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Beer Up North: Good times at the Nickel City Hotel

There is a sense of history in many of the drinking establishments up north
Beer Up North by Jason McLellan

There’s something about the old Northern Ontario taverns and hotel bars that I find compelling. 

When I step into these places, it’s like I can feel the spirits of the people who built this region pleasantly haunting the environs, raising a glass of draught and letting loose after a 12-hour shift in the railyard or the steel plant.

During my last trip to Sudbury, I took the opportunity to embark on a little field journalism for Beer Up North, and took the short walk from the Clarion to the Nickel City Hotel.  From the moment I sat down at the wood and ordered my first Molson Ex, I knew the place was special – so special that I left convinced that the Nickel City Hotel must have been Stompin’ Tom Connors’ inspiration to write Sudbury Saturday Night. 

From the exterior, picture a grey brick-and-mortar building dating back to the ‘30s in a neighbourhood that’s as equally original.  Step inside the Nickel City Hotel on a busy night and you’re greeted by a raucous energy coming from a lively crowd of miners, railway workers, and tradespeople, Francophones and Anglophones, men and women, the winners and the losers – all hootin’ and hollerin’ about whose shot it is at the billiards tables and what song’s blaring from the jukebox. 

The place carries the appearance of a bright, well-kept tavern with a bit of a sports-bar ambience owing to the Original Six hockey team logos on the wall, with a particular emphasis on the Chicago Blackhawks.

Don’t expect craft beer here – it’s a place to drink Molson’s, Labatt’s, Coors’, and Carling Black Label. 

I noticed Caesars were popular with the regulars, although the honours for drink order of the night had to go to a gentleman who ordered a Long-Island-iced-tea-no-tequila-double-something-else-doesn’t-matter, with the words strung together so fluidly and in such a practiced and casual manner that he might as well have simply ordered a rum-and-coke or a water-melon.

In 2013, the Sudbury Star ran a tribute piece for the 75th anniversary of the Nickel City Hotel. They interviewed staff and clientele, with one long-time patron reminiscing about the ‘50s when he could get a glass of Northern Breweries draught and a pork chop dinner for $1.35.  The impressive Northern Breweries building across the street may be long-closed down, but I dare say the spirit of the Nickel City Hotel is alive and well today.

Until next time!

Well the girls are out to Bingo

and the boys are getting stinko

We think no more of Inco

on a Sudbury Saturday night

- Stompin’ Tom Connors

Stay tuned for a further discussion of the Beer Up North, next week. 

Jason McLellan is a self-professed beer geek.  He wants the world to know he's damn proud of his Northern Ontario roots, even though he couldn't catch a fish if one jumped in the boat. His columns run Wednesdays at 12:00 p.m.


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