No visit to Bowmore, or Islay for that matter, would be complete without a stop at Duffies Whisky Bar. Duffies is a part of the Lochside hotel on Shore Street just off the pier in Bowmore. The whisky bar is front and center when you enter, but the dining room toward the back offers a lovely view over Loch Indaal while you enjoy a rich and wonderful menu.
After finding the bar, I couldn’t help but put in an appearance three or four times on my recent trip to Islay. Much of the island’s tourism is focused on whisky, and what better way to sample a dram or three while on the island (aside from those offered on distillery tours) than making your way down Shore Street to Duffies? The bar stocks over 260 Islay malts alone, with selections from other distilleries available as well.
The staff is friendly and frequently hilarious. One eve, while sipping an Ardbeg Renaissance near the bar, I overheard a gentleman ask the bartender what a certain coin in his hand was worth. Without hesitation the reply was, “that’s a two pound coin…we use those for tipping barmen”. Resounding laughs well deserved. I only hope that chap did indeed leave behind that coin. I shared a couple of great converstaions with the staff at Duffies. I only hope they can forgive me for not remembering them all by name. I’ll be back, folks. I’ll remember next time.
I sat down with Duffie himself one afternoon to chat about his beautiful bar, exceptional selection and life on Islay. Duffie MacNeill is man for whom a smile comes naturally. His thick Scottish accent had me paying careful attention as we settled into a pair of armchairs for a chat, lest I miss any of the nuggets of humor he dropped. He and his wife Roberta have owned Duffies for 8 years now. Conveniently (and often inconveniently, I’m sure) they live just two doors down. I saw a fair bit of Duffie in the bar while in Bowmore, but he swears most eves he is not there if he can help it. I also briefly met his lovely wife, though she declined to join him in the photo op.
In its present incarnation, Duffies is stunning. The bar boasts gorgeous woodwork on the shelving, as you can see below, where the malts of Islay are proudly and prominently displayed. All local timber, of course. And weighing down these shelves? Well…a brilliant collection of Port Ellen, broad ranges of Laphroaig and Bruichladdich, a nice selection of young Kilchoman releases, Black Bowmore for the high rollers and a locked glass case showcasing an Ardbeg 1965. These are but a few of the offerings, many of which have slowly been migrated over from Duffie’s personal collection. The prices are more than fair. Your wallet may take a denting, but that will simply be from sampling many of the bottles, not because of Duffies’ pricing. A framed award on the wall from Whisky Magazine is almost redundant in confirming Duffies as one of the world’s premier whisky bars. One need only step inside to see for themselves.
The place was fairly hopping each time I dropped in for a dram or a pint of Finlaggen ale, and there was always someone to chat with. I met an engaging chap from Hong Kong, a great couple from England and a few American folks. Duffie says the tourist trade is varied, with a large contingent of Japanese and Swedish visitors. Lots of Fins and Canadians as well. Surprisingly, not so many from the US. He says there is no longer a short tourist season anymore, instead a steady stream visit year round. I visited Islay in late September and can attest I met travelers from all over the globe.
It is now mid-October. I have been home for nearly two weeks now. I can honestly say that Duffies is one of the places on Islay I am already missing. Looking forward to my next visit.