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Belfast's Sunflower owner Pedro to reopen American Bar in Sailortown

The American won’t be a Sunflower II. It will very much have it’s own identity

By Christopher Woodhouse

Published 22/08/2016

Pedro Donnell who has bought The American Bar at Clarendon docks.
Picture Mark McCormick 18/08/16
Pedro Donnell who has bought The American Bar at Clarendon docks. Picture Mark McCormick 18/08/16
The American Bar in Belfast is set to be reopened
Pedro Donnell who has bought The American Bar at Clarendon docks.; Picture Mark McCormick 18/08/16
The American Bar

The man behind one of Belfast’s most acclaimed bars is about to work his magic on a long forgotten pub in one of the city’s historic quarters.

Pedro Donald, owner of the award winning Sunflower Public House, is preparing to breath life back into the American Bar in Sailortown.

The working man’s boozer called last orders for the final time in 2013 after 140 years of whetting the whistles of generations of sailors and dockers from the nearby port.

But the American is now set to get a new lease of life from the publican and staff that has made the Sunflower a run away success story.

“The Sunflower has worked, so the staff and myself were keen to do something else,” Pedro told Sunday Life.

“I fancied a new challenge and I’ve always liked that part of town. I would have drank in Pat’s and the Rotterdam going back to the ’80s, they were both great pubs.

“None of us wanted to do something in the Cathedral Quarter because it’s saturated so we looked at a couple of different places similar to the Tavern, which is what the Sunflower was.

“Just an ordinary wee pub. We didn’t want it to be a fancy bar or nightclub or a venue. Just a wee pub.”

The American still retains the traditional layout of a downstairs public bar with an upstairs lounge accessed via different doors.

“It’s not an American diner, it’s a Belfast pub called the American Bar. It probably will lean towards Americana but the whole lot, from the bottom of Argentina to Alaska, not just the United States of America.

