I've been frequenting the 'Rock' (as it’s affectionately known) on and off for 3 years. I've met many an interesting patron, bartender and up until a little while ago dog. I even met my wonderful other half there and no one finds love at a bar. This isn’t a bar the people and atmosphere are what set the pub apart and a good part of the reason I’ve returned time and again. Unfortunately, when it’s good it’s great, but when it’s off it’s the equivalent of a flat, warm pint.
The first thing you might notice is how cozy the place is. A large Victorian house with a good size patio and long accessible ramp leads to a bright green door. On the other side you'll find a long wooden bar adorned with various taps that invite you to park your butt on one of the long wooden benches and stay for a while. From floor to the ceiling there’s something to see and fairly regular fare; board games, books, a couple instruments, sports games on a tube in the corner, tunes on the radio. Yet, there’s some irregular fun like Trivia night (Wednesday) with a chance to win your dinner and occasionally jam nights where its fine to bust out the bars bongos.
I've known a lot of people to be regulars and regularly return to this pub; its in close proximity to home for some, its a venue to perform for others and it does offer a certain amount of security in a somewhat unsecure neighbourhood. The owner Kate is a wonderfully warm woman who always "looks after her regulars" and Troy is a jovial fellow who almost always have a smile for you. The owners are definitely a part of the cozy charm of the Rebels. They host numerous events for charity and often personal fundraising for individuals known to the pub.
I wish I could rate the Value as highly as I can the Atmosphere. Expect to spend about $7 a pint (plus tip). They have a decent selection of drafts; Guinness, Harp, Kilkenny, Moosehead, Keith's, Bud, 50, Stella and Magners cider. You'll get a similar selection at most other Irish pubs in Hamilton. The portions are usually large and specials can be very special. The pulled pork for $5, Salap's (their salad wraps) and many of their 'Mains' are definitely worth your money. Buy one pound get one pound half off chicken wings (Thursday) isn't quite as enticing as 'buy 2 lbs get one free'. We bought 2 pounds one night and were surprised to find we only got 1/2 a pound on the house.
The Value, Food and Service are hard to rate because of inconsistency. Food is prepared by the bartender serving you which means service and value can be affected by the amount of patrons in the bar or supply shortages. Usually you can expect good service from the Rock, but good service doesn't excuse undercooked chicken wings or cold food. A few weeks ago a bartender 'forgot' my pint inside before she came out and took her smoke break. A few months ago a friend and I had dinner. I ordered the special (chicken curry) and I was disappointed to find that although it tasted delicious it had NO potatoes! 90% of the menu contains potato; the nachos, the bread, especially most of the appetizer and dinner items. Maybe they ran out of potatoes for the curry?
I've had great service from great people who've worked at the Rebels Rock and I've had terrible service from nice to nasty folks who've also poured pints there. When they began their 'Birthday Club' promotion I was delighted to have a birthday coming up. The night of my actual birthday we visited the pub where I was informed by a rather new, rather large fellow behind the bar that I couldn't have the birthday ‘surprise’ because he had no idea what it was. Fair enough. Unfortunately later that night a long time resident bartender with a mouth like Roseanne came in to check on their big newbie and she seemed either unable or unwilling to bother honouring the promotion.
The close connection formed in a pub like this can also be a drawback. Its location tends to lend itself to the odd rough patron. Some bartenders in turn can have a tendency to be a little rough with those who frequent the pub and (like most places people socialize) gossip tends to run rampant.
The music schedule is unfortunately as unpredictable as the food and service. It’s not unusual to come in expecting to hear live music only to find someone’s iTunes running. The music playing usually tends to be enjoyable enough but you can only enjoy it inside, if you smoke, you lose in more ways than one eh. The slightly cramped space leads to loud levels when the music is live. This isn't very good if you want to sit inside and chat with a friend casually, but at least you can hear the band from the patio.
A word about the patio. Its easier to go inside and order your first pint than to wait to be served. Particularly if the place isn't busy or the bartender doesn't smoke. It’s hard to give the Rebels Rock a review because it can be a great night out or a fun afternoon but it can also vary greatly. I realize change is inevitable but it shouldn't affect a business to the point where walking in is a gamble. It’s a pub, not a casino. I might recommend the Rebels Rock to someone if they were looking for somewhere to grab a pint close to where I live. Luckily, Hamilton has a decent selection of Irish pubs so you can have more than one opportunity for a good pub experience.
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