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Historic features survive pub makeover

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Spruced up: the new bar area at the Frog & Onion Pub in Dockyard (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The Frog & Onion Pub in Dockyard, is open for business again after a $500,000 renovation.

But don’t panic, history lovers, the vintage bits — the candles, the bust of General Abernathy, the giant bellows — are still there.

“Some of our long-time regulars were a little bit leery about the changes,” said Island Restaurant Group director and president Philip Barnett. “We just want to reassure them.”

Some of the objects have been rearranged though, so it’s not quite such a historic jumble.

The major change is the $25,000 bar upgrade.

“The bar was the original bar from when it first opened up,” Mr Barnett said. “The rust and the termites were winning the battle. We are the only place that makes our own beer, so we wanted to make sure we had something that suited the whole idea of being a brew pub and the uniqueness of the product. We wanted to make sure we had a feature draft bar.”

Mr Barnett said in the restaurant business the most expensive part of a renovation is often what customers don’t see.

“Behind the tap heads is a walk-in cooler and a speciality beer distribution system,” Mr Barnett said. “It is a similar system to what we do at Brew with the nitrogen generator. We are always pumping a blend of nitrogen gas into the keg. Being an inert gas, that powers it a lot better and allows for a smoother mouth feel and doesn’t kill the carbonation of the beer.

“It ensures that the beer is coming out of the tap exactly the way the brew master wanted it to come out.”

The Ballast Gift Shop has also received attention, and has been moved and rearranged.

“We have had people come in to look for more embroidered products,” Mr Barnett said. “So we will experiment more with that. We are looking to embroider hats.”

Mr Barnett said it’s important to get things right, because the Frog & Onion is one of the most reviewed Bermuda restaurants on the website Trip Advisor.

“We currently have over 1,700 reviews,” he said. “There are days in the summer when we cater to hundreds of cruise ship passengers and visitors.”

But a big part of the reason for the renovation was to make the place more attractive to locals.

“We want locals to recognise that from Gibbs Hill Lighthouse it is effectively the same travel time to get to Dockyard as it is to town,” he said.

Large patio heaters have been added to make the patio a little warmer at this time of year.

“Winters can be very challenging,” Mr Barnett said. “The weather in winters in town is a lot easier, because there is a more consistent line of business.”

The bathrooms, electricals, audio visual system and wi-fi have also been improved.

One thing that hasn’t changed much is the menu.

“We will launch our seasonal menu changes soon,” Mr Barnett said. “We will have some nice new items, but when you are a bit of an institution you have to be careful about what you are changing. You have to make sure you are giving homage to your roots. It’s about giving new choices to some of our regular guests. They do like having some changes, but don’t ever remove their favourite item, because, oh my goodness, is that unpopular.”

The renovations to the Frog & Onion are the latest in a series of upgrades, and changes to the IRG chain. It overhauled the Pickled Onion on Front Street in Hamilton a year ago, and opened the Brew café underneath the Pickled Onion in November.

“I am ready to rest,” Mr Barnett laughed. “I had friends over for dinner last night and realised we hadn’t been together in months. It has been busy.

“It is a worrying market to be investing in, but we are here for the long term. As I keep on telling people we don’t have an exit plan.

“We are 100 per cent involved in Bermuda business. Tourism is on the up and up. If we can get a few more bodies back in Bermuda, that will ameliorate some of our challenges going forward.”

The new bar area at the Frog & Onion Pub in Dockyard (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
The new Ballast Gift Shop at the newly renovated Frog & Onion Pub in Dockyard (Photograph supplied)