The Royal Tavern, Kingston, Ontario

My days of bar hopping are long past. The five and a half years of rural life which wrapped up a year ago did its best to kill the habit geographically as did the advent of kids. There are, however, things that are habits and things that are personality traits and I think that the architecture of bars will always interest me. One class could be called the hard little place, that is not a sports bar, not a pub, not a road house. It might be a neighbourhood bar if you didn’t like the neighbours. The old Victory Lounge, formerly in the Lord Nelson Hotel in Halifax, Nova Scotia, or The Green Dory in the Halifax Shopping Centre come to mind as examples as does The Hillsborough Hotel (aka “the hug and slug”) in Pembroke, Ontario. I may, with such an introduction, be slandering the Royal Tavern on Princess street on one particularly non-gentrified block but the place simply does not invite. I would be interested in being proven wrong.





I thought that the adjective “Royal” was not permitted except with government permission. Indeed, as no doubt you all shouted as one at the screen ust now, look up section 10(1)(a) of Ont. Reg 122/91 which makes implying a connection to the Crown a dodgy matter. Did the Queen Mum put in a good word? Maybe she stopped there once in 1937. Most likely the name is saved by section 12(1) and the grandfathering clause for pre 1991 uses. Glad we cleared that up. The phoney Dickensian touches on the exterior, like the Ye Oldie font illuminated “Tap Room” sign over the door, are intriguing but you can bet the inside will disappoint, that the only thing on tap might be Labatt Blue. Actually it kind of looks like a location for a meeting of toughs on Canada’s first coroner TV drama from the late 60’s, Wojeck. The mock ecclesiastical glass and angled door, detailed below, are interesting but somewhat weird touches. I will have to look again but it appears that to the left of the building there is a filled in carriage arch which would have led to a back stable. There are still a number of these arches around the town. There is one great one in Charlottetown, PEI in a wooden house on one of the streets behind the former The Harp and Thistle.





Later: The carriage way is confirmed and even advertised. Apparently the place is very old on the inside even having cobbled or stone floors.

The other day I went back to get the exterior of the rear and was glad to see that the old limestone and double dormers are still there. At City Hall, there is a framed 1875 business directory map of the downtown which shows the building as having the twin dormers and an enclosed walled space out back. From the view below of the inelegant car park you can see reminants of the old walls to both sides of the property with the capping of the wall to the left apparently still intact. Likely it was for horse barns and other out buildings, it is kind of nice to imagine a walled ale garden circa 1840. Come to think of it, though, it is three dormers I am looking at with the one to the right being over the carriageway. The carriageway now feeds into the lean-to like addition to the right of the picture.


One thought on “The Royal Tavern, Kingston, Ontario”

  1. [Original comments…]

    Stephen – January 19, 2005 12:31 PM
    Labatt Blue? Nope.

    They only have ’50’ on tap.

    Alan – January 19, 2005 12:55 PM
    I have yet to enter and would be glad to be introduced by a regular such as yourself.

    Stephen – February 9, 2005 5:21 PM
    A regular? Me?

    I wouldn’t even know how to begin to fit in with that crowd!

    Jeff Tighe – June 20, 2007 6:01 PM
    I lived a block away while at Queen’s and was a regular between 1983 and 1987. The Taps is a tough joint to be sure, but generally you were fine if you minded your own business. Cheap beer and other intoxicating substances available if desired. I enjoyed hanging out there all the time. One of my top 3 favourite bars in the world (The Alpine Hotel and the Strathcona Hotel in Toronto being the other two).

    Chrissy – May 12, 2009 4:05 PM
    I am trying to locate where my Grandmother worked around the time of the first world war. The story goes that she worked in a bar in Kinston serving tables and this is how she met my Grandfather. Is there any lists of employees in your place back then? Does anyone else know of any other bars or taverns or Hotels that would have been around back then in Kingston? Her name would have been Marie Prive’. Any information is certainly welcome! Since my email adddresss will not be shared, please contact if you do have any information on this lady.

    Steve Wright – August 4, 2009 3:37 AM
    Going down memory lane, I was in Canada back in 99 and I decided to stop off at Kingston for the day and I recall this is one pub that made me so welcome I could have just stopped for ever, but as I was heading back to the UK I had to dash for the train! It reminded me of a part of our pub culture that is now missing. Thanks.

    Stephanie – October 16, 2009 4:23 PM
    Is this “the Tavern” you crazy, vintage hat wearing folk talked about @ Norm Hardie’s Harvest Party????
    If yes, check-out amazing pics on: Your tribe (Erica, Sagitarius guy, etc.) is in half of them! “Woody Harrelson” made the cut too.
    Stephanie – fab in yellow hat – Toronto

    jason – November 7, 2010 9:49 AM
    I love the Royal Tavern, great place to have some cheap beer, play pool, and listen to a jukebox all night. Best part about the place is the lack of annoying Queens students in this joint.

    Steve Gates – November 16, 2010 4:00 PM
    Back when I was a shitty-assed highschool student (1977) me and my homeboys would go to the Royal and drink beer at 33 cents an 8 oz glass, yeah, ya read right, 3 beers for a buck, we thought it was great and we never had a problem, sit there, keep to yourself, shut your piehole and enjoy the five-O on tap. The Royal has enjoyed a variety of hardassed owners..a story I remember from the past was of AJ Barry, nicknamed Pudge, he was a former milk wagon operator who had made his name as a local hockey star playing for the Bath Road Beavers, the city champs in the early 1900’s. This guy was as tough as a $2 steak and he ruled the Royal with a cut down piece of hockey stick… nice fella from a distance. Alan, if you get that offer from a local imbiber, let me know and I will come with you, sounds like fun.

    patti – June 13, 2011 12:51 AM
    I was in the royal one night (of many) and i remember the waiter , he was good looking,inteligent,funny,kind of slutty,attentive,etc.,etc.! of course he’s my son.KENNY

    Laura – February 2, 2012 12:50 PM
    I am from the Kingston area. I have never been in for the same reasons that you outline here. Still, you missed the history of the place; including the obvious and important connection that it has to Sir John A. McDonald. It would seem to me that this would be a very significant detail. Here is another blog that has some of this information if you are interested.

    Alan – February 2, 2012 1:00 PM
    Having lived in PEI, I am not attracted by Anne of Green Gables angles on things. It’s unfortunate, as is the case in these matters, that the otherwise good article does not identify the date of the building’s being built.

    Jack Tripper – March 3, 2012 11:18 PM
    Let’s not forget the fact that a guy was killed on the premises sometime in the early 90s.

    CMG – May 29, 2012 2:57 PM
    I’m a Canadian author working on a novel about Kingston in the 1860s, and this was great help! Looking forward to visiting sometime to get a better feel for the place.

    David – July 24, 2012 6:01 PM
    As a graduate student in the late 80s I drank here quite often. Excellent atmosphere, and yes, the suds were cheap. Definitely not for the squeamish, but if you behaved yourself and demonstrated no undue excess of personality, this was an enjoyable place. I hope it has not changed.

    Kevin – May 10, 2013 2:49 PM
    Queens grad student here. This is my bar of choice in Kingston. My lab partners and I go here every week for a few pints and it has a wicked atmosphere. The wait staff are good and the prices are decent. Highly recommend it.

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