Bar Wars

I was struck by two things as I took my first walk around Belfast center, the number of pubs, not too much a surprise anywhere in the U.K., and the number of coffee places; a 2:1 ratio, whiskey to caffeine. Three of the whiskey variety are the Nicholson’s Crown Bar,  Robinsons, and Brennan’s, all traditional. The Crown Bar is the most famous in Belfast and draws a big crowd. The atmosphere is that of a Victorian Gin House, embellished with ornate tiles, carved wood and etched glass. It is a great example of Victorian opulence. The Crown has private drinking bays, called “snugs” where one can imbibe discretely - not that I saw much of that going on.  Think of a railroad sleeper compartment but better appointed and you’ll get the idea. Access to the cozy 2nd floor restaurant is by a different entrance around the corner. My first night, in full tourist mode, I chose the classic Crown fish and chips, battered in their Pale Ale of course. I might have been a cliche, but at least a tasty one.

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Lines form before opening

Crown exterior

Main room


Restaurant reception

A little history on display

Two doors down is the highly regarded Robinsons. Established in 1895 Robinsons serves on three levels in an old Victorian building. The Great Victoria Street entrance takes you into the main bar. Walk through the main bar and you enter Fibber McGees, a more intimate pub within the bar, also accessible from the back of the building, One flight up, and there is a lift, is the restaurant where I throughly enjoyed a tomato lentil  soup and a steak & Guinness pie. One more flight up takes you to a pool room. If you were wondering, you can get a drink on every floor. 

Fibber Memorabilia


Street entrance to Fibber’s

Across the street from these behemoths is the more modest Brennan’s, with a decidedly neighborhood atmosphere. Brennan’s offers drink, food and live music. It has the atmosphere of a dive bar, and from a peek in the place, it looks like it could use a serious facelift. Most of the reviews I found were not encouraging, so I didn’t eat there. These were the three bars closest to the Europa. Fear not, there are 26 other traditional bars listed in Belfast, as well as restaurants, clubs and wine bars willing to quench your thirst. 

A little cautionary sidebar: 

The Irish may have smiling eyes, but Belfast, like everywhere else, has its scam artists. To get a taxi from the train station to the center of town, you pick up a yellow phone by the train station exit and call for a cab. As I was about to do that a taxi was idling out front and the driver asked me my destination. He said he only took cash. 20 pounds British or $30 American. The current exchange rate is $1.27 per pound sterling, so was a nice little bonus for him on the exchange rate. My “Nigerian Prince sharing his inheritance” radar went off and I passed. I picked up the yellow phone, a nice BMW taxi pulled up, took me to the hotel and charged me less than 5 pounds … on my credit card. My eyes did the smiling.

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