Belfast is a city that knows how to enjoy itself when it comes to nightlife. So when the population is all dressed up and daytime turns into party time, there’s a superabundance of clubs, pubs and hostelries to enjoy. The Apartment is a popular place to kick off a good night out. It has great views of the City Hall and its environs, and the crowd on the big sofas and round the bar is youngish. You can sample The Apartment’s range of cocktails or mix your own at a mixology masterclass to the DJ soundtrack.
For house and techno fans, the Night Institute at the Marcus Ward & Foundry in Bankmore Square provides a speedy beat from 10 to 3am on Saturdays in the company of DJs such as Timmy Stewart and Jordan. The Northern Whig in the Cathedral Quarter has a stylish Eastern European vibe thanks to some massive, and massively impressive, Russian-style statues in the big downstairs bar and bistro-style restaurant. A good place for a vodka, maybe.
Filthy McNasty’s in the Dublin Road is one of the fashionable downtown bars with decor based on your auntie’s sitting room, i.e. mismatched sofas, plus a few mannequins and some vinyl on the walls. It’s relaxed, the drinks are affordable, the staff friendly.
Just opposite is the newest bar on the block, The Point Belfast, a reworking of Auntie Annie’s but now a traditional Irish pub which is popular with students, has live Irish music from half nine, and is tailor-made to hang out at. Bohemians should sample The Sunflower pub in Kent Street. Formerly an old style Belfast boozer (with cage), it’s now painted a cool yellow and green, provides some food at weekends and hosts great music, launches (music man Terri Hooley’s autobiography Good Vibrations launched here) and drama events by companies like Shot Glass Productions.
Clubs to see and be seen in include Plastik in Mays Meadow near the Central Station, featuring talent like DJ Tom Staar, and the seductive China White club in Franklin Street. Thompsons Garage in Patterson Place near the City Hall, has been going since the 90s and is a bit of a clubbing institution. Boasting the best DJs in town, this is a great place to go to work up a dance floor sweat to house and techno.
When the population is all dressed up and daytime turns into party time, there’s a superabundance of clubs, pubs and hostelries to enjoy
Hipsters and occasional A-listers head to Menagerie on University Avenue. Known for its musical mix, including great reggae nights, the decor is special and the overall vibe boho. Once a month there are queer nights but check the website for listings as it’s low key. People-watching makes for a good night out and if you fancy some casual celeb-spotting, The Crown Bar is as good a place as any.
Opposite the Europa Hotel, it is often the first watering hole for any thirsty celeb, from rockers like Shane McGowan and Nick Lowe to comedians such as Billy Connolly. Gillian Anderson, star of Belfast noir series The Fall, has been spotted in one of the snugs. Of course Belfast is famous for its pub culture and the range of bars here is incredible. One pub that is always full is the Duke of York in Commercial Court. They have some live music, decent Guinness and in summer the crowd spills into the alley outside where Snow Patrol staged their first ever gig.
For somewhere a bit different, you could try tiny Bittles Bar just behind Victoria Square. It’s snug, does great Irish food, and the paintings and cartoons of literary figures and politicians add interest. In the centre of town, the historic 19th century Garrick pub has a relaxed back bar, with good wine, and its name may be linked to London’s Garrick Club. Lavery’s Bar in Bradbury Place is also a traditional pub but with a slightly louche atmosphere, popular with students and punters alike.
There is music upstairs and Lavery’s back bar has a slightly edgy reputation for the more adventurous tippler. Next door is a quieter, more sophisticated extension. The Ormeau Road boasts a varied range of pubs and you should find somewhere to suit you. The Pavilion, known locally as the Pav, is a punters’ bar with three floors of bars and snooker tables on top. They put on enjoyable 70s and 80s and comedy nights.
Just up the road is the venerable Errigle, one of Belfast’s favourite pubs for over 75 years. The five bars cater for everyone from punters to bohemian types and Guinness drinkers. There is music upstairs at weekends, an acoustic night on Sundays in the main bar, pub quiz on Mondays and if you want a decent Bloody Mary, you’ve come to the right place.
People-watching makes for a good night out and if you fancy some casual celeb-spotting, The Crown Bar is as good a place as any
Belfast’s gay scene is flourishing, with a significant annual Pride parade and festival in August. In the recently-christened gay village area in the town centre, bars that encourage the pink pound include the Union Street Bar. The Kremlin in Donegall Street is the original gay club, boasting a Soviet-themed cocktail bar, disco bar and dance floors, with Pas and theme nights and innovations such as the occasional bring your own booze evening.
One of Belfast’s most bohemian bars, Muriel’s Cafe Bar, is a recommended stop-off point for gay and straight visitors alike. Its decor is individual, and has included lingerie on a washing line, the drink and food classy – there are good cocktails – and the ambiance is well, ambient. Its sister bar, the Spaniard, is equally boho, permanently full of people keen on good conversation (it’s quite an arty crowd), good wine, olives and food.
In the recently-christened gay village area in the town centre, bars that encourage the pink pound include the Union Street Bar
If you want music with your beer, that won’t be a problem. Stiff Little Fingers used to sing “Nothin’ for us in Belfast” but that’s one outdated lyric today. You can enjoy open mic sessions in The Pavilion (two Tuesdays a month) and the John Hewitt (Mondays).
The Limelight, which has techno disco nights and mixes old stagers like Colin Hay (Men at Work) with up and coming bands and DJs like Hannah Wants. You could also try The Waterfront if you’re interested in headline names like Norah Jones and Elvis Costello.
For stadium favourites you need to go to Belfast’s biggest venue, now rebranded the SSE Arena. The venue came of age when it hosted the MTV awards featuring Lady Gaga, and it’s played host to legendary acts like Eric Clapton and Elton John with acts like Olly Murs and Little Mix also on the programme.
It seats 11,000 and has nightclubs including The Box. This is, unsurprisingly, one of the largest joints in Belfast spreading joy via hip hop and garage. At the end of the night, the best places for a nightcap or coffee, apart from the clubs, are Lavery’s, open until one am every night except Sunday, and hotels such as the Europa, who open until midnight for non-residents, later if you’re staying over.
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