Happily for us drinkers, Shetland has plenty of interesting pubs to visit for a small, seemingly quiet place; I’m going to attempt to take you on an online crawl around a few of the pubs of Lerwick, the capital – if you can handle the pace. Maybe it’ll entice some of you up here for a spree, or bring back some memories. Lerwick has the most pubs, with a range of opening hours from 8 am through until 2 am. The two liveliest currently are Captain Flints and The Lounge; both have two bars, an upstairs and a downstairs. FLINTS Flints is located in a fine looking building erected at the turn of the 19th century near the market cross, above Don Leslies’ shop. Converted from Dons delicatessen about four years ago, it has a vaguely piratey/nautical theme, which has been successfully achieved without wallowing in tackiness. They offer live bands on most Thursday nights and Sky Sports/MTV on the TV, there’s also a big screen that’s used if there’s any special sporting events on. Occasionally House DJs play in the smaller upstairs bar, where the jukebox, darts board and pool table are situated. The main bar has a pretty good sound system too, with a choice of MTV or a decent selection of CDs you can argue with the barstaff over. The food is quite good with some interesting snacks and homemade soups available, but they stop serving at 5:30 p.m. for some strange reason. On the drinks front they offer a decent selection of beers - some local, spirits and Alco pops, and like to invent their own shooters. The view at the east side of the buildings looks out over the harbour and the neighbouring island of Bressay, so you can sit and gobble down your Aftershocks whilst watching the rain bouncing off the pier. THE LOUNGE Close by, situated in an unassuming building up the lane to the West of the cross is The Lounge. Traditionally musically oriented, the walls are covered in painti
ngs and photographs of local and well known visiting artistes, there’s also a piano, guitars and a couple of fiddles available for anyone who wishes to strike up a tune. During the Folk Festival and the Fiddle and Accordion Festival this place is usually pinned with musicians. I remember thinking the floor was about to cave in (It was REALLY bouncing) last Christmas when there was a Ceilidh band playing. They don’t do food or offer a particularly exciting range of drinks, but it’s not that sort of pub anyway – this is a place renowned for craic and music more than anything. The downstairs bar is more of a blokey drinking hole – mainly bankers and posties by tradition, with a dartboard and a portable CD player. It’s recently been renovated, which will come as a shock to anyone who’s been away. Still very basic, but it looks twice the size for some reason. DA NOOST Nearby, further North along Commercial Street is The Noost. Located between a couple of “High Street” shops, (If Shetland can honestly claim such a thing), it has a large plate glass window, behind which the curtains are always closed. More of a local type pub, it still can get very busy at the weekends. They have Sky Sports, a piano for anyone that wants to use it and a pool table, all in the upstairs bar. Downstairs is a smaller bar, with another pool table and a lot of familiar faces at the bar. Known locally as Tammie Grubs, it used to be a restaurant until Tammie turned it into a pub. I prefer it as a pub – the food was awful. THE GRAND Opposite the Noost is the Grand Hotel, which does indeed look quite grand with its towers and minarets, and is the home of two bars and Posers nightclub. The small public bar, The Fishermans, is quite cosy, whereas the lounge bar is indeed quite grand, since it was renovated. The food here is very good and they have a decent selection of drinks. Normally th
e lounge bar is quite quiet, which is a shame because it’s one of the most attractive bars in town. On the same floor (There are four) is Posers nightclub. Glitzy in its heyday, with smoke, lights, a mirrored ball, and an uninteresting selection of expensive drinks it’s able to hold about 250 bodies, but suffers from horrible music syndrome. After a mixed night of mediocre dance and chart music, they usually finish the night (2am on Fridays) with a Brian Adams love song, or similar. Not my cup of tea, to be honest. THE THULE BAR The Thule Bar is a dingy pub where sawdust on the floor wouldn’t look out of place. It used to be the focal point of drinking activities in Lerwick until Flints opened. Centrally located it’s a reasonably large, square building that stands distinctively alone with its’ name proclaimed boldly above the door on a painted board. It opens at 8am to service nightshift workers and those who can’t face the oncoming hangover. Good fun if it’s busy, a bit desperate if it isn’t. The upstairs has recently been renovated and is now quite stylish, in a bistro-ish fashion. I was recently in the downstairs bar, a horseshoe shaped affair with two pool tables and plenty of windows overlooking the harbour, at 7 o’ clock on a Monday night, killing time. No one in there looked familiar, but I was offered a joint within 5 minutes of buying a drink (I just said No). Very friendly, but a bit down market, would be a fair assessment. MOONEYS WAKE Mooneys Wake used to be known for decades as The Excelsior bar, and was a very popular haunt for a long time. Located on the corner of a rather grand looking terrace halfway up the hill on Market Street, it occupies three floors. Unfortunately it was converted into a very tacky Irish Theme bar a few years ago, the Irish newspaper cuttings that adorn the walls just don’t please the eye. That killed the two
