Barfly: McHugh’s Bar, Belfast
Barfly visits Belfast and finds tradition that comes with a twist
McHugh’s is a traditional Irish bar in a part of Belfast centre that has redefined the city
Queen’s Square is hosting the Ladyboys of Bangkok in a tent across the road from McHugh’s in Belfast the night I visit. The oldest surviving building in the city – reportedly standing here since 1711 – doesn’t seem fazed by the high-jinks and music coming from its temporary neighbour. Both hold their ground well on this busy road between the Lagan and the Albert Clock.
McHugh’s is a traditional Irish bar in a part of Belfast centre that has redefined the city – boutique hotels, office blocks, new riverside vistas and modern sculpture. In the middle of it all is McHugh’s and its love of music and great beer. Locals talk with admiration of the three bars in the building that offer music five nights a week, and point out the choice of lighting that somehow makes a full-size sculpture of a near-naked man swinging from the rafters holding a chandelier in his teeth seem perfectly appropriate.
Later, when a customer pulls down her jeans to show off the tattoo on her thigh, we’re reminded of it again and get a great flavour of the fun that this place contains. A chalk board on the bar heralds “some local stuff”: Belfast Black, Clotworthy Dobbin and Copperhead Pale, all from the Whitewater Brewery stable in the Mournes. It’s always great to get local flavours and when I spot Maggie’s Leap on cask, I have to try it out. Cask beers are natural beers with very low gas and unpasteurised. They’re a wonderful alternative to the icy cold taps we’re used to. Stuffed full of flavour, Maggie remains my partner for the night.
The wind and rain is whipping up a storm outside, but the open fire and warm welcome in McHugh’s has us all wrapped up tight. Plus our tattooed friend announces she has more tattoos to show us. Only in Belfast.