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Northern Ireland's hospitality industry raise a glass to the best pubs, restaurants and hotels

Special honour served to pub owner Joe McDermott

Hundreds of members of Northern Ireland's hospitality industry put their worries over soaring rates bills and new immigration restrictions on hold for one night to celebrate the naming of the province's top 100 pubs, restaurants and hotels.

Only hours after officials from Hospitality Ulster appeared on TV and radio to warn that Boris Johnson's curbs on lower-paid workers entering the UK would 'decimate' the hospitality industry, the organisation's biggest night of the year swung into action at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Belfast on Wednesday.

The winners of the Top 100 Business awards, of which Sunday Life was media partner, ranged from Michelin-starred restaurants and five-star hotels to night clubs, gastropubs and tiny bars in rural areas of the province. The awards recognised all 100 recipients equally.

Danny Coyles, chairman of Hospitality Ulster, said that hundreds of nominations were received and judged by an independent panel which was chaired by Belfast Telegraph restaurant critic Joris Minne and which included Sunday Life columnist Edwin McFee.

"With so many great businesses in our industry the judging process was never going to be easy and I want to give credit to the members of the judging panel who gave up a considerable amount of time to select the 2020 list," said Mr Coyles.

He said this year's winners included 19 businesses which were on the roll of honour for the first time.

The names of the 100 award winners, who came from all over Northern Ireland, were flashed up on a big screen and Tim McGarry, who co-hosted with Pamela Ballantine, joked that he was disappointed the Knee-Breakers bar from his Give My Head Peace TV series hadn't made the list.

The special guests for the evening were two former giants of rugby who slugged it out verbally during an interview with UTV's Pamela over Ireland's crucial showdown against England at Twickenham today in the Six Nations.

Ex-Ulster and Ireland winger Tommy Bowe had no doubts that his former colleagues would be too strong for their hosts but his erstwhile British and Irish Lions team-mate Ugo Monye was convinced his English countrymen would win the day despite being 'underdogs', a tag scoffed at by Tommy who defended coach Andy Farrell's choice of a pre-match motivational speaker in U2's Bono.

The rock superstar visited the Ireland team at their hotel last week and online critics questioned what he could do to inspire the side. But Tommy said: "He's supposed to be very good."

Towards the end of the evening Hospitality Ulster unveiled the first ever recipient of their Lifetime Membership Award to honour the service of an important figure in the industry.

The winner was Joe McDermott, a former accountant and civil servant who went on to establish himself as one of the top pub owners in Derry/Londonderry.

Joe opened the Phoenix Bar in 1978 and the Park Bar eight years later. He also served as treasurer of the industry's representative body for nearly two decades until his retirement last year.

Danny Coyles said: "This is a well-deserved honour for Joe. He is synonymous with the hospitality sector in the North West and is a recognisable face right across the island of Ireland."

Joe, who knew nothing about the award, said: "I really was caught on the hop. But while I was surprised to receive the award I was extremely flattered."

Joe's sons now run the pubs. "And I just sit and take the odd half pint now and again and maybe a wee gin and tonic," laughed Joe.

But on a more serious point, Joe said he was deeply concerned about the current state of the pubs industry.

He added: "The bars are finding it increasingly difficult to compete with the supermarkets who are often selling alcohol below cost price and more and more people are drinking in the house and missing out on the whole social side of an evening out."

Earlier in the day, Hospitality Ulster's Colin Neill expressed his fears about another potential crisis facing the drinks industry as he was interviewed for the BBC in the Crowne Plaza as preparations for the awards night went on around him.

He said the government's new points system for immigrant workers would hit the hospitality sector who are major employers of lower-paid EU staff.

"It's not about cheap labour," insisted Mr Neill, adding that employees who are classified as unskilled are a vital element of the success of the hospitality and tourism industry.

Another guest at the awards ceremony was Glyn Roberts the chief executive of Retail NI who shared Mr Neill's concerns, saying: "EU nationals make a significant and welcome contribution right across our supply chain, with production, wholesaling and retail. The proposed salary threshold will have a hugely negative impact on all of these key industries."

