Dining at Long Tables

On Friday we planned an evening in Halifax to hear folks talk about social enterprise at the Pecha Kucha. Let’s first check out the new Bar Stillwell location on Spring Garden Road, I suggested. The bar was packed and only later did we learn it had just opened that day.

Stillwell has made clever use of an L-shaped empty lot. A big open space is filled with long, communal tables and benches. Sharing our end of a table was a large friendly dog who enjoyed meeting others of its kind. All this got me thinking about how enthusiastically the long table experience has been embraced in recent years.


Until relatively recently the idea of sharing a table with strangers felt dodgy. Then early in the century we started seeing images of communal meals, in beautiful or unusual settings, and began to yearn.

Of course there is an enduring tradition of long table dining at community suppers. A favourite of ours is the annual Strawberry Supper in support of the Tupperville Hall. This is the gold standard: mis-matched china and chairs, pass the beet pickles please. Of course we were perhaps the only strangers at the table.



Probably the most magical of our contemporary long table meals was one of the earliest we attended, staged in 2011 by Sean Gallagher of Local Source, and Lion & Bright. Guests arrived at twilight in a clearing beside the Northwest Arm.


Off to the side, musician Julia Feltham played cello and sang mysterious songs.


By dessert, folks were blissfully relaxed. Today it all looks like a feature in lifestyle magazine Kinfolk, which I learn had been founded just two months before.


Another landscape-rich meal was staged on the dyke beside the Canard River in August 2013. The event began with a stroll through fields and orchards of TapRoot farm.


The location was sublime and chef Michael Howell had prepared a simple lunch using TapRoot produce.


The day for the event was selected so we could enjoy the setting at high tide. Only on the Fundy shore.


Also in 2013 was an October meal in a Lunenburg County barn organized by chef Chris Velden.


Again the setting was perfect and the experience included a tractor ride through the pasture to visit the belted cattle.


So did we learn anything from looking back at all these meals? Maybe just a reminder that Nova Scotia is beautiful and it can be even more enchanting if you are enjoying good food and working on your social skills.


  • Google “long table” or “communal table” to confirm that many contemporary restaurant goers are eager to eat with people they’ve never met before. We were happy to sit with the young couple and their curious dog at Stillwell. But when we glanced down the table of unfamiliar faces there was Halifax Examiner’s Tim Bousquet on his phone, perhaps accepting congratulations on his publication’s Second Anniversary!


  •  At Stillwell many people were sitting on a long, low planter. This reminded Sheila of the notorious “wall” that was across the street on the Lord Nelson Hotel property where Spring Garden meets South Park. People would sit on the wall while waiting for the bus but in the late 1960s it became a hangout for hippies: long haired and bell bottomed counter culture types. Much energy was expended in trying to get these disgraceful people to move on. Sound familiar?

My out of focus photo from about 1970 shows good people sitting on the wall. The issue was resolved when the Lord Nelson built an addition that filled the corner.  Also, this was the last time there was anywhere to sit while waiting for the bus.

lord nelson wall

About the author

Stephen Archibald

It’s Stephen Archibald doing the noticing. I’m a huge fan of Nova Scotia’s material culture and cultural landscapes. Twitter (@Cove17 ) made me realize I could share what attracted my attention (perfect for my very short attention) and I’m gratified when folks enjoy my content. Pleased to meet you on the internet.