Bill Lauries Steakhouse Mandeville
by Andrew Hernandez
As a young man just starting out in the working world, I had the good fortune to work for about a year or so in Mandeville. This lead to two very memorable experiences, one was my discovery of Treasure Beach, which was just becoming more widely known in those years, and the other was Bill Laurie's Steakhouse on the outskirts of Mandeville's city center.
This was in the early 1980's. By then Bill's hay days were perhaps behind him, but this only served to heighten my awe at his amazing restaurant and home.
I don't know very much about Bill's story, save that he had come to Jamaica from Britain several decades before and had fallen in love with Mandeville. He eventually opened his restaurant, which became known for its steaks and genuine English pub experience.
A group of us from the office went for a lunch there one day. The pub was on the upper floor of a fine old Jamaican residence complete with dark stained wood floors. White painted balcony railings enclosed the wide verandah which over looked one end of the town of Mandeville. While the view itself was wonderful, I still remember catching my breath as I walked along the verandah and entered the pub. It was another world, the dark wood bar counter, brass-work, wonderfully ornamented and decorated mirrored shelves behind the counter on and on.
Bill was quite the collector, and the pub had just so many interesting nick-knacks. An old airplane propeller of WWII vintage I believe, the de-rigueur darts board, antique styled dark wood tables and chairs. At one side of the bar sat an old record player and beside that a choice collection of records circa early Beatles and before.
It was absolutely the most bone fide rendition of a genuine British pub I had encountered in all my travels around Jamaica then and since.
The Old Indies Pub in Kingston was plain and dull in comparison, and thats the "old" pub which was destroyed by fire in the late 90's I believe. The "new" Indies Pub - don't even know why they would call that a pub.
More recently, I visited a pub in Kingston Ontario which was established 1890's and billed as one of the most genuine British pubs in Canada. Sorry, not a patch on Bill's.
Even as amazing as the pub was, what came next hit my soft spot. Bill was also a collector of cars! I should have know this from the '56 blue and white Chevy Belair out in the parking lot. Out back there was a convertible British two seater, I think it was a Riley, but can't recall clearly now. Wooden dash and steering wheel, leather seats still in fair shape. It was maybe a 1950's model. There was another older car fitted out with the venerable rumble seat and one of my favorites although a bit newer, the bug eye Healey Sprite.
I was fortunate enough to have met Bill then, I complimented him on the place and we talked cars for a while. He passed away maybe ten years after that and I believe his collection was auctioned off. Unfortunately I had already left Jamaica as surely I would have purchased some memento of this special place. Perhaps it would have been the business card board just inside of the entrance to the pub.
Over the years guests of Bill had left their cards there, many of them visitors to the island or expats. I spied the card of the father of a good friend of mine. He was an expat who had worked in Jamaica coincidentally with a distant relative of mine who ran a paving company. He was the engineer engaged to repave the Fern Gully Road into Ocho Rios back in the early 1970's, which I believe stood up for many years and may even still be there.
I don't know whether the house is still there, it would be a shame if it wasn't. It would be great if others could share their memories of this lost piece of Jamaica.