Just over 32 years ago The Shakespeare Lounge in Belfast city centre was a “bombed out wreck” that had basically been completely abandoned.
However, after being taken over by John Bittle, the pub was given a new lease of life and has been thriving ever since, with it regularly pouring 700 pints of Guinness a day.
Bittles Bar on Upper Church Lane is celebrating its 32nd birthday this year and has developed a strong reputation for being a no-nonsense “drinkers bar” serving up high-quality pints.
Read more: The Errigle Inn celebrates 87 years serving drinks on the Ormeau Road
Photos of the former Shakespere Lounge bar when John bought it 32 years ago (Image: Justin Kernoghan) Speaking to Belfast Live, owner John Bittle spoke about how the bar and his customers have changed over the years, going from the once derelict building to the popular business it is today.
He said: “When I took over the building in 1989 it was a bombed out shell of a place due to being so close by the police station and the courts, but I knew that it had the potential to do very well.
“Then from the moment we opened things started to take-off and we were doing very well. In those days it was different however because you would know almost every single customer that comes through the door and had a strong base of regulars who were always coming in for a drink.
Bittles Bar Belfast (Image: Justin Kernoghan) “While many of these regulars still come to us today, we get a lot more passing trade and tourists stopping in for a drink which creates a good atmosphere inside.
“We are now at a point where I am pouring 600 to 700 pints of Guinness every single day, and it seems that nearly everyone knows exactly what they want when they come here.”
John said that the Covid pandemic presented some challenges to the bar, but some of the measures that were put in place due to restrictions have been maintained by the bar as they have proved to be beneficial.
Bittles Bar Belfast (Image: Justin Kernoghan) John continued: “Prior to the pandemic we normally would have tried to get as many people into the bar as we could and on busy nights you would find it very difficult to actually move around the bar or order a drink.
“When the restrictions came in place and we moved towards table service we found that things worked much easier, customers got their drinks quicker and people were able to sit and enjoy themselves in good company for longer, so we have kept it going ever since.
“You might think that the more people through the door the better, but we have found that a good sized, manageable crowd is better for business and our customers too.”
Bittles Bar Belfast (Image: Justin Kernoghan) In recent years John has developed a reputation for his “no-nonsense” attitude and blunt persona, which while welcomed by his regulars, can be a bit strange for others who have not visited the pub before.
This was highlighted in the past week after a customer complained about not being able to get a ‘pint of coke’ at the bar, but John says this was entirely blown out of proportion.
He said: “The issue with the fella trying to order a pint of coke was blown out of proportion and nowhere near the issue that it was made out to be.
Owner John Bittle (Image: Justin Kernoghan) “It was a busy night and he was drinking with friends who were all ordering Guinness and when he asked me for the drink I was a bit taken aback, nobody ever comes in and orders a pint of coke. I said to the man that I would happily give him a bottle of coke but that apparently wasn’t good enough and he left.
“As a bar, we don’t have security and there are times when people, who cannot handle a few drinks, can be very aggressive with us so we have to make sure that those who are coming here are not going to ruin the experience for our other customers trying to enjoy theirs.
“We have customers who will come weekly from Ballymena and other parts of Northern Ireland to enjoy a drink here and I know that wouldn’t be the case if we were not doing something right.”
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