It was a rainy grey day in Belfast and I arrived several hours later than I had anticipated. Too much of a smooth black elixir in a comfortable Irish pub with a handful of wonderful strangers stalled my arrival. I planned to head out of Belfast immediately to tour the Giant’s Causeway, the Carrick-a-Rede and the town of Bushmills. However, since I must be off to Scotland in the morning, I’m left with no choice but to skip everything.
With some lingering resignations of the night before, I set off from the train station and flagged down a taxicab. I offered the man additional fare if he would be willing to take me on a tour through some of Belfast’s delicate history. He was the perfect guide, thorough and passionate, while as knowledgable as any local who had lived through the mayhem that took place from around 1969 to 1994. We toured rebuilt bombing sites, original war murals, the art-laden peace wall and other various historic sites along the way.
Walking up to the doors, I noticed the ornate mosaic tile floor design of the Crown Liquor Saloon. My first thoughts once I entered through the wood and painted glass doors was that of an impactful awe of elegance, regality and beauty. Each barman was dressed to perfection in a fine black vest with a white long sleeve top and a pair of matching black slacks. Behind the bar were a few antique casks setup as they were used prior to when the modern tap system became standard. Rows of taps, pint glasses and liquor bottles ranged the shelves to complete the perfect bar of the Crown.
The bar was lined along the left side of the building, while a cluster of ten booths which were beautifully carved in ornate Victorian lined the right. They were filled with groups of locals and the occasional tourist couple, but the rest of the pub was decisively empty, except for two heavy accented men. They were slouched against the bar, dim-eyed and reeking of scotch.
I took a seat at the nearest stool, ordered a Swithwicks and began chatting with the barman. I spoke with him in hushed tones, discussing the two men. They had been there for hours and he was worried that he would have to attempt to muscle them out of the bar if they became any more belligerent to passersby. He told me his name was Collin and he came to Belfast from southern Wales, I proceeded to question him on the current state of Belfast’s religious tensions. Collin talked as though the eruption of violence could still happen at any moment, but overall have calmed down in the past decade.
I visited pub after pub through the remaining two weeks of my backpacking trip from Dublin to Amsterdam and the Crown is by far the most beautiful of them all. However, if you’re looking for raucous, high-energy nightlife, you’d do better to tour London, Leeds or Glasglow.
(Photo by © Brandon Elijah Scott / Eye & Pen)