Aine Toner speaks to four Belfast authors about their favorite parts of Belfast:
I love walking, so I usually go up Cave Hill every weekend. From the door of my house, I can be at the top in 45 minutes. My Sunday is, not often, I put the chicken on and I’ve 45 minutes to the top and 45 minutes down and my chicken’s ready and it just pleases me no end. It’s one of the things that make my life sweet.
I love the Waterworks. I think it’s a really underrated place to visit. When I was young, the ponds were full of shopping trolleys and now it’s just gorgeous. There are beautiful swans and it’s so well kept and you’ve lovely views of Cave Hill and Napoleon’s Nose — it’s just stunning.
In town, I love The Spaniard. I love it; I love the vibe, the intimacy. They’re really cool people who hang out there. I love the décor: it’s really quirky and funky. The first line of my play, Big Man, which opens in October, is about walking into The Spaniard and falling in love at first sight.
The team in No Alibis Bookstore, they’re just legends. They’re great advocates for Belfast and Northern Irish writers. When my book came out, I’d only arrived in Belfast after a couple of decades and they were so supportive of me. He had my book in the window and on a display on the counter and I had the launch for my book there. David [Torrans] is a lovely, lovely man. He’s a Belfast institution.
I love going to Pablos [on Church Lane], I was at a mezcal-tasting night and they have a wee room — I don’t think many people know about it — above where you order food. The room probably fits about 10 people and there’s a wee tiny bar with space for one barman. We had a Mezcal tasting with Mezcal cocktails — Mezcal Piña Coladas, Espresso Mezcal — and in between they were bringing up churros and tacos from downstairs in little boxes. They’ve loads of fries with a million different toppings — really good-quality food and a brilliant atmosphere.
Big Man by Paul McVeigh will be performed as part of the Belfast International Arts Festival from October 27
One of my favorite areas of Belfast is the Queen’s Quarter. As an undergraduate I loved walking around the area, especially in autumn time. Now that I am back at Queen’s University doing a PhD, I still get a thrill out of walking down University Square, past the beautiful Georgian houses and then cutting through the quad to the Lanyon Building. I often have lunch in French Village on Botanic Avenue and assistant manager Meghan Doherty is always welcoming.
Then a visit to No Alibis Bookstore on Botanic Avenue is a must. It has become an institution for writers near and far and you are always welcomed by Dave, Claudia or one of the staff. Just don’t ask for a book recommendation — you will need strong arms.
House on Botanic is another favorite. I recently had cocktails and dinner there with fellow writer Catherine Ryan Howard. We loved the vibe and menu. They are very accommodating for my gluten-free diet, which is a must since I have celiac disease. Harlem on Bedford Street is another firm favorite; they also have a great gluten-free menu.
For culinary treats I always go to my favorite deli, Arcadia on the Lisburn Road. The coleslaw and pesto are both divine, never mind the array of cheese and cold meats.
Supper never tastes as good when it’s from anywhere else.
When we have friends staying from other places, we always bring them along to St George’s Market. The fantastic food stalls, craft and artwork and, of course, the live music always makes for a good day out. It feels like we are showing friends a little bit of the best of Belfast all under one roof.
Belfast has changed a lot over the years, so places like The Errigle Inn, that have been there throughout my childhood and teens, are nice to visit from time to time. The vibe is still much the same: lots of Ormeau Road locals and great food.
For facials or spa treats I love Factor 1 in Carryduff. The Clarins products are wonderful and the staff really know how to make a visit feel special. I always ask for Nuala or Sarah, but all of the staff are great.
For walks, we are spoiled to have the Lagan Towpath so close.
I like meeting up with friends and walking around Minnowburn and up to the Giant’s Ring. The trees, the river and the wildlife make for a peaceful, beautiful wander.
The Midnight Killing by Sharon Dempsey, HarperCollins, is out now
These are places where I’ve had a really lovely experience and the memory has stayed firmly in my mind.
The Malmaison: I booked in here for an overnight stay and was delighted to receive an upgrade at a hugely discounted price.
My original double room booking turned into a stay in one of their suites — which, by the way, is almost the size of my apartment. Everything was super-size, from the bed to the bath to the TV. It was complete luxury.
The Room Massage Therapy, Botanic: This is a little haven of peace and tranquility. The moment you step inside, you’re greeted with gentle, peaceful music and exquisite, relaxing scents. On my recent visit, I opted for the hot stone massage for 45 minutes. It was absolute bliss. I floated home, completely destressed, with a feeling of relaxation that actually lasted for several days.
The Piano Bar, Europa Hotel: I took my mum here for high tea a few times. The bar is spacious and luxurious. There are comfortable sofas to sink into whilst uniformed staff treat you like royalty. The gentle sounds of melodic tinkling emanate from the pianist who sits at the beautiful grand piano.
The MAC Belfast: The thing I love about The MAC is their fantastic line-up of events at very reasonable prices. I’ve been to see loads of performances here, from dance to drama to interactive theater. The space is open, informal and relaxed.
St George’s Market: You can’t beat a relaxed dander around St George’s Market at the weekend. It’s a feast for the senses.
Visually, the number of stalls, knick-knacks and delicacies to browse over, not to mention the vast amount of people-watching that can be done.
Then the smells of freshly brewed coffee or breakfast sausage baps or strong cheeses.
Added to that, the sounds from that week’s specially picked musicians, who add to the atmosphere with their guitars and songs.
Out Of Your Head by Rose McClelland is out now
For bookshops, everybody is going to say No Alibis. It’s such a brilliant experience going in there; you’re with true book lovers and you’re also with people who totally want to connect with customers and do their absolute best for them.
I love No Alibis, it’s almost an institution at this stage. I read really widely. I’d read quite a lot of short stories, but I read a lot of music books as well. I like to read most of the output from the label White Rabbit.
[Thai restaurant] The Golden Elephant on the Saintfield Road is so understated but the food is absolutely fantastic.
The new place, Waterman on Hill Street, is a real delight. It offers quite simple food done really beautifully.
A really beautiful place to go is the café in the Fenderesky Gallery [on North Street], It’s a really tranquil space. There’s all sorts of poetry and art books you can read. It’s a lovely spot.
Santeria Belfast on Fountain Street: I just think it’s amazing to have a bar of that quality right in the city centre. The cocktails are fantastic!
I live on the Cregagh Road and it’s sometimes a bit of a forgotten road because it hasn’t been as rejuvenated as some of the areas in Belfast. But there are some amazing places.
We’ve got a new Italian delicatessen, Ciao, which is phenomenal and has a brilliant selection.
There’s also a new fruit and veg shop called Bethany Fruit Market. There’s an amazing array of produce and it’s wonderful to have a shop like that on your doorstep.
I sit and work in the Linen Hall Library quite a lot. I find it a really peaceful place to be; I love libraries.
I also love working in Belfast Central Library. I’ve worked in there since I was a kid. I find it to be a lovely space to be in and really conducive to quiet thought. I never liked writing in cafés — I always felt really self-conscious — but sitting thinking in libraries is lovely.
Well I Just Kind Of Liked It edited by Wendy Erskine, PVA, is out November 1
Belfast: In Focus – As a city with a long history of reinventing itself, in 2022 Belfast is once again under pressure to clean up its act and fulfill its potential as a thriving hub for residents and visitors alike. The Belfast Telegraph investigates the challenges facing the city, shines a light on the projects and policies moving it forward, and envisages the Belfast of the future.