History of the Crown Liquor Saloon
The Ulster Railway Tavern
The Crown public house was originally called the Ulster Railway Tavern. It is said to have opened in 1826 under the proprietorship of Felix O’Hanlon from South Armagh, possibly leased to him by Henry Joy.
This was when the Belfast to Lisburn railway line first opened. At this time the Crown peoperty was recorded as an ‘A class building’ measuring 19.5 yards by 12 yards.
In 1856 it was under the proprietorship of Terence O’Hanlon. The inn and tavern was situated opposite the Great Northern Railways Terminus in Great Victoria Street. Its location making it ideal for providing refreshments for weary travellers.
The Crown Re-Named
Subsequently the hostelry was managed by Banbridge man Michael (or Patrick? – accounts differ) Flanigan.
It was his son Patrick, who redecorated the premises in its current style, and renamed it the Crown Liquor Saloon in 1885. Flanigan further extended the premises by buying the houses to the rear, 19 and 21 Amelia Street. By 1894 Patrick also owned the Adelphia Hotel next door to the Crown.
On 1st August 1880 Patrick Flanigan married Ellen Hughes in the Banbridge Catholic Church.
She was a blacksmith’s daughter from Newry Street in the town. The couple lived above the business in Great Victoria Street. They had 12 children – 5 boys and 7 girls. Unfortunately, Patrick died on 4th January 1902 aged 45.
Sale of the Crown
Ellen continued to run the business until 1927. Then it was purchased by Patrick McGeeny, who owned near-by property in Keylands Place.
Ellen Flanigan is still listed as the owner of the Adelphi until 1929.
In 1930 the Adelphi is recorded as being run by Miss E Grant. She may also have been a family member, as Ellen & Patrick’s daughter Ellen Josephine married a James Grant on 29th September 1909 in St Malachy’s Church, Belfast. James Grant was a civil engineer but it is interesting to note that his father Francis, was a hotel proprietor from Toomebridge.
The Crown – ‘One of the great bars of the world’
The Crown Liquor Saloon is one of the most famous public houses in Belfast. Originally a gin palace, it is rightly celebrated for its ornate Victorian splendour. The interior and exterior decoration evoke a bygone era of architectural flamboyance and craftmanship rarely seen today.
The Crown – Exterior Detail View
The three-storey building has a beautiful, colourful polychromatic tiled façade. The colours range from bronze, yellow, green, maroon and pink. The lavishly adorned shopfront is divided into 5 panels by brightly hued tiled pilasters. It features round ‘port-hole’ windows. This was originally installed in the 1840’s and remodelled by E & J Byrne of 4 Waring Street in 1898.
The doorway is set back from the pavement and is flanked by 2 pink and white marble Corinthian pillars. The entrance floor features a crown picked out in mosaics. Above the door is a gilded glass fascia reading Liquor ‘The Crown’ Saloon. The porch is enclosed on 3 sides with painted and etched glass windows.
The Crown Interior
The Crown Bar
The interior of the pub is equally as impressive. The ceiling is embossed in arabesque high relief in shades of dark red and gold. It is raised on wooden columns decorated with gilt carved feathers.
“Indeed, one of the finest High Victorian buildings in Belfast is a pub; the Crown Liquor Saloon in Great Victoria Street. Its exterior is pleasantly gaudy; the ground floor is a riot of colourful tiles and stained or painted glass. The upper part of the façade is ornamented with four cheerfully truncated pilasters. But the interior is of almost unbelievable richness”C E B Brett, Buildings of Belfast, 1967
The long bar is topped with red granite and polished brass fittings. While the curved frontage is decorated in a stylised floral-patterned tile in ochre tones. Customers can sit at the bar on dark wood stools and rest their feet on the heated footrest. Behind the bar are large wooden casks in arched alcoves. The rear wall is covered in sparkling mosaics with gold-backed lettering.
Much of the interior design was the work of craftsmen from Italy. In the nineteenth century, with the relaxation of the Penal Laws, Catholic Churches were now permitted. A synod held in County Tipperary in 1850 further boosted church building. Many Italians were employed in Ireland to decorate the newly built churches. It is said that the owner of the Crown, persuaded these skilled craftsmen to work after hours in the pub, their ‘day job’ being to install the mosaics in St Peter’s Church on the Falls Road.
“In a roundabout way, we probably have the Catholic Church to thank for the splendid interior of one of the finest Victorian bars in the British Isles”Gary Law, Historic Pubs of Belfast, 2002
One of the most evocative features of the Crown Bar is its 10 wooden snugs. Once the doors are closed, the customers had welcome privacy. The dark wood doors are embellished with rampant lions and gryphons.
The booths are decorated with old advertising mirrors and each has a gunmetal plate for striking matches. The snugs also have a bell system, whereby patrons could (and still can) summon the waiter when drinks needed replenishing.
The bar is also famed for its ornate etched and stained-glass windows. The colourful glass depicts a crown and floral motiff. As well as adding to the opulent decoration, the opaque windows prevent outsiders looking in.
“It is unique, and really is a visual gem, a veritable masterpiece in bar architecture ….in fact it is the finest example of Victorian Gothic décor to be found anywhere”J J Tohill, Pubs of the North, 1990
Restoration of The Crown
The Crown Liquor Saloon has been sympathetically restored and preserved by the National Trust, including the gas-light features. The restoration cost around £400,000.
Even the floor is a work of art with a delicate but intricate pattern picked out in black and white mosaics.
The Crown Restaurant
The Britannic Lounge
In the twentieth century a first-floor restaurant was added to the building under the workmanship of Gifford and Cairns of Malone Ave.
This was named the Britannic Lounge as it incorporated panelling that was originally intended for the RMS Britannic (the sister ship of the Titanic). However, with WW1 looming, the Britannic was fitted out as a troop-carrier instead of a luxury liner.
When some of the decorative artefacts of the ship were fortuitously discovered in a city centre garage, the architect Alistair Cairns, was able to preserve these in the restaurant. Existing features from the original building, such as fire-surrounds, corbels, centrepieces and cornices were all restored.
Refurbishment of the Crown Dining Rooms
The restaurant has since been extensively refurbished, losing some original features, and is now called the Crown Dining Rooms. However, it does retain an old nineteenth century charm coupled with art and ornaments relating to the history of Belfast.
The restaurant today provides a wide variety of culinary choices. It’s specialities include oysters, Irish stew and traditional pies served with champ. The Crown Dining Rooms remain an attractive place to dine out in Belfast for locals and visitors alike.
The Crown on Film
Odd Man Out and Divorcing Jack
The Crown bar with its Late Victorian glamour has also featured on film. It was used as a setting in the classic Carol Reed film ‘Odd Man Out’ in 1946 starring James Mason. Subsequently the Crown featured in the 1998 David Caffrey film ‘Divorcing Jack’. It was also the subject of a BBC NI documentary ‘The Crown Jewel’ aired in 2008.
“…the Crown remains an almost entirely unspoilt example of the very richest and most mellow period of pub architecture”.C E B Brett, Buildings of Belfast, 1967
The Crown Today
For all its splendid grandeur the Crown is not a museum but a welcoming and friendly venue in the heart of the city, and well worth a visit.
“The Crown is both ageless and priceless, a gem of Victoriana, and without doubt one of the great bars of the world”J J Tohill, Pubs of the North, 1990
Crown Liquor Saloon, 46 Great Victoria Street, Belfast BT2 7BA
Tel: 028 90243187
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