I haven’t written a post about a pub in a while and am now inspired to do so following some very entertaining reads by An Seisiún on the Belfast pub scene regarding its history and current status.
There’s something uncomfortable happening to Belfast pubs. There seems to be a plague sweeping the city, a plague that is ripping out the beating heart of what this superb place is all about and replacing it with a transparent and unstable facade. I’ve named this plague “tourism bullshittery”.
Don’t get me wrong here, tourism is thriving in Belfast like never before and I welcome every single person to these shores with open arms. Come and explore our wonderful country, come to our beautiful and generally now peaceful capital city. The change in Belfast over the past twenty years has been phenomenal and Lonely Planet now has us as the number one region in the world to visit. Not bad for a place once renowned for car bombs.
But with the influx of tourists comes the influx of businessmen trying to make their living. And a certain tranche of these business opportunities involve appealing to the tourists at the sacrifice of the locals who live and work in the area – the ones who’ve been the customer backbone of an establishment for many a year.
Step up Pug Uglys Draft House (Don’t even start me on the conspicuous lack of apostrophe and American spelling of draught). Once known as Morrison’s of Bedford Street and frequented by many people who worked nearby (and I include myself in that), it closed down before the summer for an apparent ‘makeover’. I could feel the anxiety of many of my co-workers at the use of that word. Their worry was heightened when security boards outside the pub’s empty shell advertised the new name. A quick Twitter search reveals no-one likes the new name. At all.
Fast forward to the end of the summer and I tentatively take my first steps into the new place. Forgive me for not mentioning its name any more, I might be a little sick if I say it again. What was once an inviting racing green Morrison’s front with large windows you actually see into and out of has now become a hideous 1970s orange mess with net curtains that my granny used to be proud of. I’m seriously questioning why I’m doing this, I wouldn’t be enticed if I was new to the area and I’m only doing this out of curiosity as its across the road from work. Whoever came up with that front look needs to take a long hard look at themselves.
Inside, it’s dark, it’s moody, it’s 3pm. The bar has moved from the right hand side of the building to the centre. The walls have been stripped bare and the place now has an 1880s industrial feel to it. There are black and white photos and maps on the wall. Photos of 19th century men and near to where I’m sitting is a map of New York. Ah, is this what it is? A Gangs of New York style pub? Bastardising a place that was once a very popular haunt for locals in favour of a new tourist joint? Seems to make sense.
And what of the beer selection I hear you cry? Well to be fair, it’s slightly better than what Morrison’s offered – now there are bottles from Portrush’s Lacada brewery alongside Belfast’s Yardsman and Castlewellan’s Whitewater brewery. Yardsman and Whitewater distribution is widespread across the city but it was very good to see Lacada in there too. Draught selection wasn’t great with the usual fake craft from Diageo (Hop House 13) and Molson Coors (Pravha, Blue Moon, Rebel Red etc) but my intrigue piqued at the two taps labelled Pug’s Light and Pug’s Dark.
I recalled an online question put out there recently following a visit to the new Jailhouse bar in Belfast where it had the never-heard-before house beer Henry’s Dark and Henry’s Light. A conversation ensued with Boon saying The Jailhouse staff told him the house beer came from Grolsch. Pug staff told me the Pug beer is made by Whitewater and is the same beer served in The Jailhouse. Conflicting reports there.
(EDIT: Since this post was published Whitewater have told me it’s not brewed by them but possibly a Molson Coors offering.)
Anyway Pug’s Dark was very reminiscent of Whitewater’s Hen, Cock and Pigeon Rock red ale while the Light was a sweet and blonde pale ale. (Regardless of maybe being given duff information, the staff were very polite and helpful and I hope the place is a success because of them.)
What I just didn’t get about Pug Uglys was … why? What’s its point? I honestly cannot see why so much effort was made to dramatically change the popular and airy Morrison’s look to what now is a confused touristy mess. Yet another one of Belfast’s pubs being updated because of the new tourism bullshittery fad. Tourists, this is not what we’re about, it may be what you’re about but certainly not us. Stupid names like Pug Uglys, Peaky Blinders (formerly The Hudson), Jeggy Nettle (The House) and Hell Cat Maggies (Apartment) do the city no favours. Locals are angered at the name changes – stop Americanising our great pub scene.