I can think of several examples of good Irish pubs in Nova Scotia. There’s the Old Triangle in Halifax, Celtic Corner in Dartmouth and, of course, The Dock in New Glasgow. However, fewer examples of authentic feeling English locals come to mind.
Some people might wonder what’s the difference. There are many similarities. A good selection of beer to enjoy by the pint is clearly of paramount importance. Creating an environment that allows for spirited, and sometimes heated, discussion about sports, politics and gossip is also important, so cozy, intimate settings are a must.
Preferably there are entertainment options such as watching a match, live music or pub games like darts. And there must absolutely be a sense of tradition and familiarity. Beer signs, sports memorabilia, portraits of historic figures, maps all add to the atmosphere.
As for the differences, the obvious ones are that you’re going to see a lot more green and orange than red and white in Irish pub than in an English tavern. You’re more likely to see to see a portrait of Robert Browning than James Joyce in an English spot and you should know what kind of place you’re in if you’re reading “Thank goodness, it’s Guiness” on the wall. Some of the more fundamental differences are that in an Irish pub, there’s likely to be stone walls, a large hearth and low ceilings with exposed wood beams. English taverns are more likely to have warm but bold, solid paint palettes on walls, a devoted darts section and are a little more brightly lit.
In case you’re having trouble picturing what I mean, I suggest you take a trip to Windsor to visit The Spitfire Arms (spitfirearms.com). Borrowing its name from the iconic World War II Royal Air Force plane, The Spitfire Arms has, for me, everything that a good English local should have.
The bar in the middle of the room is bristling with draught taps, featuring a variety of imported British classics and local favourites, including selections from Sea Level, Propeller and Garrison. There’s a raised area for a band in the corner, TVs to show the game and two dartboards off to one side. The walls are fittingly covered in images of RAF Spitfires, Winston Churchill and framed WWII news headlines. The staff are friendly and seem to know their regulars, and the chairs are comfy.
We were passing through on chilly fall day. The kind of day that begs a good ale and a hot meal. We were very pleased to be able to order a couple Sea Level Bitters (sealevelbrewing.com @SeaLevelBrewing), a beer that more pubs should be offering on tap. We scanned through the food menu of the usual suspects of pub fare, but could not resist the seasonal fall menu. Gillian ordered the butternut squash risotto and there was no way I was not getting the turkey pot pie.
Our meals were everything we were hoping they’d be. Gillian is, in fact, an exceptional risotto maker (she claims that’s how she hooked me) and can therefore be critical of others’ risottos, but this one passed the test. The turkey pot pie was exceptional. Hot, hearty, flavourful and filling, it really hit the spot.
Beer, food and atmosphere, The Spirfire Arms in Windsor is doing everything right.
The Spitfire Arms
29 Water Street
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