The seafront hotel back in 1897
The seafront hotel back in 1897
Steam Locomotives (Trains). The steam- hauled passenger train that chugged away from No.1 platform in Bangor last night marked the end of an era. It was the last train to travel along the Belfast Central line, linking the Belfast-Bangor track and the one to Portadown. The train was given a civic send-off from Bangor by Alderman Charles Milligan (THIRD FROM RIGHT) who waved the guard's flag. Driver of the train was Mr Eamonn O'Hara, of Finaghy Road North, Belfast.
Bangor from Pickie Pool 19 March 1959
Bangor, 6 October 1959
"I've got a lovely bunch of carrots", Dora Povey, Bangor market, October 1974,
The good weather attracted many holidaymakers to the popular Co. Down resort of Bangor. Here John Austin (left) and Michael Coey, play onj the deach at Ballybolme. 30/3/1965
Orange Order. Twelfth of July 1988. Bangor Parade.
Orange Order. 12th July 1989. Enjoying the sunshine during the Orange parade in Bangor are members of Bangor Women's Junior LOL 46.
Bangor - 6 October 1959
The Queen, Elizabeth 11. 1961 visit.The Queen casts a sharp shadow as she steps out in brilliant subshine at Bangor. August 1961
Five-year-old Sarah Darrah from Jordanstown selects a flag while visiting Bangor Market with her mother. 23/7/1983
The good weather attracted many holidaymakers to the popular Co. Down resort of Bangor. here some relax as others amble in the sunshine. 15/4/1963
Orange Order. 12th July 1989. Mark Angus, of LOL 1229, taking part in the Bangor parade.
Queens university students kidnapp light heavyweight boxer Gerry Hassett from a training session at Ballyholme Bangor. They are hoping his promoter B. J. Eastwood will hand over a cheque for the Rag funds. 9th March 1965.
Bangor - from ladies bathing place, date unknown
Orange Order. 12th July 1981. Beating out the tunes during the parade at Bangor.
Among the many attractions for visitors to Bangor during the United Services Week is the landing craft Audemer, of the 72 Landiding Craft Tank Squadron, Royal Corps of Transport.
Milk strike at Bangor Dairies. Pickets on duty outside Bangor Dairies at Belast Road, Bangor, talk to the driver of a lorry returning empty milk bottles. 14/1/1975
Bangor - 6 October 1959
An eye for a bargain - this customer check out the goods at Bangor Market. 20/7/1983
Bangor - Royal Ulster Yacht Club, 1920
Bangor - 6 October 1959
Bangor - Princeton Road, date unknown
Orange Order. 12th July 1981. King Billy rides again in Bangor. John Steele of Kircubbin has played the part of King William for the past 15 years.
Bangor Grammar celebrate winning the Ulster bank School's Cup at Ravenhill, after a powerful display over Coleraine A.I. 17/3/1988
We've won the cup! Jubilant Bangor players surround their skipper David Morrow in the Upritchard Park dressing room following their Bass Boston Cup triumph over Instonians last night. Bangor, who host the tournament, have now won the trophy five times since the competition was inaugurated in 1974. Bangor are the current holders of the senior league title and are now lining up a possible Ulster "Grand Slam." 21/12/1983
Bangor - Pickie Pool, date unknown
Bangor Grammar- School Choir, 1994.
The boys of Bangor Grammar School have swept all before them this season. Four major trophy wins, in fact- in the Ulster Section of the Aer Lingus Schools' championship (in which they were third-best in the all-Ireland finals), and in the Ulster Schools' League and Froggart Shield championships, and Irish Schools' championship, 1978.
Sir Thomas Lipton at Bangor Regatta. 14/7/1928
Bangor Grammar- golfers, 1974.
Mr. Jim Claney (right), outgoing, chairman of Bangor Grammar School Parents' Association, hands over an original painting of the school to Mr. Brian Thompson, chairman of the Board of Governors and launches the sale of limited edition prints for old boys and parents. Included (from left) are: Mr. Tom Patton, headmaster; Ms. Phyllis Arnold, the artist; and Mr. Michael Curry, chairman of the Parents' Association, 1985.
Bangor Grammar- 1994
Taking off: Paddy Ashdown doing the high jump at Garth House School, Bangor in 1950
Queen's University. Rag Week Celebrations. Students from Queen's University and Stranmillis Training College leap-frogging all the way from Bangor to Belfast at the start of the university's Rag Week celebrations. (08/03/1965)
Pupils, who refused to obey the short back and sides ruling on their way home from school, 1973.
Bangor Grammar- 1993
Jubilant Bangor Grammar Grammar School supporters show their delight as their team score their third try during the Schools' Cup Final at Ravenhill against RBAI. 17/3/1986
Bangor Grammar, 1993
Bangor Grammar School players and supporters begin their celebrations as the famous shield and cup is handed over at Ravenhill after their 17-9 victory over Annadale. 18/3/1978
The successful madrigal group from Bangor Grammar School are put through their paces by their director of music Ian Hunter, 1975.
Bangor captain, Michael Webb, collects the Schools' Cup. 17/3/1985
Bangor Grammar- Haircuts, 1973
School's Cup final hockey team for New Blaris next Wednesday afternoon: Front row (from left)- James Foote, Lindsay Holmes, Deryck Rothwell (captain), Rory McCrystal and Robin Hudson. Back row - Philip Skelly, Mark Hamilton, Jonny McNaught, Chris Wilkinson, Paul Wylie, Micael McLellan and Robert Stone, 1988.
Gun Running at Bangor, April 25th 1914
The jubiliant Bangor Grammar School rugby team pictured after beating Campbell College 6-3 in the Schools' Cup final at Ravenhill, 1969.
A group of sixth-formers will be helping to look after 100 handicapped children this summer- nearly 2,000 miles away in the steamy heat of Morocco. The boys from Bangor Grammar School have been invited by the Save The Children Fund to the northern tip of Africa, 1978.
The Bangor rugby team who last night defeated Instonians in the final of the Bass Boston Cup at Upritchard Park, Bangor. Included in the group are Billy Lavery, president of the Ulster Branch IRFU, Turlough O'Hare of Bass Ireland and team officials. 18/12/1985
Bangor Grammar School won the traditional St. Patrick's Day Cup rugby final at Ravenhill, coming from behind in thrilling style to beat Annadale Grammar. 18/3/1978
The milk bottling plant at Bangor Dairies in full swing this morning producing milk for the Bangor and Ards areas. 14/1/1975
Mr. John Simms (Bass Ireland) presenting the trophy to Bangor captain, Ashley Armstrong, after beating Ballymena 11-6 in the final of the Bass boston Floodlit Cup at Upritchard Park, Bangor, last night. 17/12/1986
Boston party: Bangor captain Don Whittle celebrates with the rest of his team at winning the Smithwick's Boston Floodlit Cup earlier this week. Bangor beat Malone 20-6 at Upritchard Park to earn the trophy for the 11th time in its history, and now go on to meet Old Belvedere in the All-Ireland Floodlit Challenge on February 19. Included is Smithwick's marketing manager Les Fryer (right). 02/01/1993

