable windows it's a fine spot to have a drink and watch people pass.  Even big burly men holding hands then passing out head down on the table. What was the deal with that?  Traditional session with Graham Wells, accordion, and Billy Sutton, fiddle, on Sunday afternoons at 5pm!

Erin's Pub
This place doesn't make much of an effort to present itself as anything more than a dump.  No offense; I say that in the nicest way possible.  This is all the more unusual because it's surrounded by some upscale, trendy looking Water Street restaurants and the contrast between those places and this one is striking.  However, Erin's is the best place to hear traditional Newfoundland/Irish session music several times a week, which is why we went there in the first place.  If it weren't for that though, I probably would have chosen to go somewhere else.

Quidi Vidi Brewery is greenish bldg. on left. Scenic location!
Quidi Vidi Brewing Company
I highly recommend going on the brewery tour here and then sticking around for happy hour if the upstairs bar is open.  The tour costs $10, you get to sample all of their excellent beers and choose a complimentary one to have at the end.  The guy who gives the tour has a really funny, dry sense of humor.  At first you can tell he's done this many times before, but once he gets on a roll it's a whole lotta fun. We did it on a Friday afternoon and afterwards they opened the bar for a happy (three) hour(s)!  Folk musicians showed up to play and lots of people poured in for a good ol' time.  This might be just a Friday thing, and I think the bar is only open from 4:30 to 7:30pm, but that would be a good time to go.  Although I think they do the tour several times a day, several days a week. We met up with two girls and a guy here who had been hiking the East Coast Trail for several days.  They were ready to party so after some beers at the brewery we continued hanging with them until the wee hours of the morning, bar hopping at a few of the above mentioned pubs and on George Street, making for a most drunken night in St. John's and a powerful hurting of a hangover the next morning.  Yowza!

Inn of Olde
This little neighborhood place in Quidi Vidi is worth checking out for the kitsch factor.  It feels like your are in a hoarder's house/bar.  Knick-knacks and ornaments are everywhere, with no real rhyme or reason.  There's definitely an intriguing oddness to this place that makes it a stop on tourists' lists.  The owner Linda has a way with people and is instantly likable.  Both times we were there it happened to be early afternoon, so there weren't many others around.  Most folks walk in, get a beer, and then leave.  But, being the only real bar in the Quidi Vidi neighborhood, I'm guessing this place can get pretty hopping and goofy at night.  I hear it's a good place to get Screeched-In in a completely disgusting manner!   

Quidi Vidi Brewing's beers are at most bars, restaurants and corner shops.  All the Quidi Vidi beers are of a high standard, but try the QV Premium or Iceberg first. Storm Beer is a one-man operation that is every bit as good as Quidi Vidi.  The Storm Red might be the best Irish/Amber ale I have tried - or at least an equal to Colorado's Fat Tire and Blue and Grey brewery's Fred Red from Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Quidi Vidi Brewery as seen from East Coast Trail. So near yet so far!
I wasn't that fond of the Yellow Belly Brewery beers.  Granted, they were all out of their flagship St. John's Stout the week we were there, but the couple other beers of theirs that I tried left something to be desired; something wasn't quite right with the recipe.  Finally, obviously mass produced, but still made only in Newfoundland, the Molson products Black Horse and India Beer were liked very much by me, but what do I know? I don't think any of these beers are available in the States.

For my St. John's Restaurant Report click here.
Click here for my Walking, Running and Hiking Guide to St. John's.
And for a rundown of the live music I saw click here.


  1. Inn of Olde might be my favouriet pub in existence. Every time someone comes to visit, I immediately take them there.

    Next time also try Fiddlers. Best dive pub EVER. But don't leave your wife unattended.

  2. Candice - I remember seeing Fiddlers but didn't go in. Will have to next time.

  3. They actually do film in the Duke for ROD :)