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Previous Pint Pleasures - August 8, 2015

guinness eileen

The Crown Liquor Saloon, 46 Great Victoria Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland

Several months ago we spent a week in Belfast, our time spent mostly on hospital visits. One afternoon, as we were driving from the Royal Victoria Hospital back to where we were staying, Andrew decided to stop and show me an old pub he remembered from his youth. As we turned the corner past the pub to search for parking, my first glimpse of the magnificent Crown Liquor Saloon blew me away. I couldn't wait to get the car parked and investigate further.

Originally established as the Railway Tavern in 1826 when trains started to run between Belfast and Lisburn, the pub eventually became a gin palace called the Liquor Saloon. In 1978 the National Trust purchased the classic building from Bass, and it went through a £400,000 restoration in 1978, with a further £500,000 spent on the building in 2007. It is currently managed by the Nicholson's pub group.

The Crown is a stunningly amazing building, with probably the most spectacularly impressive pub interior and exterior I've ever seen -- and, as you've probably guessed by now, I've seen a hell of a lot of pubs. Craftspersons were brought over from Italy in 1885 to create the tiling, glasswork, and ornamental woodwork, and the result is absolutely breathtaking. Under a gorgeous burnished ceiling is a long beautiful granite-topped bar which runs the length of one side and features polished brass taps. There are carved wood details throughout in the form of columns detailed with animal figures and the gatelike doors to the ten individual snug rooms on the opposite side. On the exterior walls as well as on the walls around the snug are beautiful windows etched with colourful images of ships, flowers, shells, fruit, fairies, and birds. The brocade walls are very warming, and the mosaic tile floor underneath supports it all in style. Apparently the elaborately decorative etchings on the front windows were originally intended to shield customers from the prying eyes of nosy passers-by.

On this first visit we had pints of Nicholson's Pale Ale (4.0% ABV, St Austell Brewery, St Austell, Cornwall). Brewed especially for Nicholson's with Cornish Maris Otter barley, this is quite a pleasant session pale, not overly hoppy but very drinkable. We sat in one of the wooden snug rooms simply because it was there with its own door and we're explorative types. From the good old days when smoking was allowed in pubs, each snug features a gunmetal plate for striking matches, and each has its own bell, part of an antique system which alerts bar staff to customers wanting more drinks.

After a bit we stepped out the side door to have a cigarette. Just down the road from where we stood was the exterior door that leads to the pub's upstairs dining room. We chatted with a 17-year resident who told us about some of Belfast's recent history. Another local told us we shouldn't talk to strangers in Belfast, and then he proceeded to talk to us anyway.

On our second visit, the day before we had to take the ferry back to England, we had pints of Three Little Fishes (4.0% ABV, Andwell Brewing Company, Hook, Hampshire). This is a very interesting beer, with fuzzy hops coming from five different directions. It was like a flippy mini-aquarium washing across my tongue. It was good relief from what had been a long emotional day, and it was sadly our farewell pint for this particular visit to Belfast.

As I'm not surprised, the Grade A-listed Crown has been used as a location in several film and TV productions. It's well worth seeing: it's truly a bizzarreal artiologist's paradise. In fact, if you find yourself in Belfast and you don't stop in to check out the Crown, you'll be missing out on the visual experience of a lifetime. I'm just warning you.