Belfast Bar Hopping
It was a Saturday and my last night in Belfast. The day had been spent strolling around town and seeing the sites. Most specifically the Murals. I didn’t have any plans for the evening other than going to a pub, having some food, and a couple of drinks. From there, the plan was to find someplace playing good local music before going back to my hotel for some sleep and then to catch the train back to Dublin the next day.
After a giant meal of fish and chips, I was off to the pub next door. It was the same pub I had visited the previous night for some food, only to find out they weren’t serving food after six in the evening. They had a sign for music, however. And music is was motivated me to give the place a second try. I ordered a whiskey and Coke at the bar and was provided with the whiskey in a glass with ice and a separate bottle of Coke to mix it. The music was coming from upstairs, and I could tell already that it wasn’t what I was looking for. Having a drink in my hand, it was still worthwhile to check out, or at least that’s what I thought at the time. Up the stairs, they had a dance floor with typical flashy colored lights and crappy dance style versions of pop music playing. It was still light out and pretty early in the evening so there were only a few people up there and none of them were dancing. Nor were any of the few up there wearing short enough skirts and hot enough bodies to want to see dancing to the rhythm. It was pretty obvious this wasn’t my kind of place, back down the stairs to finish my whiskey before heading to the next pub I went.
The place was typically dim, and well warn of a good Irish pub, with a long bar against one wall full of people drinking beer and chatting with one another. Mostly old-timers from the look of them. Considering the location is across from the Europa I would have thought they would have a better selection of local pubs to choose from for the local old-timers, but maybe this was the better selection. There were a few tables with smalls groups of people. One larger table with a group of young local chaps who had the look of guys planning to cause trouble later in the evening. One of which has six beers in front of him and was apparently using them to catch up with the rest of the crew. Towards the center of the room was a large support post with a standing counter around it. On one side were a couple of guys watching one of the TVs hanging throughout the place displaying horseraces, and another guy towards the other side. One of the old-timers slowly downing a beer. I walked over to grab some space at the counter wrapped around the support post and finished pouring my coke into the glass of whiskey to finish my drink and head to the next pub. Which would hopefully have a better selection of music?
One of the guys said something to me, but with his accent and the noise from the music upstairs I couldn’t make it what he said. So, I leaned over to have him repeat it. This is where he noticed that I’m not a local, and changed whatever he said, “where you from? Canada?” Thinking for a second or two that it might be worth agreeing with him, knowing that Americans are generally viewed negatively around the world as warmongering arrogant pricks, I decided to be truthful and admit to being from the United States.
Both of the guys turned out to be Scottish, in town for a football (aka soccer) game. It was obvious right away they each had a few beers before my arrival. The first guy, Jerry, was a little taller than me with a red face of a Scottish man who spent more than 15 minutes in the sun. His accent was the thicker of the two, and I continually had to lean in as he spoke of the races on the screen in a usually failing attempt to understand what he was saying. He was telling me of his love of gambling and desire to bet on the races. Also the horse he wanted to bet on as it was named after a favorite flower of a girl he knows. Good enough reason to bet on a horse as far as I was concerned, with my limited time spent at the horse tracks. The other guy was a bigger guy named Edward who was on his 7th Guinness of the night, and it was only seven o’clock. Personally, I can barely drink one of the things, before I feel like a dead cow bloating on the side of the road. He had short cropped salt and pepper hair and laughed at most everything. Both guys were instantly likable.
The three of us starting chatting about the parades that were going on around town and the surprises we found during our trips to Belfast. It turns out this was their first visit to the city as well. The conversation went something like this:
Jerry: (Insert think Scottish accent with a low voiced slur associated to multiple beers consumed) “te hrs I wuld have wn wit te trple me mney.” he gestured to the TV, leading me to believe he was talking about the horse races.
Me: “Yeah.” Nodding my head in agreement.
Jerry: “Usuly I bt te hrs rces te pub nrr me hs”
The conversation went along like this for a while, before Jerry went for a smoke (aka fag in local terms) and Edward translated for me what he was talking about. Jerry wanted to bet some money on the horse races but due to a slight problem with gambling had given his money to Edward to hold on to for the night. With not as thick of an accent, he told me, “Now, he’s mad at me, bcause he wuld have won on tat horse,” he laughed.
Jerry returned and noticed my whiskey and coke was empty and replaced each of our drinks before I went to the men’s room. I was only about two and a half drinks in, by the time I walked into the restroom, but it still took a second or two for my eyes adjust to the light shining in from the window outside. In such a dark pub, it could be easy to forget that it was still light out and the evening was early.
