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 27 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 ‘crack’ 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 Salsa nights, pub quizzes and week round drinks promotions, there’s something for everyone at the Empire.