No visit to Belfast is complete without spending time at the Crown Liquor Saloon, the veritable benchmark of Belfast's Victorian pubs, built in 1885.
Although it functions as a full-time pub, it is maintained by the National
Trust and revered with a museum-like awe by its regular patrons and visitors from near and far.
Step inside and sit in one of the 10 authentically-carved oak snugs on the right, each with its own bell and doors topped by lions or griffons; or take a place along the long main bar with inlaid colored glass and marble trim. Savor your favorite beverage amid a decor of richly colored tiles, stained and smoked glass, gas lights, beveled
mirrors, wooden arches, and red-and-yellow tin ceiling. (46 Great Victoria St., Belfast, tel. 028-9024-3187; www.crownbar.com).
The Crown is only one of my 10 favorite Belfast pubs. Here are the rest, in alphabetical order:
Bittles Bar – dating back to 1861 and formerly known as The Shakespeare, this is a curious triangular building decorated with gilded shamrocks. Compact in size, it is one of the smallest niche pubs in the city with a tri-cornered lounge. The décor features portraits of Ireland’s most celebrated literary figures. (70 Upr. Church Lane, Belfast, tel. 028-9031-1088).
The Deers Head– one of the few remaining truly Victorian bars in the city, located at the corner of North St. near St. Anne’s Cathedral. Established in 1885, it has over a half-dozen cozy snugs and other 19th century memorabilia. (1-3 Lr. Garfield St., Belfast, tel. 028-9023-9163).
The Front Page – immersed in the heart of the city’s newspaper district, this old pub is a popular watering hole for journalists. It was built in 1910 and still retains many of its original furnishings. (106-110 Donegall St., Belfast, tel. 028-9032-4269).
Kellys Cellars – established in 1720, this mid-city pub is wedged in a small street off Royal Avenue beside the Castlecourt Shopping Centre. Over the years, it has kept its aura as an unpretentious “drinking man’s pub.” It attracts a diverse clientele, including Irish musicians who add music to the scene every night except Monday. (30 Bank St., Belfast, tel. 028-9032-4835).
The Kitchen Bar – dating back to 1859, this pub started at another location with theatrical connections around the corner. It was relocated with all of its original furnishings to its current home (a converted warehouse), to make way for the new Victoria Square shopping center. It is a lively place, with all types of music including traditional Irish on Saturday night. (1 Victoria Square, Belfast, tel. 028-9024-5268; www.thekitchenbar.com).
McHughs – claims to be Belfast's oldest pub, dating back to 1711. It also claims to be the city's oldest remaining building. Recently refurbished
and reopened in 1998, it has lots of memorabilia and mementos of the past. Traditional music is played on Saturday afternoon and modern music on Thursday-Saturday nights and Sunday afternoon. (29-31 Queen's Square, near Albert Clock, Belfast, tel. 028-9050-9999); www.mchughsbar.com).
The Morning Star Bar – located in an old “Entry” between Anne and High Streets, this building dates back to 1810 and was originally a coaching house on the Belfast-Dublin mail line. The Victorian-style sign over the door and the golden winged lion of St. Mark join to give a preview of the Victorian delights inside, from its original mahogany counter to the old terrazzo floors. It has been called a “living museum.” (17-19 Pottinger’s Entry, Belfast, tel. 028-9032-3976; www.themorningstarbar.com).
The Northern Whig – formerly home to the Northern Whig printing press, this “uber cool”-style bar now has a contemporary eastern European atmosphere, with original granite Communist statues and alfresco seating on Bridge Street. (2-10 Bridge St., Belfast, tel. 028-9050-9888); www.thenorthernwhig.com).
White’s Tavern – established in 1630 as a wine and spirit merchant’s shop, and rebuilt in 1730, this pub is situated on one of the city’s oldest streets. Step in, order your favorite beverage, and drink in the old Belfast ambiance amid the brick arches, open fireplace, ornate snugs, old barrels, and framed newspaper clippings dating back 200 years. Access is from Lombard St., High St., and Rosemary St. (2-4 Wine Cellar Entry, Belfast, tel. 028-9024-3080); www.whitestavern.co.uk).
Patricia Preston has written 23 travel books (15 about Ireland). Visit Pat’s web site (http://www.IrelandExpert.com) or get her latest book, Ireland Travel 101 (http://www.IrelandTravel101.com)