Winnipeg’s ten best pubs

With St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner, it was high time I revised my parade of pubs as outlined in Unleash Your Inner Leprechaun back in 2010, especially because a few have closed, and a few have opened since then.

Many establishments may claim the name pub, and are categorized as such on the likes of Yelp or Urbanspoon, but few truly deserve the title. Having grown up in England, and back there every two years to visit family, I’m willing to put my purple coloured passport on the line to authenticate the following:

The Top Ten Pubs in Winnipeg

The King’s Head Pub – 120 King Street

This should be destination one for ‘Peg pub crawlers. The smell of stale beer from years of spill is essential to authenticity and something you simply cannot engineer. Plenty of worn wood, brick columns, soccer pennants and ephemera combine to make this THE MOST AUTHENTIC FEELING PUB in the city. A recent facelift favouring a modern facade on the bar itself has diminished the pub feel but I always managed to drown my sorrows with heaping helpings of soggy but delicious chips (that’s the style), obligatory malt vinegar, and a fantastic selection of local and UK beers.

Finn’s PubJohnston Terminal, The Forks

Hefty wood beams, wainscoting and wallpaper give this Forks market public house a decidedly authentic feel.  Wile away your St. Paddy’s Day playing pool and darts, and enjoy a spectacular selection of Irish whiskeys and beer. The menu gives a nod to some true Irish classics.

Toad in the Hole112 Osborne

Every bit as worn and weary as a favourite old pair of sneakers, and smells about the same.  Menu highlights are the scotch eggs and so-called Best Burger in the City (it is an awesome burger). The usual Irish brews can all be found on tap and behind the bar.

Shannon’s Irish Pub – 175 Carlton

Boasting a spectacular hand-made wooden bar, the main area is dressed in traditional orange and green. Intersected by a dance floor/stage, it’s a decent crack at creating the U.K. pub. The 20 beers on tap, and plenty of Scotch and Irish Whiskies calls for this menu of hearty classics like Potato and Leek Soup, Fish n Chips, Irish Stew, Bangers & Mash and Corned Beef and Cabbage to name a few.

The Grove – 164 Stafford

Having taken over the building that gave the Lounge of Charlie O and Tubby’s Pizza a River Heights home for nearly fifty years, the Grove didn’t have too much trouble becoming the new local. With understated design, but enough wood and brick around the centre-piece bar, it straddles a fine line between lounge/restaurant and pub. You’ll find seasonal beer specials and lots of choice on tap and in the bottle including Irish and English classics perfect for pairing with an awesome array of sophisticated fare.

Fox & Hounds Tavern – 1719 Portage Avenue

One of the old-timers, Fox & Hounds has been around for as long as I can remember. In spite of an inauspicious location, the character of the exterior continues inside, with plenty of wood and brick. A surprisingly elegant dining room, replete with linens seems wasted on a ho-hum menu of North American influenced old-school pub fare.

The Irish Association – 654 Erin Street

Not surprisingly, the Irish, and those of Irish descent among us (my grandmother was born just outside Dublin), take the business of St. Paddy’s day pretty seriously. It’s not just a party…it’s a festival and at the Irish Association it includes a week of activities that culminate in a day of live music, food  and fun.

Brogue Gastropub – 800 Pembina

Formerly the Round Table, A roaring fireplace and medieval themes make this more like a noble’s manor than public house.  Half restaurant, half lounge, both sides sport plenty of oak beams, nooks, and old copper curiosities.  Beef is the main feature of the menu,  but you’ll also find kingly classics like crown rack of lamb, pork tenderloin and chicken. Take one part darts, one part pool, add a jukebox and a great selection of scotch and beer…well that’s a recipe for fun.

Yellow Dog Tavern – 386 Donald

A favourite hangout of hipsters and downtown denizens, this small, well worn space has enough old wood and classics on tap to qualify as a pub. They’re a favourite launch destination for Winnipeg-based micro-brewer Half-Pints who’ll often tap a keg of whatever seasonal brew they’ve concocted here, no doubt favoured by Brewmaster Dave because the Dog has a great selection of micros on tap and in the bottle. They also make a concerted effort to celebrate the saint with a special menu of Irish classics like Bacon and Leek Soup, Beef & Guinness Stew, and Cottage Pie.

