Ahead of this year’s AVA Festival & Conference, we caught up with some of our fave Belfast residents to find out where to dip our beaks around the town. Eat
Belfast’s foodie scene – and that of Northern Ireland in general – has come on leaps and bounds, and our panel were not short on suggestions. Established Coffee is situated right in the heart of the bustling Cathedral Quarter, and is a great place for brunch, lunch, coffee and good snacks. “All the staff are so welcoming and it’s a great spot to meet like-minded creatives”, says Venus Dupree, of GIRL. Her partner in crime, Marion Hawkes of GIRL, recommends Jumon :“It’s only been open a month or so, but this plant-based restaurant has been garnering a lot of praise for their clean food, fresh attitude and airy space.”
“All the staff are so welcoming and it’s a great spot to meet like-minded creatives”
The Muddlers Club gets an honourable mention from Timmy Stewart for dinner, while his go-to for lunch is The Mac Theatre. “It’s so exquisitely designed, spacious and almost serene inside,” says Timmy. “If you want a place to relax, think and chat, the booths in there have a great calming feel. It’s also a good spot to grab breakfast or lunch with coffee, beer or glass of wine.” Another couple of plant-based joints, Eat Street and Bahn are Bobby Analog’s choices to get his veg fix.
“Wicked wee Asian-fusion restaurant that serves cocktails that taste just as good as the food. A dangerous combination for the wallet but well worth it.”
Two Asian-inspired spots are Jordan’s picks – Yugo, with its fusion approach, friendly staff and attention to detail, and Dog Track and their Yo! Sushi-inspired conveyor belt of delicious food. Nez echoes Jordan on Yugo: “Wicked wee Asian-fusion restaurant that serves cocktails that taste just as good as the food. A dangerous combination for the wallet but well worth it.” He also gives a shout out to The Muddlers Club, located in the Cathedral Quarter, it’s a fine-dining spot “without all the usual pretence”.
Continuing with the theme of regeneration – Belfast’s nightlife and drinking spots have kept up with the foodie cousins a pace. A hidden gem in the east of the city, Boundary Brewery is a fully operational brewery that opens once a month as a tap room and has local food vendors on site. “Lovely beers, cheap and the food is fresh and tasty!” Says Venus Dupree. “If you are lucky enough to be around on the last weekend of the month – I highly recommend a visit.”
The Bear & The Doll receives a lot of praise from the gang, with Marion Hawkes, Timmy Stewart and Jordan all recommending the spot. Its relaxed atmosphere, drinks selection and music policy are all among top reasons to visit. The Sunflower is also tipped as a bar doing its own thing. “Great beers, homemade pizzas and the aroma from their outdoor oven combined with a really friendly mixed crowd make for the perfect daytime atmosphere,” says Timmy Stewart. Nez agrees: “Hands down the best pub in Belfast for me. Proper old school pub set in the heart Belfast’s Queer Quarter. A bar that welcomes everyone from all walks of life. Has a fantastic selection of beers, beer garden and pizza – perfect.” The Garrick receives a nod from both Nez and Bobby Analog for good pints and good tunes.
Unsurprisingly, our panel aficionados of their city’s evening offerings. The Art Dept and Boombox are GIRL’s picks for a boogie, “these are intimate city-centre venues that support female and queer-identified DJs and patrons,” says Venus Dupree. “Our top fave clubs to play at are Hotel Motel (Boombox, first Friday of every month), Beat BBQ (The Tree House on bank holidays), and The Night Institute ( The Art Dept – every Saturday). A full on dance-floor workout guaranteed at any of these nights!” Marion Hawkes goes for Ponyhawke at The Menagerie – “It’s pretty much Belfast’s only alternative queer club culture representative – an inclusive space for inquisitive minds.”
Similarly, Nez points to The Art Dept for a good time, as well as The Menagerie, which he describes as “the jewel in the crown” of the Belfast night scene. Timmy Stewart’s go-to is God’s Waiting Room. “It was launched in the perfectly frozen-in-time 1970s surroundings of the Maple Leaf club in East Belfast,” says Timmy. “They have some of the best nights Belfast has ever seen.” The Art Department gets another mention from Jordan for its “forward-thinking electronic music, Berlin-inspired caging and lighting”. While Bobby Analog goes for the “quality stuff” going on at Bullitt.
“forward-thinking electronic music, Berlin-inspired caging and lighting”
With so much going on in Belfast these days, our panel had a lot of great suggestions, from stalwarts to one-night festivals. Venus Dupree’s choice was The MAC – Metropolitan Arts Centre, with its two theatres, three galleries and food to write home about. Timmy Stewart opts for Culture Night, the one-off evening, where “the whole city comes alive with music, art, and feels like beautifully civilised chaos”. Nez plumps for a Street Art Walking Tour “Belfast is known for its political murals, but over the last while more and more street and graffiti art has been appearing on the walls around the city”. Jordan recommends a Black Taxi Tour through the Shankill and Falls roads as a way of seeing how much the city has come together since the Troubles.
In a similar vein, the Conflict Museum at the Ulster Museum gets a mention from Bobby Analog, for an exploration of the Troubles. On the opposite end of the spectrum then, is the Botanic Gardens’ new Tropical Ravine – on Timmy Stewart’s list – and the Belvoir Forest Park, a pick from Bobby Analog as a “nice place to get away from the city, while pretty much staying in the city”.
Nez agrees that a spot away from the city is always welcome: “Cavehill/Belfast Castle, for a big hike. There’s some amazing scenery to check out on the way up and a totally breathtaking view of Belfast when you get to the top”. Timmy Stewart rounds off the suggestions with AVA: “Over the past few years it has grown into a proper celebration of dance music culture on the home front, with a real international flair with its world-class headliners and Boiler Room broadcasts. It’s our mini Sonar!”
Catch Timmy Stewart, GIRL, Jordan, Nez and Bobby Analog all at AVA Festival & Conference from June 1-3. Tickets still available at avafestival.com