Crown Bar makeover: Early doors as experts put new shine on Belfast pub with £300,000 restoration
It's a loving and painstaking £300,000 makeover for Belfast's fine Victorian 'lady'.
The city's only surviving gin palace - the Crown Liquor Saloon - is receiving some tender loving care from a team of expert National Trust conservationists.
While some of the 500,000 drinkers and visitors who are estimated to go through its doors each year are still sleeping, the team are at work cleaning the intricate glass, mirrors, woodwork and ornate tiles from 6.30am.
National Trust conservator Claire Magill stressed that it was business as usual for the popular pub, two weeks into a six-week programme of work.
"Our team of conservation experts, half of them from Northern Ireland, work from 6.30am to get a good five hours of work in before the bar opens," she said.
"We try to be as unobtrusive as possible but the patrons are very patient and take a real interest in what we are doing."
The bar is one of the most famous in these islands and has been used as a film set for movies such as 1947's Odd Man Out, starring James Mason as an IRA man, and Divorcing Jack, based on Colin Bateman's book.
Brad Pitt and our own Jimmy Nesbitt have enjoyed a pint in the bar, which is on the city's tourist map. The Great Victoria Street pub, which was built in the early 1800s, has survived decades of turbulence in the city's history, including collateral damage from being opposite the most bombed hotel in the world, the Europa.
The fine Italian-inspired interior workmanship requires cleaning and minor repairs from the team of 10 experts to keep it in the condition visitors love.
Claire explained: "Given the amount of footfall, the magnificent bar has seen some wear and tear.
"This has left the famous snugs looking dull, not to mention the pollutants from city centre traffic, which have covered the external tiles in dust.
"The ceiling is also experiencing carbon deposits from the original gas lighting, with sooty grey halos directly above the lights, and the heat is causing some damage to the famous papier maché ceiling. If we don't act to protect these precious features, then the damage could become irreversible." She added that the National Trust has looked after the Crown since 1978, with the last major restoration taking place back in 2007.
The project is being delivered in partnership with Mitchells and Butlers, who operate and manage the Crown.
Construction and fit-out company Gilbert Ash is the main contractor, and also carried out the restoration work on the Crown Bar in 2007.