“In England, it is important where you live, what you earn and where you work, but the most important thing is the quality of your local pub. There are no true house parties in England. Everyone gathers at the local pub; quality of pub, equals quality of life,” explains Bruce Jenkins, owner of the Lion & Dragon Pub in the Courtyard, Pickering Village, Ajax. “The pub is an atmosphere for your family. This is a safe place you can come and relax. You don’t have to ever worry about being physically or mentally accosted. It’s like stepping into your living room and being served.” Bruce talks about the lady that comes in once a week while her daughter is at her music lesson across the road. After she is finished her class, the daughter meets her mother at the pub and they enjoy a snack and a little mother-daughter visit. “They are happy in their little time out,” Bruce explains. This is exactly the atmosphere he had envisioned for his pub six years ago.
Bruce knows firsthand how a good pub can be the backbone of a community. He lived for four years in England working for a brewery and saw how a pub could bring a community together. There were very few strangers in the pubs of England, and those who were strangers, were not strangers for long. He aspired to bring this sense of community to Canada. The Lion & Dragon Pub was first established in Pickering on Highway 2, west of Liverpool and then, when the location in the Courtyard became available in January 2009, Bruce jumped on the opportunity. For six years he had wanted to bring the Lion & Dragon Pub into the village centre and now here was his chance.
The renovations took four months to gut the old décor and build the new interior. Originally, the location was used as a bar and as such, it did not fit well with the ideal Bruce wanted. An old English pub requires a few necessary traits to be considered a community pub:
1) The atmosphere must be warm, comfortable and friendly for the whole family;
2) It must not represent a bar, meaning that it must be designed for conversation;
3) The food must absolutely be phenomenal;
4) The patrons need to know the pub owner is on hand and available for a chit-chat.
In March 2009, the Lion & Dragon opened its doors to the community. The expansive menu has something for everyone. You can enjoy some true English fare like Cornish pasties or sausage rolls. You might decide to choose from the Lion’s selection of potpies such as steak and kidney, steak and mushroom, or chicken. The veggie lover has scrumptious spring rolls, crisp veggie plates, and savory salads like Caesar, house, Asian, or the Lion’s own trademark salad to enjoy. Should you prefer something lighter try the quesadillas, or choose one of the panini sandwiches such as the popular “Heather’s Panini”. For the seafood fan there is shrimp, muscles, Atlantic fish, or the Lion’s trademark fish and chips with a light dusting of pepper and lemon. If you want something special, the Lion & Dragon is proud to woo your palate with their succulent Chateau Brien. Everything is homemade. The roast beef to the chicken in the sandwiches is cooked and carved on site. There is very little packaged food here. It’s savory, hearty and healthy.
The broad menu aside, the Lion & Dragon is known for its wings. The shipment comes in fresh daily and is never frozen. Bruce orders just enough wings to last a 24-hour period in order to maintain this standard of quality. Service and quality is what the Lion & Dragon is re-known for; so much so that the Bruce’s wings have inspired a yearly pilgrimage by a group of motorcycle enthusiasts from Buffalo who make a the trip to Pickering Village just for the Lion & Dragon’s wings. They enjoy the food and beer and then ride back to the States - A solid stamp of recommendation and approval!
There are no bouncers at the door of the Lion & Dragon Pub. In the years he has been involved in this industry, Bruce recognizes that that bouncers are for bars. Bruce explains that when you have a bouncer, people automatically think you need a bouncer because there is an undesirable crowd inside and it may not be safe. “I do not turn around and see what problem is coming in, I turn around and see what friend is coming in”, he explains. Bruce had one difficult customer one night. He explains how he handled the situation; “I hit him with a T-shirt. I threw out t-shirts to the clientele that night and it made everyone happy. Most bar owners are not crowd managers. I’m hands on and I know everyone.”
“I wanted an area where I could know everyone of my customers. They were like my family. Like Mark Daly,” Bruce reminisces. Both Bruce and his wife love to tell the story of when Mark Daly visited the Lion & Dragon. As it turns out, Mr. Daly was driving by on his way home one night and decided to drop in for a bite. Bruce and Mark spent some time chatting when the telephone rang. It was Bruce’s wife asking him if the pub was busy. When Bruce mentioned that he had one patron his wife asked him to close up and come home early. Bruce answered that the customer was Mark Daly and he would not close up early. His wife retorted, “You’re rotten! Close up and get home.” That is when Bruce passed the phone to his one client and Mark said, “Hello Mrs. Jenkins.”
The Lion & Dragon was chosen to be the backdrop for a photo shoot for fellow Pickering Village Courtyard business, Dolce Vero Salon N Studio. Bruce’s clientele loved the entertainment that night and praised him on providing both a dinner and a show. As Bruce points out, the Village is a very tight knit business community. The Lion & Dragon supports a number of events in the area including the Pickering Village Jazz Festival and Pillage the Village. They further support the local community through baseball and hockey teams as well as Darts Ontario through their Dart League.
The Town of Ajax is now implementing a revitalization project that will ultimately turn the Village into a downtown district. By June 1, 2011, after five million dollars in renovations, the Village will be pedestrian friendly. As it stands now, the Lion & Dragon draws 3,000 patrons a month through their doors. This clientele also feeds off to the other businesses. The actively family friendly pub has been great for the area. And it is not just the clientele that shows allegiance to the Lion & Dragon; Bruce’s staff does too. During the transition of locations from Pickering to Ajax, the staff stayed loyal to the Lion & Dragon refusing to take jobs elsewhere and instead preferred to wait until the doors opened in the Courtyard. “My staff takes an interest in our customers,” Bruce points out how friendships between his clientele and staff have deep roots.
Isn’t it time you dropped by and became part of the Lion & Dragon family too?
Contact the Lion & Dragon Pub
109 Kingston Rd, The Courtyard, Units 12 & 13, Pickering Village, ON