As they get into the swing of the busy Christmas season at The Algiers Inn in Baltimore, it’s hard to believe that it’s only been four years since Bill and Ann Hillyard relocated here from California. The couple, who have been married for over 30 years, have spent much of that time travelling the globe as food explorers, immersing themselves in the culinary cultures of the places they discovered along the way and discovering and collecting ingredients and techniques to be combined and reimagined and shared. It’s this passion that inspires the menu and quirky interior they have created at The Algiers Inn. The couple share with West Cork People how for them food and cooking are not just about taste and flavour but about using innovation and creativity to generate shared experiences at the table, bringing together family and friends to relish the bounty of meats, cheeses, seafood and produce on their doorstep.
It was February 2020, just 28 days before the first Covid lockdown, when Bill and Ann began the journey of a lifetime, purchasing The Algiers Inn in Baltimore and transforming the historic old building, whose name summons up memories of Baltimore’s piratical past, when the village was a haven for smugglers and pirates, into an exotic Moorish – with a nod to its past – bar and restaurant.
Back in the old days, rumours have it that The Algiers operated as an illicit síbín under the cover of a legitimate bakery and shop. In 1892, however, Beamish and Crawford Brewery formally established a pub on the premises to coincide with the arrival of the Baltimore extension of the Cork, Bandon, and South Coast Railway. The railway opened the village to legitimate commerce and tourism, forcing the pirates and smugglers out of Baltimore and onto more secluded harbours.
Today the building offers a locally-sourced yet globally-focused authentic food and entertainment experience at the heart of Baltimore village. The award-winning eclectic menu, while inspired by American fast food – with items ranging from buffalo bites to a North Carolina-style pulled pork sandwich to a selection of legendary tacos – is anything but; with all of the sauces and salsas made in-house.
A review in the Irish Examiner this year described the Carnitas taco as “a sweet and savoury mouthful of tender pork confit, with a verdant, vibrant salsa verde, creamy guacamole and pickled red onions.” The same review proffered the ‘Carne Asada’, “a grilled Walsh’s West Cork skirt steak, succulent with juicy umami, dressed with diced raw red onion, coriander, guacamole, and fiesty house salsa” to be as good as, if not better, than the fish taco.
While Ann manages the kitchen with a team of skilled chefs, Bill runs front of house. Their bar manager, Sean McCarthy has worked at The Algiers for over 26 years, staying with Bill and Ann when they took over the business. “We consider ourselves very fortunate to have Sean McCarthy as Bar Manager,” they say, while also recognising their young but professional and hardworking team.
“We had a five-year plan to do up the old pub, but taking advantage of the lockdown, we went full bore, doing much of the work ourselves. Our eclectic menu arose out of the vacuum of the lockdowns,” share the couple,
Bill and Ann’s passion for what they do has not gone unrecognised with The Algiers named ‘Munster Traditional Gastropub of the Year’ at the Yes Chef Ireland Awards 2023, as well as having been shortlisted for five other of the awards. The Algiers was also shortlisted for Front of House Team of the Year by the Yes Chef.
“For us, hospitality starts with the genuine enjoyment of doing something well for the purpose of bringing pleasure to others. It is our primary motivation for coming to work every day.
“We are passionate about creating the best possible experience for our guests. Our goal is that they feel an affiliation with us, a connection, of feeling important and cared-for. This is our greatest reward.”
While far from home, the couple have settled into life in West Cork, enjoying nothing better than longs scenic walks and friendly pints in their local on days off. They’re also constantly amazed at discovering familial connections with only a few degrees of separation: Like the customer who turned out to be the granddaughter of Bill’s grandfather’s business partner in San Francisco, or the guest from Dublin who owns the bar in California that Bill’s first cousin manages.
Four years on and West Cork is as captivated with The Algiers as Bill and Ann are with West Cork. It’s a lively spot even in off-season. For a tasty meal in a friendly inviting space, you won’t go wrong.