Sunday Life

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Our top pubs of 2021

Edwin McFee compiles his list of the most memorable bars he’s visited in 2021


 Photo credit: Cultura RF

Photo credit: Cultura RF

Photo credit: Cultura RF

2021 was another roller-coaster year for us all. However, one thing we could all rely on was the wealth of great pubs in the province to keep us entertained. While they spent much of the year on the subs bench, when they were allowed to open they served as a much needed friend for many and so, without further ado, Edwin McFee presents to you 10 of the best bars around.

The Belfast Empire

42 Botanic Avenue, Belfast

Popular with music lovers, students, professionals, comedy fans and most walks of life, this evergreen pub remains one of the bench setters for Belfast’s hospitality scene. First opening its doors in 1987 and famously housed inside a converted church found near Queen’s University, regardless of whether you’re a local or a socialite from further afield you’re guaranteed to love it here.

The Anchor Bar

9-11 Bryansford Road, Newcastle

One of the most popular nightspots in Newcastle, this highly acclaimed watering hole is like a fine wine as it only seems to get better with age. Found at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, the pub has been whetting the whistles of the natives for over a century and it prides itself on offering a warm welcome to families, ramblers, climbers and day trippers. If you like bars with great, home-grown produced beverages and you’re in the area, then the Anchor Bar should be your first port of call.

The Deer’s Head

2 Lower Garfield Street, Belfast

After many months of set backs and heart aches, the Deer’s Head finally opened in Belfast last summer and it was most certainly worth the wait. Born in 1885 and resurrected in 2021, this history steeped spot is the city’s first ever brewpub and features a fully functional on-site craft brewery and more tasty beverages than the fabled banquet hall of Valhalla.

Jenny Watts

41 High Street, Bangor

Proudly holding the title of Bangor’s oldest and most revered public house, Jenny Watts has been sating the collective thirsts of the natives for centuries (since 1780 to be precise) and they’ve definitely learned a thing or two about hospitality over the years. Part of the bar’s appeal can be attributed to its timeless feel and its traditional vibe is suitable for both tourists and townies alike.

Those of you who adore pretension and gimmick free boozers should check it out.

Muriel’s Cafe Bar

12-14 Church Lane, Belfast

Boasting some of the most memorable décor in Belfast, this eye catching bar, which is filled with fluffy cushions, velvet seats and frilly underwear hanging from washing lines, also has the substance to back up the quirky style. The hostelry offers a much welcome alternative to the more mainstream boozers in the city centre and their range of gins is hard to beat.


Water Street, Derry

Hailed by everyone from local bar flies to Hollywood royalty (including Saoirse Ronan) as one of the very best bars in NI, Sandinos is a hugely popular pub that always has the craic levels cranked up to 110%. A versatile, vibrant watering hole, this self professed purveyor of “boogie, beer and banter” is the place to be if you want a big night out.

Northern Lights

451 Ormeau Road, Belfast

Five years ago, Northern Lights first opened its doors and quickly became the go to place for Belfast-based beer lovers. Owned by the successful Galway Bay Brewery, who produce some of the craft scene’s most popular tipples, the bar boasts a treasure trove of tipples and their Sunday Roasts are fast becoming the stuff of legend.

Blakes Of The Hollow

6 Church Street, Enniskillen

One of the oldest and best loved pubs in NI, this spot has earned many famous fans over the years, including Bob Mortimer and Line of Duty star Adrian Dunbar and as soon as you set foot into the place I’ll wager you’ll soon be exclaiming now we’re sucking diesel, too. Named after the famous dip in the road outside, this handsome hostelry is one of the most recognisable Victorian pubs on the island and is a bastion of great booze.

The Brass Monkey

1-4 Sandys Street, Newry

The Brass Monkey is a staple of the Newry social scene and has sent the locals bananas for decades. Boasting an eye catching, striking interior (that includes a beautiful cherry blossom tree that stands behind the bar) the hostelry is popular with both the natives and visiting shoppers and is an excellent all rounder that’s great for a date night.

Franklin’s Sports Bar

43 Franklin Street, Belfast

Found a stone’s throw from the Ulster Hall, this brand spanking new boozer is part of the Linen House Complex. Gamely filling the hole that the dearly departed Rockies left in Belfast, Franklin’s offers a feast of entertainment for fans of soccer, American Football and more. There’s also pool tables upstairs if your beloved team are being mauled and you need a distraction and sports fans will feel like they’ve won the Champion’s League as soon as they clock their massive 6.5 metre screen (and its accompanying, must sought after comfy seats nearby).

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