Monday, 11 January 2016

And One For Yerself

And one for yerself: Help us recognise the very best of proper Belfast bar staff

Use #belfastrevival & #oneforyerself

My granda was an old-fashioned local, professional barman: with a bar-towel over his shoulder, some friendly chat and a watchful eye he took obvious pride in his job. I still love to see that kind of time-served dedication and skill behind a bar when I spot it in others to this day.

From bar staff giving samples of NI-made spirits and beers to organising taxis and dispensing local information, these unsung heroes - of any age or nationality, part-time or full-time - are an asset to our city and to the all-important visitors who keep the Belfast tills ringing. Read on to find out how we can thank, celebrate and protect our great Belfast bar staff working in our great Belfast bars.

Some examples first: last week myself and my partner watched a barman in Aether & Echo show off obscure gins and make cocktails, then we chatted to an outstanding barman in The Sunflower who, despite the ever-busy hustle and bustle of that bar, was happy to take time to talk to us about a bottle of Dunville whiskey.

Aether & Echo

Bar staff in Bert’s talked us through their menu of malt Scotch and we were spoilt for choice of drinks in Bittles. Having these devoted, high-quality bar staff and, of course, the great Belfast bars in which they work, not only forms part of the backbone of our city but also makes a big difference to your night out.

They might even do this without you noticing by being on hand with:

  • Knowledge of drinks, including local drinks: See that bottle of Jawbox Gin or Dunville whiskey? Just ask and a great barman/ woman will be proud to tell you more or even provide a taster. It is great to see more and more companies making beer and spirits in NI, even better to see bar staff promoting their work. In honour of Lurgan we still think Buckfast should be on the optics, of course.

  • Discretion: Ever wonder why bar staff can hear you calling their name but can’t hear you chat to your mate about your messy break-up? And why old-fashioned bar staff never mention that you had a nap in the gents last weekend? Worth a tip surely.

  • A watchful eye on you and your things: You might be in the bar making an arse of yourself, instead of in a taxi, or have your iPhone in a puddle of Harp otherwise.

  • Fairness: What a joy it is to see bar staff working the bar from left to right and back or by length of wait (and how your stomach sinks to see staff, often nightclub staff, pick randomers at will). And that barwoman who, with a nod and a “bear with me love” when it is busy, tells you she’s an artist at work and owning the queue. Ahhh…that.

  • Memory: I couldn’t remember the people, drinks and orders a decent barman/ bar woman does (then again I can’t count either, so the ‘till would be up the left). Could you?

  • Quality: From a beer store that isn’t stored a mile away in the car park (we’re looking at you hotel bars and bar owners) to spotless glasses, hygiene and decent presentation…it all adds up.

An overdue time has come, then, to notice and thank the best of Belfast bar staff in the best of Belfast bars.

Are there other ways bar staff can make your night? And which bars would you single out for great service? If your local isn’t being run like one of the #oneforyerself nominated bars we can recommend plenty who’ll be glad to show you a welcome while the bar manager/ owner in your local plays catch-up.

To say thanks for the best of Belfast bars and barstaff use #belfastrevival + #oneforyerself and we’ll retweet with pride

To remember a great Belfast bar from the past use #belfastrevival + #sorelymissedbelfast

We asked Mark from the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood (@SPBWNI) to give us his thoughts on what makes a great Belfast bar:

“Alcohol has always been part of socialising and the pub is one of the central points for such an activity, often the heart and mainstay of small communities."

“People go to a pub for various reasons and may return to it - or not. Probably the best reason for becoming a regular at any establishment is the feel-good factor. Would I want to return to bad/slow service, inattentive and surly barstaff who have lost the power to place a smile on their face as they serve me? No, and I am sure neither would you."

“There are many other pubs out there, and while it may take a while to find one in a city of frenetic lifestyles, it will be found. Sometimes it can mostly all be in the mind, a bit like The Moon Under Water, a 1946 essay by George Orwell. Still, keep looking and suddenly the realisation is that you have returned to a place more than once, people say hello to you and you sit on the barstool like it is your own armchair at home.”

Mark also gave us the benefit of his expertise on Belfast bars past and present as well as his nominations for #belfastrevival #oneforyerself bars deserving our praise:

“Do such Moon Under Water places exist here? Hard to say as everyone has their own thoughts on how socialising should play out during the evening. Certainly half a century ago pubs were a place to relax, meet friends, chat and be served by a friendly and knowledgeable barstaff.

“Somehow they became crowded, noisy and the staff only wanted to get through the rush and get home. Things got even worse as the province lost so many quiet little backstreet boozers in the 70’s & 80’s, and what was left turned into the super-pubs of the 90’s.

Gone were the days when you walked into your local and was handed a Christmas drink for being a regular. Still, it has to be said that a noticeable revolution has occurred. We still do not have enough pubs, and hence crowed bars and a seemingly permanent loss of personal space, but barstaff are better trained and now appear to have an aptitude to actually make friends with the customers and guide them through a range of choices.

Mind you, to be meaningful there has to be true reciprocation by the customer towards hard working staff. Have I found my own Moon Under Water? Well, yes, a few but of different natures. While I mourn the loss of pubs like Pat’s Bar, the Rotterdam, the original Dubarry’s and such other gems, I do like the new “old fashioned”, sensible premises and service like the sunflower and the John Hewitt, real-life characters like John Bittles and (of course) my eight cask ale hand-pulls in JDW pubs.”

The John Hewitt

To follow the campaign to protect the buildings of Belfast from careless redevelopment - including our beloved established bars -please follow @belfast_revival for updates.

We can’t afford to lose any more heart without taking the soul from our city.

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