upstairs bars for a long time, although the downstairs bar is quite cosy with a jukebox and pool table, attracting a younger, alternative crowd. The middle floor has a dance floor and DJs at the weekends, and they are attempting to attract custom by offering cheap drinks during live sporting events shown on a big screen. It’s slowly picking up trade, but is still a long way from its heyday. THE NORTH STAR Next door to Mooneys, occupying the centre of the terrace, is The North Star. Formerly Shetlands’ cinema (We don’t have one anymore), it opens on Saturday nights for some banging Hard House and a selection of other dance music. The DJs occupy the large stage that stands in front of the screen, above the dance floor, so look quite imposing – it could almost pass as a proper night out. In all honesty it’s a dive, but the music is good and in the bar below the dance floor the staff are very quick for somewhere as busy as this. It costs a fiver to get past the numerous doormen, and stays open until 2 a.m. THE WHEEL BAR The Wheel Bar, so called because the walls are covered in photographs of ships, is just round the corner from Mooneys. They have a great selection of cocktails, shooters and special offers, but it doesn’t have much else going for it. A good place for a stag or henny day, as the sticky carpets will attest, but not the sort of place for the more romantically inclined. Seems to attract the town drunks, who’re banned from everywhere else, through the week. THE DOUGLAS ARMS Further along Commercial Road, North of the town centre on a small terrace of shops, is The Douglas Arms, known locally as The Marlex. There used to be two barmaids there called Marlene and Alex, and apparently that’s how it got its nickname. Quite nicely decorated with a (convincing) fake fire, it’s homely in an upmarket fashion and offers a reasonable selection of drinks. They
have musical nights from time to time in the lounge bar, and a pretty good jukebox, pool and darts in the public bar. A good place to start a pub-crawl, do some quiet courting or take visiting work colleagues for a dram. THE LERWICK HOTEL Situated on the South side of the town, opposite the Gilbert Bain Hospital is The Lerwick Hotel. A large, single storey building, it has a nice bar, all wooden finish with lots of private booths, but unfortunately its very food oriented. I say unfortunately, as I’m not impressed with their attempts at bar meals. The food I’ve had in here in the past often gives the impression it’s been either defrosted or cooked by someone with extremely indelicate taste buds, and is expensive to boot. Either way I don’t recommend the bar food, though it’s a lovely place for a drink. The main restaurant, on the other hand, offers some very good food, which seems rather strange as they share the same kitchen, and it also has cracking views of the South Harbour. THE FERRY INN A mile to the North of the town centre is the Shetland Hotel. This is a very large, rectangular, ugly building constructed in the early eighties. Strangely, when I was in Sydney in 1992, I was shopping for curios and got chatting to the owner of a tribal art boutique. It turned out his brother had designed the hotel. Uncharacteristically, I just smiled politely and bit my tongue. The Public Bar of The Shetland Hotel is called the Ferry Inn – because it’s 100 yds from where the Ferry from Aberdeen ties up. As you can imagine, the views from the hotel itself are of the docks – gorgeous choice of site. I got engaged in this bar, quite a few years ago, so I thought I’d better mention it. Not somewhere you’d want to go nowadays unless there was a good band on (It’s not very central), but many people pop in as they say farewell to the Isles. It has a reasonable jukebox an
d a pool table, the usual selection of drinks and can get rowdy on occasion. THE MARYFIELD Opposite Lerwick on the neighbouring island of Bressay is The Maryfield. This is a nice old hotel standing alone in its grounds, that does great food, including a wide variety of seafood, in both the lounge bar and the restaurant. It has a nice little public bar with a good jukebox, a piano for anyone who’s up for it and a comfy old settee to lounge on. They also have a pool table in a side room. Bressay is only a five-minute ferry ride from the centre of Lerwick, and the Maryfield is just 150 yds from the terminal. It’s worth a visit, but if you’re going for food phone and book, as they can get pretty busy. Well that’s me covered a dozen establishments and 22 bars, I almost feel hammered now. Hope this has been of some use, and if you want more info on Shetland feel free to e-mail me.