Whether you prefer the traditional brick-walled Irish pub, a contemporary rooftop bar, or an unconventional cocktail menu, Northern Ireland’s capital has it all across the city. Don’t settle for less than the best bars in Belfast, which is never short of fantastic venue choices.
Bar, Restaurant, Contemporary, $$$
Bootleggers is a Prohibition-themed bar with an attitude. The cocktail menu is a lengthy two pages of specialised gin and whiskey cocktails, and the bar carries an extensive range of American craft beers, fairly limited in other bars throughout the city. The bench seating in a funky Caribbean interior and sharing cocktails, along with a fantastic range of pub food (a full menu is served upstairs), make this bar one of the best spots for groups. The bar is located a few steps from Belfast’s major shopping district, Victoria Square, so make sure to grab a seat before the retail shops close because this bar gets crowded at night.
Around the corner from Bootleggers is Muriel’s Cafe Bar, which also knows how to serve a stellar cocktail. Among their drinks menu is the Flaming Zombie, as much a show as a drinks order. Instead of string lights, Muriel’s has challenged its inner hipster and decorated the ceiling with underwear and lingerie along with red lighting, giving the bar a quirky atmosphere without feeling gimmicky. The accompanying bar snack menu includes a sharing anti-pasta-and-cheese platter for the most sophisticated of groups, and the bar is respected for its friendly staff, traditional-yet-modern aesthetic and a great location.
Enjoy an afternoon drink on Belfast’s very best rooftop bar, The Perch. This modern Alice in Wonderland-like venue has an amazing 1920s-style roofed bar section featuring a colourful woodland open-roof bar for good weather. The cocktails range from the very classy – like the popular Bellini – to the bizarre – like the Largarita, served with an toppled larger bottle inside the glass. Most of the dishes are created with crowds in mind, so they are better shared, but customers can order personal pizzas in a takeaway box, too. Alcoholic drinks come in flower pots, paper cups, champagne glasses and everything in between, and the outrageous choices will not disappoint. While it’s a great way to spend a hot afternoon, jazz bands grace the stage at night, and The Perch is an extremely popular nighttime venue.
First opened in 1999, The John Hewitt Bar is a cultural staple of Writer’s Square in the Cathedral Quarter and honours the legacy of the late Northern Irish poet and social activist. New to the city? Visit this bar for its excellent live music all week long, from Monday’s jazz night to Sunday’s local talent show. The bar has a simple philosophy – the live music and traditional atmosphere encourage old fashioned conversation, and there’s no television in sight. Enjoy all four of Northern Ireland’s home-brewed beers and the historic relevance of this bar, which continues to attract tourists year round. Uniquely, the bar is owned by a charity organisation, Belfast Unemployed Resource Centre, which targets unemployment in the city.
Lisburn Road, located in South Belfast, is a great shopping street for students and tourists alike and is littered with great bars – including the famous Cuckoo. This bar has recently undergone a £450,000 ($581,400) renovation, and it’s groovier than ever. The interior is a chic city bar: colourful seating booths, more geranium plants than you can count and steel staircases to the upper floors. The main star, however, is the long list of jam jar cocktails that hasn’t changed since the renovation and continues to be the most popular choice on the menu. This bar is packed with everything you need to be entertained, including a ping-pong table (which hosts weekly championships), an arcade, comic collections and a few board games.
In possibly the most picturesque area in all of Belfast, the Duke of York sits on the Cathedral Quarter’s busiest cobbled pavement and nightlife street. The bar was blown up in 1972 by para-militant terrorists during The Troubles and was rebuilt to honour Belfast City and decorated with murals, pictures, Northern Irish slogans and more – it is a wonderful, must-see historical tribute. On warm summer evenings, the outdoor seating fills up quickly as crowds pour in, but there’s no atmosphere like it anywhere else in the city. No time for a traditional pint? Visit just to see the amazing outdoor public art, including the yellow umbrella ceiling.
The Crown Liquor Saloon dates back to the Victorian period and is definitely worth a visit. Pass an intricate mosaic of the British Crown across the entrance, and its ornate interior – from the polychromatic floor tiling, to the mosaic ceiling and walls, to the original gas lamps – gives it the most decadent look. Many visitors come in for the history and stay for the cheerful atmosphere and traditional pints, but the historical features, including gun metal plates originally used to light cigarettes, are eye-openers.
It might be small, but The Spaniard has a big heart as well as an intense rum collection behind the bar and some of the best cocktails in the business. There’s live music throughout the year and a weekly cinema club for the fans of the big screen, including noir, vintage and themed movie nights. When the bar teams up with Pablos Belfast, it offer a great bar menu with burger options. The Spaniard is perfect for small university groups looking for a change, and there’s usually deals on cocktail drinks and plenty to keep you entertained. A bar with notoriously good taste and friendly, knowledgeable staff, it’s definitely one to put on the rainy day list. Bonus: it’s dog friendly!
The Dirty Onion is the ultimate summer pub: it has plentiful bench seating and an extensive whiskey and beer selection, and it’s the home of traditional Irish music in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter. The establishment is known for its partnership with An Droichead, the musical culture centre, which delivers live musical sessions every night of the week in the bar venue. Be sure to try the upstairs restaurant, Yardbird, serving up free-range Brazilian rotisserie chicken and sides.
The bar also happens to be based in one of Belfast’s oldest buildings, dating back to 1780, which was then a spirit warehouse. Its heritage has given the pub a rustic aesthetic, and the original wooden frame to the front of the building was refurbished to honour the original structured beams. The inside quarter of the bar is a low-ceiling lodge with traditional brick walls and wooden beams, which feels like the idyllic Irish bars from the movies., and the exterior is a woodland dream, complete with barrel seats and an open roof.
Students will be familiar with The Filthy Quarter, the collective name for Filthy McNasty’s bar, beer garden, cocktail bar and Gypsy Lounge. Everything in this building exudes culture, from the rock ‘n’ roll-style bar to the two-story colourful garden in the centre. The cocktail bar, Filthy Chic, is decorated with classic lilac and pink and hires professional mixologists to make their beautiful cocktails, so it feels like a luxury hotel room. It also offers mixology classes for single and group bookings upon request. Filthy McNasty’s is a funky mood-lit bar complete with colourful cushions and conventional armchairs and has an extensive spirit and beer range. Be sure to explore the many levels and roomsm and definitely enjoy a summer cocktail in The Secret Garden, Filthy’s in-house beer garden and roof terrace, which has plenty of comfy seating, outdoor heating and central bandstand. It’s inviting, its chic and it’s only a 10-minute walk from City Hall.