“There will be no Stars and Stripes.

“Music wise it will be similar to the Sunflower where we do a lot of sessions but with a touch of Americana about it.”

Although it has been sitting unused since the last guv’nor left, the building is sound and the interior completely intact with beer mats from the bar’s last punters still on the tables.

Sailortown has been through a period of decline but the once shabby district is being revamped with apartments and businesses popping up year on year.

Pedro is adamant that with new housing and the Ulster University due to open nearby there is plenty of trade in the area.

“There are apartments and businesses down there, the Sunday Life and Belfast Telegraph have just moved there,” he said.

“In people’s minds it seems quite far away but it’s not, in days gone by the Rotterdam and Pat’s Bar had no trouble attracting people.”

Turning a long forgotten watering hole into a prize pub is also something Pedro and his team have a talent for.

The Sunflower, previously known as the Avenue Bar and the Tavern, was a spit and sawdust place tucked away on Union Street behind the Central Library with pillbox style windows and a security cage.

Just over three years after Pedro bought it – and fought to keep the now famous “sanger” cage – it was named City Pub of the Year at the 2015 Pub of the Year Awards.

The bar already occupies a special place in the hearts of Belfast pub goers who rallied round to save the Sunflower after the shock news that it was under threat of demolition.

But the veteran barman is keen to emphasise that his new tap house won’t just be a carbon copy of what he has done before.

“The American won’t just be a Sunflower II. It will very much have its own identity and do its own thing,” explained Pedro.

“It will of course have the same ethos as Sunflower though: welcoming to anyone and everyone no matter what colour, class or creed they come from and a strong supporter of the arts and of live music.”

However, he admits that the American will probably feel quite familiar to Sunflower regulars.

“The similarities to the Sunflower are uncanny. The ground floor is about the same size, the middle floor has a bar at one end with space to put on events and the top floor is empty, just like the Sunflower,” said Pedro.

“And they are both number 65 - the Sunflower is 65 Union Street and the American is 65 Dock Street.

“It will be a very similar ethos to what we have at the Sunflower. A decent pub with good music and good beer.”

One thing Pedro has ruled out is changing the name of the American, which was something of an institution to those who grew up in the area.

“We changed the name to the Sunflower when we moved in and we had that debate about the American but it has been called that since around 1860 so it would be wrong to change it. We are quite happy with it,” he said.

If you’re already gasping for a sip you won’t have long to wait as Pedro and his team aim to be pulling their first pints by October.

“We set ourself the target of getting open by Halloween but it looks like we will be open before that, we just want to get in, get the mops and buckets out and give it a good scrub,” he said.

“I swore blind I would never do a second one but the staff was the deciding factor, they’re great.

 “I can tell you now I am not doing a third, there’s only so far I can go on my bicycle everyday.”

Online Editors

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