Yo, Ho, Ho, It’s a Pirate Pub

by Jul 8, 2024Business, Restaurants, Southport Oak Island

Royal James Rummery pays homage to Southport’s brush with pirate history.

Everybody loves a good pirate story, and Southport is alive with legends and lore from the time when notorious pirates such as Blackbeard, Stede Bonnet and Mary Anne Blythe lurked just north of town in the estuarine hideouts of the Cape Fear River.

Recently, as I walked down Moore Street, I was startled to find a familiar white skull imprinted on a field of black, its hollow eyes staring at me from the front of Royal James Rummery. The skull belonged to the Jolly Roger of Stede Bonnet, one of Southport’s most renowned pirates. How appropriate, I thought. After all, what self-respecting pirate wouldn’t like a good bottle of rum? I knew I had to learn more about this place, but first, a little context.

Stede Bonnet had it all, but clearly, that was not enough. Born July 29, 1688, in Bridgetown on the island of Barbados, Bonnet was a British army major and the son of English parents who owned and operated a 400-acre sugar plantation. Wealthy, married and a father, Bonnet abandoned his career, wife, children, fortune and good reputation at the age of 29 to become a pirate.

Royal James Rummery SPT

Although regarded by many as inept and cruel, Bonnet never departed from his genteel roots, thus earning him the nickname, the “Gentleman Pirate.” Much about Bonnet remains a mystery, but Southport has a direct historical tie to him.

Royal James Rummery, one of the town’s newest and most unique establishments, hopes to keep his legacy alive.

Named after Bonnet’s ship, Royal James, this new pub owned by Patrick Gaynor and Scott Moore opened in March of 2024 and is already connecting locals and visitors to Southport’s colorful pirate history.

Royal James Merch

Gaynor, a self-proclaimed history novice with a love of pirates, admits this is one of his goals. At 109 E. Moore Street, Royal James Rummery is only three-tenths of a mile down the street from a Stede Bonnet historical marker along Bonnet’s Creek.

Royal James Rummery has a Caribbean/Key West vibe with open-air seating in front and its bar and numerous tables inside.

Additional seating and pool tables are upstairs in a space that can be reserved for special events. The Royal James is the kind of place where you could imagine a rum-loving pirate cozying up to the bar and swapping tales with the likes of Jimmy Buffett.

Royal James Southport NC

The building, with its vintage architecture and Bonnet’s unique Jolly Roger displayed both inside and out, bleeds history, pirates and adventure. Like all traditional pubs, it is meant to be an inviting place, and with its location within sight of the Cape Fear River, a customer could expect to find an eclectic mix of patrons, all enjoying drinks, great food, a rich atmosphere and good company. Tourists, locals, merchants, fishermen and celebrities — travelers from all over the world — pass through Southport every day, so meeting new and interesting people has become the norm.

The layout of the pub creates a casual space that encourages conversation and interaction while also providing options for those who just want to have a quiet space for a drink or a bite to eat with family or friends.

With an old-world atmosphere, Royal James Rummery is a great place to beat the heat, kick back, relax and escape to a different time and place.

The pub offers a wide selection of rums, tequilas, fine bourbons, whiskeys, scotches and beers and wows customers with a variety of cocktails and frozen drinks. The Royal James also offers several unique specialty drinks, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic, with intriguing names such as Coconut Cream Pain Killer, Stede Stormy, The Royal James Margarita and Pirate’s Punch.

Royal James Rum Drinks

Although Gaynor emphasizes that one of his goals is to be known as “a pub that sells food” rather than “a restaurant that sells drinks,” he wants people to be aware that, in addition to their interesting and diverse drink selection, Royal James Rummery also offers several Southport-inspired sandwiches and a variety of light and healthy salads and rice bowls that are Caribbean, Jamaican and Yucatan-inspired, each crafted to capture the unique flavor profiles of the islands.

Royal James Rummery has been very successful since it opened, and it is not unusual to drive by and see people lined up at its front door. Gaynor mentions that they have been extremely busy in the short time they have been in operation.

Originally from upstate New York and a graduate of Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, Gaynor is quick to credit the valuable contributions of Moore and the rest of his staff, particularly kitchen manager Tarondus Morris. Gaynor and Moore also share in another venture, The Pub of Southport, where Moore is the owner and Gaynor is the general manager.

Food at Royal James

After your visit to Royal James Rummery, you may want to take the short drive up Moore Street and visit the monuments that mark the places where Bonnet’s fate was sealed.

In August of 1718, Bonnet brought the Royal James in from the Atlantic for some lengthy repairs, hiding it in what is now known as Bonnet’s Creek, just north of town and slightly inside the mouth of the Cape Fear River. There, he and his men encountered the forces of Col. William Rhett at daybreak on September 26, 1718. The battle that ensued was the bloodiest battle of the colonial pirate era, the Battle of the Cape Fear River. Bonnet was able to escape, but many of his crew did not and were either killed in the battle or captured and hanged soon thereafter. A short time later, Bonnet was located and brought to justice. After only a year and a half as the Gentleman Pirate, he was hanged in Charleston on December 10, 1718, ending the “Golden Age of Piracy” in North Carolina. Bonnet was only 31.

Want to visit?
The Royal James Rummery
109 E. Moore Street, Southport
(910) 363-4783

Photography by Katie D Photography