PUB OF THE YEAR: McAleer's Bar, Dungannon
From the outside, McAleer’s Bar in Dungannon looks like any other Mid-Ulster conventional drinking den, but when you step inside, it’s instantly recognisable how far from conventional this place really is.
McAleer’s has all the qualities of a rural pub; family-owned, a favourite with the community and a classic bar at the front. But when you take a walk around you feel that you could be in any chic establishment in a bustling city.
The McAleers are entrepreneurs. They’ve been running this pub since 1979 when Rosemary and Sean bought it over during the Troubles when trading was a challenge.
Over the years they continuously invested and revamped the bar to keep the punters interested and today they’ve just finished a very innovative overhaul.
Manager Connor McAleer took Sunday Life on a tour and we were very impressed. It’s easy to see why this pub has been nominated by its customers for the Sunday Life’s Readers’ Choice Award at the Pub of the Year event. It’s a one-stop-shop that caters to every age group, all at the same time.
“We are very much a three-in-one venue now; a pub, a buzz cocktail bar and a club. In fact, I would say we’re now a destination,” said Connor as he proudly guided us around the new nightclub.
The club is striking, with its smart white bar, curved velvet seating, a VIP ‘Celebra’ lounge which is kitted out with zebra print upholstery while its advanced technology brings what was once a small town pub into the 21st century.
This high-tech theme runs throughout all areas of McAleer’s.
Because it’s a massive hit with sports enthusiasts who flock to watch big matches, Connor has brought in 3D LG flat screens to add a new dimension to this service, making him one of few pubs in Northern Ireland to offer this.
The cocktail bar area also has that wow factor with its own mini bar where fresh, classic cocktails are ‘theatrically’ concocted.
“The cocktail bar is where customers can chat and relax. It’s where we’re re-introducing the art of conversation,” continued Connor.
But there’s more to McAleer’s than its looks we discovered.
Special theme nights are also a winner with the customers.
“We have put on a special over-23s night on Saturdays to keep the professionals in Dungannon at the weekend and we’re even drawing in those from other areas like Omagh and Armagh,” added Connor.
On Sundays, live music is the recipe for success here, and soon Connor will be inviting top cover acts from England to perform. “I’m not talking Elvis impersonators. I’m talking top class tribute bands, the best in the business, like the Black Eyed Peas, Pink and Beyonce cover acts,” he said.
And the best bit? The McAleers don’t charge an entrance fee for any part of the venue. Even the busy club nights are free to local revellers.
“We don’t go down that line of charging people. It’s about keeping high standards for us more than what we get out of it. We’re perceived as offering serious value whilst retaining class,” explained Connor.
McAleer’s also operates a get home safe policy, which sees young punters are taken home by reputable taxi companies.
So who are the regulars that have made McAleer’s such a hit?
“We’ve a great sporting fraternity here,” said Connor. “At the weekend, we would have a lot of the Tyrone GAA players, Dungannon Swifts and rugby stars and when we get the athletes in, the rest will follow,” he laughed.
“At the weekends the ratio could be four glamorous women to one man!”
When Sunday Life visited McAleers, we met with former Tyrone GAA player Damien O’Hagan who has been a regular at this pub since the early ’80s.
He said: “This pub has changed dramatically over the years but it still keeps that sport’s character. It’s certainly a Tyrone GAA house and I love coming to meet the ex-players from the Tyrone team. It’s also one of the best venues to come and watch the big sports games on TV.”
Aidan Campbell loves everything about McAleer’s. He said: “I never leave this place. I’ve been coming for more than years.”
Patsy Mallon, who has been drinking in McAleer’s for nine years, says it’s the Smithwicks that draws him in: “I come here for the Smithwicks,” he laughed. “I’d be in about three or four times a week. It’s just a lovely environment to be in and I love what they’ve done with the place. It’s made it really modern.”
The all new McAleer’s certainly got our thumbs up!