The Crown Liquor Saloon, Belfast, Est. 1826
In the very centre of Belfast, is a real treasure – ‘The Crown Liquor Saloon’. Dating back to the 1820's, this pub was one of the mightiest Victorian Gin Palaces in the city. It still boasts its original features and as such, is a true ‘time machine’ experience.
Opened by Felix O'Hanlon as The Railway Tavern in 1826, the pub was then bought by Michael Flanagan. Flanagan's son Patrick renamed and renovated it in 1885. The Crown owes its elaborate tiling, stained glass and woodwork to the myriad of Italian master craftsmen whom Flanagan Jnr. persuaded to work in the pub after hours. These fine craftsmen had been brought to Ireland to specifically work on the many new churches being built in Belfast at the time. It is said they moonlighted in the Crown, combining the sacred with the profane. One of their legacies is the bar's array of intricate carvings: no saints or religious emblems here, but there certainly are fairies, pineapples, clowns, lions and other curiosities aplenty! The high standard of these craftsmen work earned the Crown the reputation of being one of the very finest Victorian gin palaces of that time.
The exterior is decorated in polychromatic tiles. This includes a mosaic of a Crown on the floor of the entrance and it is rumoured that Patrick Flanagan put the crown in this position so that everyone who entered would trample upon it.
The Crown has ten cosy snugs, which were built to accommodate some of the pub’s more “reserved” locals during the Victorian period. The snugs are also rumoured to have been also regularly used by prostitutes and their clients. These snugs still feature the original gunmetal plates for striking matches on and an old antique alarm bell system for alerting staff.
The Crown had a ringside seat for some of the worst violence in many of Northern Ireland's troubled 20th Century years. It had the misfortune to be right across the road from the ‘Europa Hotel’, notoriously known as "the most bombed hotel in the world". The Europa suffered a staggering thirty six bomb attacks during the ‘The Troubles’. This regularly reduced the Crown’s colourful windows to smithereens. In the 1970’s, the area around the Crown was a scene of utter devastation, with the rubble of bombed buildings piled high around it. The patrons however proved as persistent as the bombing, and the Crown kept on trading. Today, despite the bricks, bombs and political turmoil it has seen, the Crown welcomes visitors from every corner of the world. The local regular customers thankfully are now drawn from both the Catholic and Protestant communities. Today, both communities now meet, drink and mingle in peaceful harmony in the Crown.