By Niall McArdle
Regular readers know that a while back I visited Kingston for the Reelout Film Festival, and had a wonderful time. It’s a small city (population 120,000) but it has the highest concentration of bars and restaurants in Canada. In many ways the combination of history, small size, entertainment, and artsy, hipster vibe reminded me of Kilkenny.
I had such a good time there in February that I almost immediately started making plans to return. I just got home after spending an enjoyable St. Patrick’s Weekend there. Going back was an experiment: would it be as much fun the second time? Answer: yes. It was nice to see the same smiling faces around town, and even nicer that when I dropped into Sir John’s, for instance, Justin the bartender remembered me.
Because of the week that was in it, there was a plethora of good music to be heard all over the city. The weekend started off well on Saturday, when I downed a few pints of Guinness and had some lovely food at The Toucan on Saturday while watching Ireland beat France to win the Six Nations Rugby Tournament. It was a nail-biter of a match. I was sitting next to a bloke from Carlow who could barely look at the screen. Although it was St. Patrick’s Weekend (or perhaps because of it) I avoided most of the green beer and Kiss Me I’m Irish nonsense.
As well as hitting all the spots I had noted before: The Toucan, Sir John A’s, The Sleepless Goat, and of course The Screening Room (I got to catch up with Brandon and talk to the owner, Wendy), I also found a couple of new favourites.
Favourite place to eat: You’re spoiled for choice in Kingston. There are over a hundred restaurants in the downtown area.There’s the hipster haven The Sleepless Goat, which is well worth a visit. Up the street is The Copper Penny.
But I think I am in love with Atomica. The gourmet pizza and wine bar has great atmosphere, great food at good prices, and a decent selection of booze. The staff are also all very friendly and rather easy on the eye. What more could you ask for in a restaurant?
Atomica has a decent selection of wines (amusingly divided on the wine list into “Italian” and “Not Italian”). I wasn’t hungry enough for one of their huge and delicious-looking pizzas, so I settled on the fettuccini that my server Natasha recommended. It was excellent.
After that she urged me to try the tiramisu. Now, I take tiramisu very seriously: my sister Elaine and her husband Carlo run Toffoli, home of the best tiramisu (and pizza) in Dublin. If you’re in Dublin, you simply have to go to Toffoli. But every other recommendation by the lovely Natasha had been spot-on, so I gave the tiramisu a try. Family loyalty dictates that I must still rate my sister’s tiramisu the best, but I can say without qualification that the Atomica tiramisu is very, very good. They also do a fantastic canoli.
Favourite Place to Drink: I liked Atomica so much, I decided to go back a second time. On the second occasion, Caitlin (lovely girl; used to live in the middle of nowhere in Sligo) recommended that after dinner I check out The Kingston Brewing Company (known by all the locals simply as the Brew Pub). It’s one of Canada’s oldest microbreweries. I sampled their signature beer, Dragon’s Breath, as well as several other ales and stouts.
The pub is housed in a beautiful old stone building. Every inch of wall is covered in beer mats, signs, photos, and other pub ephemera from around the world, and you can tell it’s been lovingly collected over the years, not just bought in one job lot and thrown up, the way a lot of fake Olde English pubs do.
Favourite Place to Stay: As before, I bedded down at The Four Points. Lovely room, very comfortable bed, friendly and helpful staff.
Favourite Encounter: There were several. I met a lovely young couple from Sligo who’ve lived in the city since last year and just love it. And then in one of those odd and wonderful events, I was sitting in Sir John’s when I heard a voice I recognised: I looked up to see old friends Bill and Cathy, who I hadn’t seen in years. We had a lovely dinner at Sir John’s and then headed over to the Brew Pub.
Would I Go Back A Third Time? Yes, very much so. In fact, I’d love to go back next week, because over at The Screening Room on March 29th they’re having a Lebowski Party, and they’re serving White Russians!