Belfast Telegraph

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

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.

“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.”

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