Elephant & Castle – 350 Saint Mary Avenue

While it occupies the main floor lounge of Winnipeg’s Delta Hotel, the Elephant and Castle does a surprisingly good job of recreating that public house feel.  Land-marked by an unmistakable red phone box out front, the interior features lots of brickwork and wood. Who knows if that will remain as they’re unfortunately closed for renos right now. The menu does a fine job representing UK staples. Booze infused highlights are the Guinness braised Meatloaf and Jameson’s Chicken with mushroom cream sauce.

Honourable Mentions

Worth a mention for a number of reasons are the following who miss the mark as far as that authentic pub feel, but do a very good job in terms of unique atmosphere, food, brews or a combination of the three:

The Thirsty Lion Tavern – 525 Dale Boulevard

Having said farewell to the Charlie, the Thirsty Lion is the self-appointed A-list watering hole for Charleswood denizens.  Attached to the Red Lion Inn, it’s a fair interpretation of a Celtic pub with cozy nooks, dark wood trim and brick walls. The bar boasts a great selection of draft. While the regular menu offers a smattering of traditional pub fare, they often promise a pile of authentic Irish grub on the big day.

Tavern United
  • 1824 Pembina Highway
  • 2100 McPhillips Street
  • 826 Regent Ave West
  • MTS Centre

As generic and mass-market as it gets, some of Tavern’s locations strive for pub vibe, others fall much further to the side of North American sports bar. To the uninitiated, the menu appears good on paper but these mournful morsels scarcely pay homage to pub grub.

Fox & Fiddle – 456 Main Street

Soaring ceilings, dramatic columns and marble everywhere don’t really reference pub but it’s an impressive hangout. A humungous bar and great selection of beer make it well worth mentioning here, especially because of some well-executed and clever interpretations of pub grub on a fairly focused menu that serves up some truly generous portions.

Barley Brothers – 655 Empress

An impressive centre bar and amazing array of taps brings Winnipeggers a selection of craft brews that you just can’t get anywhere else. Barley Brothers might have passed as a pub but for the heavy handed menu which slips not so subtly into German brau haus territory. As such, you won’t find true St. Paddy’s Day celebrations held here, but they are (coincidentally) doing a tap takeover on the 17th, plugging in an array of 11 California-based Anderson Valley brews and a special tapping of a mysterious cask of double IPA.

Luxalune – 734 Osborne St

Lux, as it’s known to regulars, is hailed by many as Winnipeg’s first gastro-pub. I’ll spare you my long-winded argument that it’s neither the first  (an honour that belongs to Billabong) nor an authentic gastro. It is decidedly much more sports bar than anything, serving some pretty tasty bites. They do hold the distinction of having one of the best selection of beers in the city, boasting over 100 brews from all over the globe. Furthermore, they’re the home base for Farmery, a local estate-grown pilsner-style lager.

The Cornerstone93 Osborne Street

Taking over the Osborne Village corner spot once occupied by the venerable Papa Georges, the cornerstone slings some serious brews including local Half Pints and Fort Garry, along with a selection of great Canadian micros. They also bring a number of tasty out of town tipples, but there’s a noted absence of the English/Irish classics. Just as the owners have done with the Grove, the menu acknowledges the past (the Papa Gorgeous burger) while a minimalist Euro design sensibility and Japanese anime inspired artwork takes the space well into the future.

Billabong Gastropub – 121 Osborne

Hailed as an Australian pub, Billabong skews decidedly lounge-like in spite of an expansion into an adjoining area to create a segregated bistro. Enjoy a great selection of cocktails and beer including an inconsistently available selection of suds from down under. The menu is an interesting cross section of multi-cultural classics and while they once tried to offer seasonal, market-inspired specials, that seems to have fallen by the wayside in favour of a focus on letting it be a true to its title watering hole.

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