Belfast nightlife gets £1m boost with Asian-theme pub and restaurant Shiro
One hundred jobs are to be created in a £1m investment to transform two bars and a nightclub in an historic building in Belfast city centre.
Those behind the new nightspots are calling the project one of the most significant investments in the city centre entertainment industry in recent years.
An Asian-inspired bar, Shiro, will regenerate the former Irene and Nan's pub at Brunswick Street and will open next month, complete with secluded roof terrace.
Two other venues – a new nightclub and a bar within the building currently housing the recently closed Bar Bacca and La Lea nightclub at Franklin Street – are expected to open by September.
The three new venues will breathe new life into a building in what is known as Belfast's Linen Quarter which stretches to James Street South and has a heritage dating back to 1902.
All three venues were closed within recent weeks to accommodate the new venture, which offers the city's entertainment and nightlife a new focus in an area of the city described as having "enormous under-utilised potential".
The award-winning team from O'Donnell O'Neill Design Associates has been tasked with overseeing the redevelopment, the first phase of which, Shiro, is due to open on June 5.
Director of the scheme, Paul Langford, described the three-phase project as "one of the most significant investments within the city centre entertainment industry of the last few years".
Mr Langsford, also director of a host of other Belfast bars, including the Albany, El Divino and Filthy McNasty's, which together employ 225 people, said the development of Shiro as well as the construction of another contemporary bar and nightclub will boost an area that has enormous underutilised potential.
"The area that the venues are based in has some of the most sought-after restaurants anywhere in the UK or Ireland," he said.
"Now with the completion of Shiro and the other two developments it will also have entertainment venues to match the leading nightlife cities of Europe, bringing a significant economic boost to the heart of the city centre bar scene."
O'Donnell O'Neill Design Associates said that the concept for the "truly unique" Shiro has been inspired by experience gleaned from its involvement in bar projects from London to New York.
Mr Langsford said the venue would create "an innovative and stylish experience that is customer-orientated, atmospheric and experiential".
"Shiro will be like no other Belfast bar experience, it is truly unique," he said.
"Meaning 'white' in Japanese, the venue will have a sophisticated cocktail bar as its main focus, with views into a vibrant kitchen through glazed doors, raised booths for seating, an area for performing DJs and for patrons in the know a secluded roof terrace bar."
He added that recent headline-grabbing events like the Giro d'Italia had put Belfast firmly on the global visitor map.
"We believe our investment and phased approach of two exciting new bars and a nightclub on the south side of the city centre will add significant weight to Belfast's positioning as a great night out for visitors from home or abroad."
The investment comes against a backdrop of high numbers of pub closures in recent times.
This time last year concerns were being raised among publicans as many were forced to call time across Northern Ireland as a result of the economic downturn.
Increasing numbers of people were opting to drink alcohol at home instead of venturing out to their local.
In 2013, there were 174 pub closures across Northern Ireland after figures last May revealed that drinking out at bars and clubs was falling at a constant rate of 3.5% a year.
Similarly, there were 563 restaurants in 2011, but by 2012 that figure had fallen to 431, which represents some 132 eateries wiped out in just one year.