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.
Summer time, and the living is easy…and while we don’t have the summer of sport we had last year, there’s still enough going on to tempt you down Botanic way. We’re very pleased to have the Empire debut for Action Hardcore Rock and Roll outfit Arnocorps, who promise a ballsy night of Schwarzenegger themed metal goodness.
For those who like it a little more traditional, we’ve the return of CC. Houlihan’s always popular Elvis spectacular, the uncanny Bon Jovi Experience, or the Boss UK’s salute to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band this fourth of July weekend. Legend take to the stage with their Bob Marley tribute and there’s the perennial favourite Pleasuredome.
Canadian experimental types Holy F*ck play their Belfast debut if electroica is your thing, while Langhorne Slim brings us the highlights of his latest album in another coup for fans of alternative country.
All this, the beer garden, the gins, and our new raft of craft beer? Whatever the summer weather throws at us, you’re more than welcome 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.”