PUB OF THE YEAR: The Derg Arms, Castlederg
You can’t keep a good pub down! The Derg Arms is back in contention for the Sunday Life Readers’ Choice prize at Pubs of Ulster’s 2011 Pub of the Year Awards — the only bar to make the shortlist for the second year running.
Now owners Sammy and Mona Walls are hoping to go one stage further and win this year, after coming close in last year’s inaugral contest.
I found the Castlederg pub quaint, inviting and picturesque — everything you’d expect from a family-run establishment that includes a 10-bedroom guest house, which the family also run.
There’s history attached to the place and it didn’t escape the Troubles, with a van bomb in the 1970s that 76-year-old Sammy himself heroically drove away from the bar before it detonated.
A local legend, Sammy was personally honoured at last year’s Pub of the Year Awards for his services to the industry.
These days the pub is now known locally as “the tourist board” or “the hub of the community” and it seems to be the meeting point for many in the town.
Jayne Walls, chef and daughter of the owners, told me: “People come to see us from around the world, we get a lot of guests from America, Australia and New Zealand and many are returning customers.
“In fact, we had a lady who travelled from Australia to have her 60th birthday party here — that's how much she loves the pub. And we have guests from New Zealand staying at the minute. They love the laid back atmosphere of the bar.”
For me the bar is so homely and I get the chance to relax beside the roaring fire and chat to some customers.
Wendy Loughrin, who was joined by friends to celebrate passing her exams, said: “This bar is my local and I love coming here — as soon as I got my results we headed down here.”
And it seems the clientele is from 18 to 90, with a special mention for a trio of regular customers nicknamed “the Three Wise Men” who are pointed out to me.
With a restaurant and function room through the back of the bar, it truly is a place for everyone, whether it’s a venue for a party, for food or just a quiet drink beside the fire.
Customer — and local football legend — Andy Crawford said: “It’s a great place to come and relax for a few hours, you’re always guaranteed a good laugh and its great that Sammy is still behind the bar.”
Bar manager Olga Walls added: “For a town like Castlederg, which is based on the border, it’s amazing to see customers come in from different communities and from all over the country and beyond.
“The dance class we hold during the week is most popular and sometimes we really feel like we are making a difference, even though it’s small.”
And one thing The Derg Arms don't believe in is small portions — they serve up huge helping and make sure their customers don't leave hungry.
The menu boasts The Belly Buster Fry, homemade fresh scones for afternoon tea, freshly made lunch specials, main dishes, sandwiches and, of course, homemade desserts.
And it really speaks for itself as they are booked up for meals not just from the locals but even from customers travelling as far away as Coleraine and Lisburn.
As I'm leaving there are more customers flooding in, greeting others already in the bar and it really does feel like “the hub of the community”.
Now the owners Sammy and Mona are hoping their loyal customers and that community get behind them using the voting form printed here to make sure they are named the Sunday Life Readers’ Choice Pub of the Year!