The pub forms a key part of the heritage town of Ardara, renowned for its tweeds and handknits.
The original ‘Nancy’ ran the pub in Victorian times and was the great great grandmother of the present owner, Charlie McHugh. Together with his wife Anne (responsible for developing the food side of the business) he runs the pub from a building which was originally the family home with just a front bar opening onto the street.
According to the guide, “Since those early days the bar has gradually extended to take over the whole house and there are now five or six delightful little low-ceilinged rooms – maybe more, there seems to be another area opened up on each visit. Packed with old photographs and bric-a-brac, it’s highly atmospheric and there are plenty of tables and chairs set up in every room so you can comfortably enjoy the wholesome home-made food, especially seafood, that is now a big part of its charm”.
The Guide describes the establishment as a “charmingly higgledy-piggledy place which simply oozes with character and warmth, there’s great live music and the food is traditional Irish cooking at its best: only gorgeous!
“Aside from its charm and friendliness, this fine old pub is famed equally these days for a great pint of Guinness and the house chowder – maybe try it along with a ‘Louis Armstrong’ (smoked salmon on brown bread topped with grilled cheese) and finish with an Irish coffee. Or there’s ‘Charlie’s Supper’, a speciality of prawns and smoked salmon warmed in a chilli and garlic sauce.
“In addition to the series of charming rooms that make up the bar area, there’s an outdoor seating area with an awning, giving more room to enjoy everything this delightful pub has to offer.”
Bar food is served daily from 12 o’clock to nine in the evening from Easter to September and Nancy’s which is also a member of the Donegal Good Food Taverns, a recently-established association promoting some of the country’s most famous food pubs.
“Great live music too,” it notes.
At the awards ceremony itself, Georgina Campbell expressed her distain for the word ‘gastropub’ explaining that banning the term ‘gastropub’ had generated acres of publicity for a UK food guide last year – “… and they were quite right; it’s unpleasant and over-used,” she said, “and – like the ubiquitous eatery – is not in the Guide’s vocabulary. But we’re in favour of pubs that do great food, of course – and many of our best had been doing this for many years before the unfortunate term ‘gastropub’ saw the light of day”.
On the changing trends in Irish hospitality, Georgina Campbell commented, “If I had to describe this year in one word it would be ‘engagement’, as the common theme that unites the best places, regardless of price or style, the growing connection between local Irish suppliers, restaurant kitchens – and ultimately, the customer.
“Increasingly, chefs are proud to champion local producers on their menus, which is brilliant; waiting staff are also becoming accustomed to explaining provenance to customers – although there is plenty of room for improvement in too many establishments”.
Georgina Campbell had found “cautious signs of an upturn” in many areas in judging the competition this year. But she added that businesses outside the cities and large towns, especially small family businesses, are finding the going very tough.
Ireland’s longest-running hospitality awards had, for example, awarded O’Brien’s Chop House in Lismore, County Waterford, the Wine Award of the Year.
“Sadly, we learned that O’Brien Chop House will shortly close its doors, in Lismore at least,” she stated, “This will be a great loss, to the town as well as to those involved, but all the good things that have been said about the Chop House, including its excellent wine and drinks list, will hold true in whatever new location it may eventually pop up again – and will hopefully lead to its long-term success in a busier location.”
The Granville Hotel in Waterford was named the Hotel of the Year.