PUB OF THE YEAR: The Spaniard, Belfast
Hola, amigos! Now I must admit I have a soft spot for Spain, having been there on holiday.
But there is one Spaniard closer to home that I can recommend too — The Spaniard bar in Belfast.
Hidden away in the middle of the Cathedral Quarter, it’s so snug that blink and you could miss it — and that would be very unfortunate.
It’s a place I had always heard of but never visited. The pub is cosy and quite traditional, but with a Spanish feel and a bit of rock mixed in. It’s candle-lit and you immediately feel stress-free when you enter it.
The name The Spaniard is rumoured to have come from the fact lots of Spanish sailors sailed into Belfast and drank in the area and, owned by Janine Kane since 2005, it has been labelled “the wee local bar in a big city”.
It is strictly over-25 and it’s not a place you’ll find a lot of alcopop drinks — in fact, it is a specialised rum bar and has more than 50 different types of rum. They actually have a rum club where people come and drink the different rums together.
Mike Patterson, the assistant bar manager, insisted I taste a ‘Dark and Stormy’, which is a cocktail made with Havana rum — it was delicious. He said: “This bar is always busy, every night it’s like a weekend night.
“We know most customers that come in but are always welcoming more. I don't just want to serve a drink then go back to texting on my phone, I like to have a bit of banter with the customers, it almost feels like a little community.”
The Spaniard is situated on Skipper Street across the road from the Merchant Hotel and often gets so busy the customers accumulate out onto the street (weather permitting).
Inside the bar is small but there is so much to look at, it has a beautiful cluttered feel with many ornaments out of place with the decor, but that's what makes it different.
And The Spaniard has had some famous customers too — Hollywood actors such as Ghostbusters star Bill Murray and Lord of the Rings hunk Sean Bean.
Mike said: “Bill Murray drinks here when he is in Belfast and also Sean Bean, we don't like to disturb them for pictures or autographs when they are having a pint so we don't draw attention to them. I told one customer who asked me was it Bill Murray, ‘Who's Bill Murray?’, so he’d get peace.”
The bar doesn't have a menu but they have a big pot of stew on the go every day. Mike added: “Yeah, the stew is good, especially in the colder months, its an extra wee hook for our customers.”
And as I sipped the rest of my Dark and Stormy and looked at the wet weather outside I realised that the Spaniard is quite a magical wee place, it is a place where you can forget where you are and be stress-free.
Unfortunately I had more work to do and had to go but this is a pub I'll be sure to revisit.