Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Belfast's National Grand Cafe Bar banking on round the clock trade

Bill Wolsey
Bill Wolsey

Publican Bill Wolsey says his new Belfast city centre bar represents 'the holy grail' of the licensed trade as it will open first thing in the morning and then trade till late.

Around 40 people will work in The National Grand Cafe Bar in High Street and Patisserie Mimi next door.

Mr Wolsey said the patisserie would include the first fully-fledged bakery to open in Northern Ireland in nearly 90 years.

The bar, which is due to welcome its first punters on September 12, will open first thing in the morning, serving breakfasts cooked in its own kitchen, and baked goods from Mimi.

Mr Wolsey, managing director of Beannchor, said: "What we are doing here is the holy grail for publicans, a building which you can open early and operate fully selling food throughout the day and morph into a complete night-time venue.

"That's what everyone's searching for."

Mr Wolsey said the bar would boast "the biggest beer garden in Belfast", with one part branded Magners Irish Cider and the other, Jameson Whiskey.

The building is the former headquarters of the National Bank of Ireland, and there are also plans to open a nightclub in the upper floor of the partly-listed building at a later date.

The Beannchor portfolio will expand anew at the end of the year to include the Dirty Onion, a traditional music centre and pub in the Cathedral Quarter.

The Dirty Onion is on the site of one of only three wood-ridge buildings in Ireland dating back to the 18th century, and hasn't been occupied in 80 years, Mr Wolsey said.

"In the upstairs we will open a chicken restaurant and have already invested in a rotisserie.

"We will be serving free range chicken but like all things which are simple, it has to be the very best."

Mr Wolsey – whose portfolio encompasses The Spaniard, The Garrick and Muriel's, all in Belfast's city centre, as well as The Hillside in Hillsborough and the Portaferry Hotel – said: "Pubs are now going through a very difficult time, but they need to adapt and be much more relevant to people."

And he recounted an experience in London which he said highlighted the challenges of pubs.

Passionate members of staff were making coffee and selling pastries to a packed cafe, with coffee drinkers tapping away on their laptops.

He said: "Next door there was a old-style Victorian pub with giant windows. It was a beautiful building, but there was just one barman reading the paper and an old man having a drink, and I have never had a clearer illustration of how irrelevant pubs are becoming."

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