Well, this is my penultimate public rant [at least about living abroad], so while I do have a quick anecdote about a Northern Ireland [and Game of Thrones] road trip, I feel I'd be doing my five loyal readers a disservice if I don't expand on a small portion of my Visitors' Guide and give a proper rundown of the various establishments I recommend for Belfast's most popular sport: drinking.
Dark, hedgey, and almost out of place
Well over two hundred years ago, the ridiculously wealthy and noble-y Stuart Family [apparently spelled Stewart approximately 62% of the time to confuse everyone with my version of OCD] decided to plant some beech trees on the road to their Georgian mansion [the adjective differentiates it from their many other mansions], Gracehill House. I'm not sure how popular this destination was in the pre-Khaleesi era, but these trees have grown into such a beautiful pattern that Game of Thrones used them to represent the king's road in season 2, and now everyone asks if you've seen "the Game of Thrones trees". So we went. And they are gorgeous. And incredibly crowded with absolutely no enforcement around the parking, driving, or being remotely polite to the people who want to walk it. And there was even a random car full of eastern European teenagers blasting house music as they bizarrely danced next to a beech tree just before sundown. I can't explain that last one. Sorry.
Where to go when you want to ignore the first advice a random American gave me
On my first trip to Belfast, nearly two years ago, a Logan airport employee offered his completely unsolicited advice: "do not try to go drinking with them." Well, I thanked him endlessly for his sage wisdom and proceeded on my way. After first visiting twice, and since, obviously living here, I want to provide my own helpful advice by walking through my ten favourite places in Belfast to grab a drink (in no particular order). And, as far as Logan airport guy's advice goes, I just suggest you always make the effort to grab a solid meal because many Belfast residents actually believe "Eatin's cheatin'." and your body may violently disagree [as mine does].
Down the alley, there
The only place on the list located in "The Entries", McCracken's Cafe Bar is a great place to grab a pint of Guinness and the food is always better than I expect when I'm in the mood for pub food.
Onions & Chickens
On every visit to Belfast, the Rapid7 North American [it includes Canada] contingent makes sure to have a Guinness and/or some whiskey [the 'e' implies it is usually not Scotch whisky] at The Dirty Onion. I'm not sure if it's the endearing smell of peat wafting from the rear fireplace, the distractingly ugly Jameson Barrel-Man sculpture as you enter the brick false walls of the entrance and front garden, or just the overall casual feeling of the place, but you always feel welcome in its embrace. The Guinness is reliably well-poured with clean lines and the whiskey selection ranges from a Pappy Van Winkle bourbon to the major Scotch options and the full range of Irish whiskey [Redbreast 12 being my default].
As an excellent complement, upstairs is one of Belfast's best lunch spots, the Yardbird, where the menu is perfectly simple and I cannot imagine ordering anything other than the 1/4 chicken [roasted on the spit] and skin-on fries [with a mix of their smokey barbecue sauce and mayonnaise]. The pints are delicious up there, too.
Bringing the craft beer world to Belfast
Nine months ago, I would have stated the best place in Belfast to find craft beer was at Hudson Bar. While they have been surpassed by another, they continue to offer a solid, rotating list of mostly English, Scottish, and Irish beers, such as BrewDog Dead Pony or Five AM, and they have a great "beer garden" for enjoying a pint on a sunny, summer afternoon [if you theoretically would ever do that kind of thing].
Lingerie & Gin
One bar in Belfast very clear about its identity is Muriel's Cafe Bar. If you enjoy gin drinks, don't you dare enter here with a specific brand in mind. It would be an insult to the bar staff not to ask what they recommend from the wall of dozens of different gins, which range from fruit-infused to spiced to the traditional London varieties, but I don't think I've had the some one twice, and they all go very well with Fever Tree gin. Once you've made your choice, you can stay near the bar on the ground floor and bump your head on the various lingerie dangling from the ceiling or you can choose to look upstairs for room on the plush lounge-style couches. It really depends on your mood.
Humour and meet-ups
The 2015 NI Pub of the Year - City was awarded to Sunflower Public House. I am not a frequent patron, at all, but I appreciate its exterior signs and its serving as a great venue for most of the monthly Belfast Beer Club meetings, of which I have made a shamefully small number.
A solid local with pies and sport
Though we rarely get there now, while in our long-time temporary office, the Rapid7 "local" was The Garrick Bar and it was also the first bar I visited in Belfast [oh so long ago]. We did watch a significant portion of last year's World Cup there, with the benefit of a front bar and back bar offering two separate games simultaneously. There is an extensive list of German beers available if you don't want a well-poured Guinness and I was pleasantly surprised to find St. Stefanus on the list of bottles they stock. The main reason we return these days is to satisfy a meat pie craving or just enjoy the free sausage and other canapes they periodically offer to the patrons on large metal trays.
Bots & Beer Catalogues
I feel like I spent more than a year whingeing about the lack of a world-class beer bar in Belfast, and the Kickstarter-funded, Austin/Belfast "brew from a mobile app and fancy kit" _Brewbot_opened a bar below their corporate office on the Ormeau Road and curbed my complaints in satisfying fashion. The first time I visited, I was offered a job because I had tasted every one of their many beers, but in only a few months, they've made that nearly impossible. Flights of beer are available in two sizes, beers from across North America, the British Isles, and continental Europe are available on draught or in bottles, and you can even get a high-end espresso drink to keep you awake long enough to sample more delicious craft beer. I'll stop. Okay, just one more thing: their beer list is a minimum of fifty pages, so instead of ignoring your friends to stare at your phone, you can ignore them to continuously read about your next potential beer [theoretically, if you are that kind of person].
Grandiose and hard to fill
We have our annual University recruiting event [as pictured] at the tea business-turned-whiskey distillery-turned-bank-turned-bar that is Cafe Vaudeville. We have proven it fits well over two hundred thirsty students. I really enjoy its new lunch menu. It is a sight to behold. They have outdoor tables during some of Belfast's 9-month spring/autumn season [2015 included no summer]. Visit.
A roofdeck? In Belfast?
I feel like the last person to find out about The Perch, but I knew _Rita's_just below as the only place I've found Hitachino Nest in Belfast, and when we were suddenly brought from there through a hallway filled with the bird sounds and up an old-school lift, I really liked the partially-open rooftop hosting this bar. If you're worried about the cold, the staff frequently walks around with soft blankets and the heat lamps above most tables are quite comforting.
Get dressed, we're getting some mixed drinks
The first time I visited The Albany, I had a delicious steak and my wife had a great mixed drink, but we would never forget how decked out everyone got before stepping in the door. The bar staff likely goes by the title "mixologists" and there is an array of international beers available, but you go for the social atmosphere and to lose your train of thought staring into the chandelier.
Don't you dare change on me, Buckfast
I haven't reviewed to check, so I'll do what most people do with statistics [make them up]. It was disappointing to decrease my "Buckfast in the wild" discovery rate to only around 1.0 per month [wild ass guess] with last month's zero, but just last week I came upon the aftermath of either (a) a Heineken bottle shedding its glass to evolve into a more potent beast or (b) a turf war between the two.