McHughs: Long May It Reign

There’s always been confusion over which bar is the oldest in Belfast. White’s Tavern has the longest continuous licence, yet McHughs boasts Belfast’s oldest existing building. On the basis of our last visit, long may it continue. It’s a wet and windy Saturday afternoon, the sort we see with alarming regularity here in Belfast and it’s great to be able to come in to an open fire and the restrained sounds of a session next door.

The ground floor bar is split into two - in the smaller chamber a local trad group are in full flow, entertaining the tourists that make up the bar’s lifeblood. There’s the option of sitting apart in the hallway, where a big screen TV drops from the balcony. The music is at a sensible volume that encourages conversation and the booths set the scene for a snug and socialable evening out.

Unlike most bars that advertise local, craft beers, McHugh’s actually carry more than a token selection, including a couple of nice options on draft, Whitewater’s Belfast Black and Belfast Ale. Cider includes the mighty Aspals, as well as the usual Magners and Kopparberg. There’s a cursory cocktail list, but here at McHugh’s there’s a definite emphasis on whiskey and beer. Prices are average, with the craft beers levelling out at about four pound a pop.

The open air section offers a great view of the riverside and Custom House Square - McHugh’s is a favourite stopping point for revellers on the way to everything from Belsonic to the Ladyboys of Bangkok. The emphasis on live music spills on to the front bar, where there’s a variety of free entertainment. Downstairs (which is actually below sea level for all you fans of claustrophobia) has been drawing more and more up and coming artists, as well as a variety of club nights.

Upstairs is the large and very impressive restaurant space, which wraps its way along the interior of this impressive building. If you’re looking Michelin star cuisine, or whatever the latest food fad is, then you’ll be sorely disappointed, as McHugh’s offers very simple, very reasonable and very, very tasty staples, with a strong emphasis on traditional Irish cuisine.

With equal parts tourists and locals, McHugh’s has a foot in both camps and manages to please both equally.

Shane Horan

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