Whimsical web-covered branches encase all the small gothic chandeliers on the ceiling at Old Nick’s Pub, and sturdy wooden tables stand on the black floors. Fantasy decorations and Pride flags hang along the walls, and an elevated stage lies at the end of the room.
Being able to step into a fantasy-style European pub was Old Nick’s co-owner and general manager Emily Chappell’s goal. She wants you to enter the pub and question if you’re in Eugene or in a pub in a land far, far away. If the aesthetic of the pub doesn’t do that for you, the fantasy-themed menu will.
“There’s amazing restaurants all over the place,” Chappell says of Eugene. “But you can’t really walk in and feel the fantasy suspension of disbelief.”
Old Nick’s was born of an idea for a music venue. About 10 years ago, Chappell says, she found magic in the local music industry after a benefit concert helped her raise money for a life-saving cancer treatment that her insurance refused to pay for. She says the concert helped “name and shame” the insurance company, and it reversed its decision within the week.
In 2014, Chappell found the then-empty building across from Washington-Jefferson Park, where well-known bands including the Melvins and Blue Oyster Cult played in the 1990s when it was Harpo’s Blue Note. She then pitched the idea of a pub, restaurant and music venue to her dad, who happily agreed to help fund the venture. To him, a pub was a really important meeting place, she says. Since then the pub has become known locally for its food, its social activism and events, and most recently for hosting and supporting a drag queen story time in the face of angry anti-LGBTQIA push back from right-wing extremists.
Chappell has a British grandmother, and she also grew up singing Irish music with her family, so the idea of a European pub theme came along. From there, Chappell’s love of goth and fantasy stories, such as Lord of the Rings and Star Trek, gave way to the pub’s gothic, Victorian, fantasy theme.
“Imagine if there is a goth bar in London, or somewhere in the British countryside,” Chappell says, “and that was kind of the theme.”
Fantasy has been important to Chappell’s life, as it was an escape during the challenges of cancer treatment. She says stories such as Lord of the Rings are about facing the impossible, which is similar to the feeling of facing cancer.
“When you’re facing cancer it feels impossible, it feels like you’re definitely going to die,” Chappell says. “And then you don’t. And it’s like a miraculous journey, just like a fantasy.”
The pub’s fantasy theme is carried out in the events it puts on, inspired by nerd culture, including the 1980s movie Labyrinth and an outer space-themed brunch.
At these brunches, which happen once or twice a month, the food is tailored to fit the theme, says head chef and kitchen manager Sky Gross. An example is a spaghetti dish with a blood sausage bolognese, based on Star Trek’s Klingons.
“I was thinking about Klingons, and their whole thing is blood and honor,” Gross says. “So I ended up making a spaghetti dish, but instead of using beef or chicken I used blood sausage.”
Another example from that brunch is a Star Wars themed dish, inspired from the desert planet of Tatooine. The harsh landscape reminds Gross of the Middle East. So, they created a breakfast dish with foods like eggs, bacon and tomato with seasonings and presentation similar to a falafel.
The menu outside of the themed brunches speaks to fantasy as well. Old Nick’s serves classic British or Irish pub food like shepherd’s pie, but the names are taken from fantasy stories. For example, there is the Prancing Pony tavern steak, with a name nodding to the Prancing Pony Inn from The Hobbit.
“We envision that’s something you’d eat if you were at the Prancing Pony,” Chappell explains.
While I did not try the Prancing Pony tavern steak, I did have the Orc’s Belly, which Chappell says is her favorite menu item. It is brown sugar cured pork belly — which is where the wordplay came from — served with roasted garden potatoes, seasonal vegetables and balsamic mustard sauce. For someone who is not normally a fan of pork, the belly slices were perfect — not too seared, with the right amount of chewiness. The potatoes and vegetables balanced out the meat, and the mustard sauce added just the right touch to round out the flavor.
For the less adventurous eater, I assure you the burger and fries will not disappoint. To me the burger was a classic, quality burger you can expect from a pub, and the fries had a unique seasoning that paired wonderfully.
While you’re enjoying your fantasy-inspired meal, you will regularly get a show on the stage. As Chappell says, the pub is inclusive in who gets to play there. From local punk acts, live Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying games and touring bands to drag events — even that drag story time for families — everyone is welcome.
Old Nick’s is located at 211 Washington St. It is open from 4 pm to midnight Monday through Wednesday, 11 am to midnight Thursday, 11 am to 2 am Friday and Saturday and 11 am to midnight Sunday. Details on events and the menu can be found at OldNicksPub.com.