COLUMN – Pug’s: of good food and family
There are few places where one can disembark from a cross-continental flight, be greeted by the warmth of the sun and cooling breeze, and be almost immediately subsumed into the true culture of a country. This is one phenomenon of which Barbados can boast.
Just a hop and a jump from the Grantley Adams International Airport’s arrival hall across the parking lot, on the opposite side of the road is the famous Pug’s Bar & Restaurant.
Originally opened as a simple rum shop in 1975, and carrying the nickname of its original owner, it sold beer, spirits, cheese cutters and good old Bajan ham cutters. Pug’s has grown into the unofficial default watering hole for airport employees, thirsty travellers and neighbours from the adjoining district. In fact, long before drive-thru meals became the norm, it was the takeaway location for a special group of airport employees –– the air traffic control officers.
Break times saw ATCs of all ranks heading from the control tower to collect a “cutter” and a soft drink from Pug’s, and briskly returning to the control room, which could not be left on minimum staff for very long.
After a few years, the quintessential Bajan “cutter” on the menu was joined by fried chicken, macaroni pie, fries and salad. And the chicken has become the stuff of local legend.
Even as I conducted the interview, the aroma of good old Bajan seasoning sizzling in the juicy crevices of hot chicken straight out of the frying pan tickled my nostrils –– and the orders kept coming.
In 1978, the firebug struck, and Pug’s –– now run by relatives, owing to the original proprietor’s ill health –– was rebuilt larger, sturdier, with a bit more of a design flair, and with the bright red branding of local beer Banks. The menu has also expanded to include the equally famous fishcakes, beef stew, fish, baked pork, steak fish and, depending on the special of the day, the occasional vegetable chow mein.
Under tents secured in the ground are picnic tables on two different levels, where those who are able to eat at a leisurely pace can enjoy a meal as close to home cooking as one can get, observe the comings and goings at the airport, and catch up with colleagues and neighbours.
A testament to the easy, welcoming atmosphere at Pug’s was the odd collection of patrons ordering their lunch, or taking a break with a cool beverage in the shade: sharply dressed off-duty check-in attendants (ties, jackets and badges removed), labourers in their familiar high-visibility jackets and grey overalls, and even a few old-timers whom I recognized as porters from before the airport’s spruce-up between 2004 and 2006 that saw a two-terminal facility.
Keen to complete lunch was a pair of overseas consultants, who gave me their take on the draw of Pug’s.
British energy performance manager Steven Taylor is in Barbados for a specific project.
He said: “I’ve been stuck eating from Chefette for the past week, and I was looking for somewhere new; and this is a great spot. I’ll be over here every day,” declared Taylor. “What I had today was the fish and the vegetables; and it was just great,” he said, adding and he preferred the simplicity and authenticity of Pug’s menu.
Taylor predicts he’ll be a regular fixture at Pug’s before long.
His softer-spoken collegue Andre Quesnel –– a Canadian married to a Barbadian and resident here for five years –– says “you get good food; it’s close by, as we are doing some work at the airport; and, of course, the atmosphere . . . it’s actually quite similar to Oistins”.
The part-owner of a wastewater engineering company called Ecohesion admits that while he’s not on a first name basis with the family that runs the bar, he’s comfortable with the characters that come and go –– even accepting a spontaneous challenge from a fellow patron for a Friday night game of dominoes!
And, Pug’s is indeed about family. While making change for purchases of soft drinks, asking if regulars wanted their usual, and checking on the status of orders in the kitchen, family friend Maureen Christie was quick to point out she simply helped out when she could –– just as she used to before she retired. She fondly remembers the airport growing as Pug’s began to thrive.
Says she: “I guess it was the seasoning in the chicken and the way it was prepared that kept people coming back –– porters, all the workers at the airport. Even some pilots from LIAT and the staff at other airlines used to come.”
But the wheelhouse of this little slice of Barbadian life is the brother sister team of Iris and Oliver Alleyne. And as I wrapped up the interview, Iris made sure I sampled the famous Pug’s fried chicken on the house.
I give it two very enthusiastic thumbs up!