The 100 winners were all placed into a draw to win a range of prizes. These prizes included a branded car for a year courtesy of Donnelly Group and Oasis Retail Services which was scooped by Corner House, Lurgan, a £1,000 advertising and marketing package courtesy of U105 was won by Lavery's Bar and a place on a mini MBA course at Queen's University, Belfast was won by McAleer's, Dungannon.

Top 100 Winners 2020

  • The Anchor Complex, Portstewart
  • Auction Rooms, Moy
  • Balloo House, Killinchy
  • Balmoral, Belfast
  • The Bank, Newry
  • Billy Andys Bar, Larne
  • Bishop's Gate Hotel, Derry
  • Blackbird, Derry
  • Bridge Bar, Newry
  • Browns Brassiere, Derry
  • Bullitt, Belfast
  • Bushmills Inn, Bushmills
  • Castello Italia, Carrickfergus
  • Cellar Bar, Lurgan
  • Church Street, Magherafelt
  • The Coachman, Magherafelt
  • Coppi, Belfast
  • The Corner House, Lurgan
  • Courtney's Steakhouse, Newry
  • The Crosskeys Inn, Toomebridge
  • Crowne Plaza, Belfast
  • Cyprus Avenue, Belfast
  • Deanes At Queens, Belfast
  • Deanes Eipic, Belfast
  • Denvir's, Downpatrick
  • The Dirty Duck, Holywood
  • The Dirty Onion, Belfast
  • Dormans Bar, Magherafelt
  • Duke of York, Belfast
  • Edo, Belfast
  • Entrada, Derry
  • Errigle Inn, Belfast
  • Friel's Bar, Swatragh
  • The Front Page Bar, Ballymena
  • Fullerton Arms, Ballintoy
  • Galgorm Resort, Ballymena
  • Ginger Bistro, Belfast
  • Goats Toe, Bangor
  • Grand Central, Belfast
  • Grouse, Ballymena
  • Guildhall Taphouse, Derry
  • Hadskis, Belfast
  • Hagan's Bar, Dungannon
  • The Harp Bar, Belfast
  • Head O' The Road, Portadown
  • Henry's & The Jailhouse, Belfast
  • Hillside Bar and Restaurant, Hillsborough
  • House Hotel, Belfast
  • House of McDonnell, Ballycastle
  • Howard Street, Belfast
  • James St, Belfast
  • Keegan's Bar, Armagh
  • Kelly's Cellars, Belfast
  • Killyhevlin Lakeside Hotel and Lodges, Enniskillen
  • Kiwi's Brew Bar, Portrush
  • La Taqueria, Belfast
  • Lavery's, Belfast
  • Limelight, Belfast
  • The Lobster Pot, Strangford
  • Lough Erne Resort, Enniskillen
  • Lower House, Donaghmore
  • The Market Inn, Draperstown
  • Mary McBride's Bar, Cushendun
  • Matties Meeting House, Cairncastle
  • Maypole, Holywood
  • McAleer's, Dungannon
  • McConville's, Portadown
  • The Merchant Hotel, Belfast
  • Millbrook Lodge Hotel, Ballynahinch
  • Morning Star, Belfast
  • The Muddlers Club, Belfast
  • Noble, Holywood
  • Northern Lights, Belfast
  • Nu Delhi, Belfast
  • Ocho Tapas Portrush
  • ORA Wine Bar, Belfast
  • Ownies Bar, Carrickfergus
  • Ox, Belfast
  • Peadar O'Donnell's, Derry
  • The Points, Belfast
  • Red Neds, Armagh
  • Sally's of Omagh
  • The Saltwater Brig, Kircubbin
  • Sandinos Bar, Derry
  • Shu Restaurant, Belfast
  • The Slieve Donard, Newcastle
  • Spaniard, Belfast
  • Square Bistro, Lisburn
  • StillHouse, Moira
  • Sunflower Pub, Belfast
  • The TapHouse, Enniskillen
  • The Thirsty Goat, Belfast
  • Titanic Hotel, Belfast
  • Ulster Sports Club, Belfast
  • Union Street Bar, Belfast
  • Voodoo, Belfast
  • The Whistledown Hotel, Warrenpoint
  • Wine and Brine, Moira
  • Ye Old Ship Inn, Warrenpoint
  • Yugo, Belfast
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