3 Belfast bars to drink to this St Paddy’s Day


One is the oldest licensed premise in Belfast, one is its most bombed bar, and one has won a number of accolades — like the World’s Best Hotel Bar.

It’s St. Patrick’s Day this Tuesday the 17th, and to help you get into the spirit we dove a few years back into the archives for Dave Spanton’s look at some of Northern Ireland’s most storied drinking holes. He particularly enjoyed the award-winning Merchcant Hotel, which you may have heard of before: the bar has seen Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry (both now owners of The Dead Rabbit in New York), and expat Kiwi bartender Hayden Lambert (Bar Americano), doing time behind its bar.

Get a look at them below, and raise a glass to these storied bars tomorrow.



The Merchant

16 Skipper St, Belfast

There are not too many awards this hotel bar hasn’t won and most notably the honour of being named Worlds Best Cocktail Bar at Tales of the Cocktail in 2010. The building is situated in the city’s cathedral district and was built in the mid 19th century as the grand headquarters for their national Ulster bank.  In 2006 the building was refurbished to create the five star Merchant Hotel and the bar itself, once the bank manager’s office, has kept its classic feel with antique furniture, chandeliers and cozy fireplace. The bar setup itself has all the modern amenities with hand chipped ice to a well-stocked back bar; I love the fact it has no big bright draught beer taps on show or TV screens, which can really be out of place in so many historic pubs.

Once you get a seat at the bar, which is a must at such an establishment, you will see how one bartender can manage the bar and work the room to keep all their guests happy and entertained. Most importantly customers are not waiting too long for drinks either. My bartender was Hayden Lambert and he’d been with the bar since it opened (he is now at Bar Americano in Melbourne), and he was an absolute pleasure to watch. The cocktail list was over 100 pages — to be honest it seems to me to be excessive. But I’m sure many customers love seeing all the photos and the history of a drink especially as cocktails are a relatively new thing for Belfast, so such education can only be a good thing. Hats off to all involved especially original bar manager Sean Muldoon, as the Merchant Bar is a true shrine to quality cocktails and service.


Crown Liquor Saloon

46 Great Victoria St, Belfast

Even before I’d seen an image of this majestic pub what got my attention was that sometime Bartender columnist and proud Irishman, Mr. Philip Duff, mentioned that this legendary venue had been bombed 13 times! Now in the 1990s when the warring factions signed a peace accord there has been no problems. That being said it’s a hell of a record and such a shame that such accidents fall upon what many consider to be the most beautiful (and dangerous) pub in the world. I haven’t seen enough pubs around the globe to judge that, but it is a stunning and visually inspiring masterpiece.

The Crown Liquor Saloon as you see it today dates back to 1885, but prior to this it was known as The Railway Tavern and looked very different. The stain glass, intricate woodwork and tiling work that are features today are thanks to the skills of numerous Italian craftsman who were in the city to build new churches. A debt of historical gratitude must be given to Patrick Flanagan (then the new pub’s owner) who cleverly persuaded the Italian craftsmen to work on the pub after hours, which was the only way to get such talented workers to find the time to do it. What they created is a fine example, if not the finest, of Victorian era pubs — a gin palace by any other name. Today it’s owned by a government-run National Trust that keeps it in good condition, and they thankfully realise what a treasure it is for locals and tourists alike.


Kelly’s Cellar

32 Bank St, Belfast

Built in 1720 Kelly’s Cellar is considered the oldest licensed premise in Belfast. As the name suggests it was originally built as a bonded warehouse for Hugh Kelly who used it to store spirits including gin, rum and of course whiskey. The pub is most famous for the part it played as the meeting place for the Society of United Irishmen during the 18th century. Their uprising in 1798 against British rule is believed to have been planned at the pub, and it was also here that their leader, Joy McCracken, was captured by English solders. McCracken was later executed and they have honoured the man with a huge plaque above their famous table.

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