In the image (not the actual urinal) picture me to the far right and some guy coming in and standing to the far left. He was a squat round fellow with a white t-shirt that was obviously a few years too small for his current size.
Him: “Hi, how are ya?” he said turning his head towards the right and staring directly at me.
Me: “I’m Good, thanks.” While continuing to look at the wall.
Him: “Oh, American. First tm ta Belfast?”
Him: “Hve ya seen much?”
Me: “Yeah, a bit.”
The conversation went on way too long for two guys standing at a long urinal with dicks in hand taking a piss. Especially considering that one of those guys never actually turned his head away from the guy he was talking towards. I didn’t see his eyes go down, but then again, I was trying not to look in his direction. But if they did, thanks, I’ll take that as a compliment.
Back in the much darker bar, the three of us finished our drinks and decided to head to the bar across the street. The Crown Saloon originally opened in the late 1800’s and from what I am told is the oldest pub in Belfast. I haven’t bothered to research it to confirm that statement, but it really is a fantastic pub to check out.
From the Crown, we went to our third pub for the evening, and it was my turn to buy the drinks. I switched to just drinking whiskey over ice, not feeling the need to keep downing soda all night. The bartender told me there was nothing wrong with drinking my whiskey over ice, and he did it as well. Of course, he could have been lying. One thing I’ve learned about ordering whiskey in Ireland is that it should not be mixed with ice.
This pub was broken down into two areas. The front side, where we were was a standard pub with a mostly older crowd. And in the back, two double doors lead to an area where we could hear music. So after ordering the drinks, and while Jerry was in the men’s room, I left Edward to watch the drinks while I went to check it out. The backside of the pub was full of a much younger crowd, as in closer to my age than the over 40 crowd in the front. There were a couple of guys up on the stage with guitars doing covers of classic American rock music. I decided to head back to the other side of the bar before they went into a rendition of Sweet Caroline. Back out to the bar Edward and I discussed how surprised we were that they still have a fence between the two sides of the city and they close the gates at night. Going from the news, it sounds like there is no violence to worry about in Belfast anymore. But apparently, there is some.
Jerry returned, and after finishing our next round of drinks, we were off to the next pub. A pub I had walked past the previous day and thought to myself f that it seemed a little to stuck on itself to want to enjoy, which was why I didn’t swing in earlier. We found this to be true, as the bouncer at the door wouldn’t let Jerry in while wearing white sneakers. My black sneakers were fine. And so we were off to the next pub while making fun of Jerry for preventing us from entering the classy pub that looked just like all the other pubs around.
Another pub and another round of drinks before heading to our final destination in the evening. A Pub they had visited the previous evening, and an attractive blond behind the counter was pouring drinks, along with a not so handsome older dude. Apparently, they don’t get many whiskeys on the rocks drinkers because my first round was poured into a wine glass, and the butt of jokes moved from Jerry’s shoes to my glass of what looked like it could have been white wine and ice. The second round I asked for a real glass as some guy wandered up to the bar to the right of me. If it weren’t for the shirt, he could have been the same guy as the one I ran into in the men’s room at the first pub. Or perhaps, the guy from the men’s room changed his shirt. And the accent as well, since this guy turned to me and said, “Banadfasdf adflakdsndf ldaflsdkf adfnadsfdafkd akdfnad afdsn” which I nodded in agreement.
Edward leaned over saying, “you didn’t understand anything he said did ya?”
“Not a single word.”
He laughed with his Santa clause sounding laugh. The difference being instead of ho, ho, ho as Santa would do it, his is a ha, ha, ha.
The two guys and one girl on the stage went into a rendition of Brown Eyed Girl which the entire bar began to sing along with and interestingly enough mess up the words too. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a problem for the bar to sing along with Sweet Caroline as the band went into a rendition of that. A song that ruins any visit to a dueling piano bar for me and has been done to death a long, long time ago. Yet, I seem to be the only one aware that it needs to be put to the grave. We chatted to a couple of girls, that I was not drunk enough to find attractive, but still drunk enough to enjoy the Scottish versus Irish accent and not catching half of what anyone said before the bar eventually closed down. And seemed to close a little earlier than expected for an Irish bar. But what do I know, coming from a country that waits till 2:00 to close its bars instead of 1:00.
We all said our goodbyes, as Edward made sure I would look him up if I ever made it to his portion of Scotland. From there it was back to my super not-so-classy motel to purchase a bag of chips (crisps) from the vending machine for some late night food and sleep.
Note: names changed to protect anonymity.