Relaunched White Horse ‘puts heartbeat back in St George’
Just weeks after taking possession of the iconic White Horse restaurant and pub in St George, it’s clear that hospitality veteran Dennie O’Connor and his team have the Midas touch.
Residents from the east end to the west end – and everywhere in between – are making the drive to the Olde Towne for a taste of what owner/managing director Mr O’Connor and Bermudian lead chefs Marci Smith and Daamian Simmons are serving up.
On Sundays, the restaurant is consistently serving in excess of 200 covers, while Friday and Saturday evenings are attracting 100-plus covers on a regular basis – and that’s with Covid-19 restrictions in place.
Mr O’Connor said: “We have definitely put a heartbeat back in St George. We are excited to see the overwhelming support that we are getting on a consistent basis. People are coming from Somerset and Southampton … people are coming from everywhere.”
He added: “We have been absolutely blown away by the outpouring of support from customers – old and new. The overwhelming majority of support has come from locals, which has been such a great feeling. Bermudians supporting Bermudians is what it's all about.”
On Sundays, the updated menu includes an all-day breakfast that has proven to be a huge hit with items such as chicken and waffles, avocado toast, and traditional codfish and potatoes.
Bermuda’s oldest pub, which first opened as a tavern in 1930, continues to offer the usual favourites – the threesome has introduced new styles of pizza, nachos and wings, for example.
But the White Horse has also added some higher-end menu items like tenderloin and rib eye steaks, a surf ‘n’ turf that gives diners a choice between a rack of lamb and tenderloin – and lobsticles, which Ms Smith describes as “lobster on a stick, grilled or fried”.
She added: “The concept is quality Bermudian cuisine with a gastropub vibe to it.”
Mr O’Connor said: “We aim for high-quality, consistent, flavourful food. Wherever possible, we source local ingredients, and we want to ensure that a taste of Bermuda is present on our menu.”
Aside from refining and updating the food offerings, Mr O’Connor said the other major change has been to the venue’s overall aesthetic and vibe.
He said: “We have incorporated a ‘supper club’ type of feel to White Horse. It's more than just a restaurant, it's a place where you'll be emerged from beginning 'til end. With live DJ entertainment, friendly staff, ambient mood lighting, waterfront dining and more, we aim to make everyone's dining experience just that, an experience. We haven't completely switched things up though, we are still a pub at heart, and will always have the most popular sports games and fights on.”
Mr O’Connor, the majority owner of the Beach Boys set-up at Tobacco Bay, formerly operated The Cellar, the popular nightclub at the Fairmont Southampton – and plans to incorporate some of the attractions that made that venue popular.
He said: “That energy of having the video DJ and food and beverage adding on to it, we are bringing it back alive. It’s The Cellar, but with a full course meal.”
The last year has been difficult for the hospitality sector in Bermuda due to Covid-19, and Mr O’Connor and his fiancee, Elena, have also felt the impact on a personal level.
They have welcomed son Lucas – now eight months old – but her father, Stefan, has passed away overseas due to Covid, having not met his grandson.
Mr O’Connor says: “It has been a trying time, but you have to push forward and be hopeful.”
Professionally, that means looking forward to a White Horse future that he says includes “renovations, additions, events and more”, plus taking advantage of the venue’s 1,000-square foot outdoor space, including reopening the tiki bar.
Mr O’Connor added: “Of course we would have loved to have had a massive grand reopening party, and we would love to have White Horse packed daily, but with the Covid-19 mandates in place, that's just not something we can do as of yet. The health and safety of our staff and our customers remains our number one priority. As we begin to come out on the other side of this pandemic, expect to see exciting changes and collaborations coming your way.”
With the St Regis Bermuda Resort soon to open, and plans for a marina, Mr O’Connor said these are exciting times for the Olde Towne.
Mr O’Connor said: “I have always been a big proponent of the East, especially after successfully running Tobacco Bay for the past six years. There is so much untapped potential in this little gem of a town, but oftentimes St George's gets looked over, or written off as being too far, too quiet, or too ‘old’.
“So when the opportunity arose to take over the historic White Horse, we knew it would be a great chance to breathe new life into the historic town. The location is ideal, being right on the square and the water, and with so much planned for St George's in the near future, we knew we couldn't pass up this opportunity.”
He added: “We are not perfect yet, but we do understand food, beverage, entertainment, hospitality mannerisms and customer service. The learning curve has been steep, and we are still working out some kinks, but we seriously appreciate the patience and support from our locals.
“We are working on getting it just right, and with the continued support, we will.”