With it’s classic fittings and firm place in the heart of Belfast’s nightlife you’d be forgiven for thinking the Empire has been around forever. Yet it’s a practically mature 29 years old, having first opened its doors back in 1987.
It would soon gain a reputation as one of the country’s premier live music bars, thanks mostly to the spectacular Music Hall, arguably one of the country’s finest small/medium size venues thanks to it’s beginnings as a Victorian era church – both visually impressive and acoustically sound.Over the years the Music Hall would attract artists of all forms and from all over the world – from Sigur Rós who played their debut Irish date as a support band in 2000 to local heroes Snow Patrol, who played a packed out show just weeks before Run turned them into global hyperstars.Brian Kennedy played the opening night, setting the scene for any amount of distinguished songwriters, from Westlife’s Bryan McFadden through to firebrand Billy Bragg, from REM’s Peter Buck to Country and Western legend Nanci Griffith.
It’s had a reputation for some of the great cult bands of the last 20 years, from Death in Vegas, to Lambchop, from the Frames to Broken Social Scene.It’s not just the international stars that have played and loved the Empire – Ash, the Divine Comedy, the Answer and Duke Special have all played here before moving on to bigger and bolder arenas.
It’s a tradition that continues, with the likes of General Fiasco and Two Door Cinema Club cutting their teeth at the regular GIFTED! local band showcase.And if music isn’t your thing there’s always the consistently popular comedy club. Best known for providing a launch-pad for the Hole in the Wall gang, laughter fans can catch the best of the touring circuit, which in the past has included Ardal O’Hanlon Dara O’Briain, Lee Evans and Michael McIntyre.
The famed Belfast ‘craic’ is on display, courtesy of your resident hosts, Colin Murphy and Jake O’Kane. It’s not for the faint of heart. And that’s only half the story – the Empire Bar is one of Belfast’s best loved drinking holes, with it’s cinema style big screen for all the major sports events, well-loved pub grub menu and vintage wall displays. Traditional without being contrived, the bar attracts people from all walks of life, from lecture dodging students to the after work set, old regulars to the passing tourists, all their for a bit of local colour.
A private outdoors area caters for the smokers, complete with heaters for the winter and widescreen TV so you don’t have to miss a minute, while a full programme of evening entertainment is available, much of it free. Sunday night sees the legendary Ken Haddock’s Supper Club, with complementary nibbles at Belfast’s longest running weekly residency, while Rab McCullough brings live blues to a Thursday night. With pub quizzes and week round drinks promotions, there’s something for everyone at the Empire.
And there’s the summer over, if it even began, and now it’s time to turn to some of the more autumnal things in life – dead leaves, hot toddys and OK Computer. Whatever the weather holds in store for us, there’s always something on at the Empire.
Sports as always is a massive fixture, what with the return of Premier League big screen soccer, as well as all the other vital clashes. There’s new drinks behind the bar as well, as we expand our range of top-shelf spirits and craft beers, with the odd special offer on something new and different, so there’s no excuse to have, ‘the usual’.
New students have still to realise the Empire’s attractions, and with no windows visible from the outside and a five pound lunch menu, it’s the perfect place to dodge a few lectures, while Tuesday night comedy is a lesson in it’s own right.
There’s live original music from the likes of Alien Ant Farm, Cathy Davey and Augustines, trad from the Logues and anarchy, (and glue) from tghe Rubberbandits. As always, there’s local acts every Friday, Belfast’s best tribute bands and Ken Haddock rounds the week off very nicely round here.
“Went for the house band night downstairs with a crowd of friends. Great music and atmosphere, as well as some dancing and whiskey! We’ll definitely be back, absolutely superb!””The Empire has a special place in my heart because it was where my boyfriend and I had one of our first dates. Four years on from that comedy club session and we’re still together and still laughing. I love that it is supposed to be haunted, I love the comedy club and I don’t go as often as I should because it is a great pub””Went to the Empire on Saturday night saw a band called Strictly ballroom absolutley brilliant will go again.”