Visiting Belfast’s Oldest Pubs

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Scotty at the Dirty Onion
Scotty at the Dirty Onion

Introduction to the Oldest Belfast Pubs

This post looks into some of Belfast’s ‘oldest’ pubs. There is much debate on which is actually the oldest pub with several rivals claiming that honour on different terms eg is it the longest established pub in the same building or one licensed earlier but rebuilt at some stage or (more dubiously) a more recent pub occupying one of the oldest buildings in Belfast that was originally used for a completely different purpose?

In any case, we have listed some of our favourites below. Which is the best? The only way to find out is to sample them yourself.

Kelly’s Cellars

Kelly’s Cellars is certainly one of Belfast’s oldest licensed premises, opening its doors on 14th March 1720. It was then owned by Hugh Kelly, a Belfast merchant trading in rum, whiskey and gin. It was said to be a meeting place of the United Irishmen when they were planning the Rebellion of 1798. Situated just behind Castlecourt shopping centre, Kelly’s is a popular venue for drinks, Irish stew and traditional music.

Contact: Kelly’s Cellars, 30-32 Bank Street, Belfast BT1 1HL Tel: 028 90246058

Whites Tavern

Another contender for Belfast’s oldest Pub is Whites Tavern. The original building on this site was granted its tavern license in 1630. This is a cosy city centre, white-washed bar tucked down one of Belfast’s many entries. With oak beams, an open fire and traditional atmosphere this pub is a regular with many Belfast folk. In 1868 a local fishmonger and spirit dealer, John Walker, set up a shop in Winecellar Entry, this has now been recreated by Whites as the Oyster Rooms, famous for its Carlingford Lough oysters.

Contact: Whites Tavern. 2-4 Winecellar Entry, Belfast BT1 1QN Tel: 028 90312582

The Duke of York

The Duke of York is situated down a narrow cobbled entry off Lower Donegall Street, in the historic Half Bap district. This is one of the oldest parts of Belfast, once home to warehouses and industries. The Brown Linen Hall, the iron foundry and the pottery were all close by. It is a traditional pub, said to be located at the site for 200 years (though rebuilt), old-style, crammed with original mirrors and ‘drinking’ ephemera. From Thursday to Saturday there are live music sessions. The Duke of York is a popular meeting and drinking spot renowned for its friendly atmosphere and good craic. The ‘party’ usually spills out onto the picturesque alleyway and courtyard.

Contact: 7-11 Commercial Ct, Belfast BT1 2NB

McHugh’s Bar

Another of Belfast’s Oldest Pubs is McHugh’s. Originally built in 1711 as a private dwelling, this Georgian building was converted into a public house sometime between 1715 and 1725. Its city centre location, beside the Albert Clock, makes it a popular meeting place. It now provides restaurant facilities and live music in the basement.

Contact: McHugh’s Bar, 29-31 Queens Square, Belfast BT1 3FG Tel: 028 90509999

Crown Liquor Saloon

This pub was originally opened in 1826 as “The Railway Tavern” as it sat opposite the Great Northern Railway Station. It was renamed the Crown Liquor Saloon and renovated in 1885 by Patrick Flanaghan. Patrick employed Italian craftsmen, who had been brought to Ireland to work on churches like St Peter’s, to decorate the pub. Both interior and exterior display colourful mosaic tiling, carved woodwork and stained glass. The Crown remains one of the finest examples of a Victorian gin-palace still in existence. The snugs with their antique bell system for summoning staff are a popular feature. Renowned for its cask beers and premium gins, the Crown also serves seasonal food and afternoon tea.

Contact: Crown Liquor Saloon, 46 Great Victoria Street, Belfast BT2 7BA Tel: 028 90243187

The Morning Star

This pub dating back as far as 1810 was a coaching stop for the Belfast to Dublin post. Set down one of the entries in the heart of the Belfast, this is an old style ale-house full of Victorian charm. It offers all day food from light snacks to lunches and dinner. On the last Saturday of every month the Morning Star hosts Gourmet night. It has won ‘Best Gastro Pub, County Antrim’ from 2015 – 2019.

Contact: The Morning Star, 17-19 Pottingers Entry, Belfast BT1 4DT Tel: 028 90235986

The Dirty Onion

The wonderfully named Dirty Onion is a more recent pub housed in a building dating back to 1780, although there was a wooden construction on the site from 1680. The premises have been sympathetically restored to preserve the original wooden structure, exposed beams and brickwork. Upstairs the restaurant, the Yardbird, serves its special rotisserie chicken. The pub has built up a strong connection with a local Irish music school, An Droichead, and presents nightly entertainment with an authentic traditional theme. The Dirty Onion is also dog friendly with a canine menu and Snuffle Dog beer!

Contact: The Dirty Onion, 3 Hill street, Belfast BT1 2LA Tel: 028 90243712

Hercules Bar

This bar was founded in 1875 by Patrick McGlade. Originally called Hercules Wine and Spirit Stores, it takes its name from Hercules Street, now known as Royal Ave. It is an ‘old-school’ pub serving well-priced traditional food on the first floor. It is just around the corner from St Mary’s in Chapel Lane, right in the centre of Belfast.

Contact: Hercules Bar, 61-63 Castle Street, Belfast BT1 1GH Tel: 028 90333905

Hercules Bar - Exterior View 2
Hercules Bar - Exterior View 1

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