I can only describe the style of The Spaniard Bar as intentional random: photos of white-sanded beaches an ocean away, a gold fish named Ken swimming around a kitschly decorated plastic (I hope) skull, sombreros sprinkled here and there and posters of bands so diverse that I find hard to believe they were all chosen by the same person.
As I arrived early, only a few regulars were sitting on the wooden chairs, their drinks resting on plastic tablecloths while they lamented that Top Gear just wasn’t the same anymore, “but it gets pretty crowded later and on weekends”, said Ciàran, the manager and bartender who then handed me a menu as well structured and carefully compiled that there was no doubt the chaotic surroundings were the result of a meticulous attempt to evoke the cluttered roughness of establishments in more tropical latitudes.
Rum lovers will feel like Spaniards that just found El Dorado: the menu begins with the house rules shaped as 10 Commandments and then in a few pages summarises the history of the spirit and the different types there are.
Then it goes on to the list of cocktails -mostly rum based- where I suffered an episode of decision fatigue and found myself reading and re-reading for ages: do I want something classic like a Mojito, Daiquiri or Pina Colada? Would I dare to order a “Flaming Zombie” with 5 different rums blended with lime and pineapple juice and then set on fire? Or should I trust blindly on their rum mixing wisdom and go for a Spaniard Jam Jar, which description said “don’t be asking what’s in it – it’s a secret!”
After a couple of friendly attempts to take my order, I asked Ciàran for the place’s best seller. He immediately begun mixing a Dark and Stormy (D&G Ginger Beer, fresh lime, Dark Rum and a few drops of Angostura Bitters). Perfect storm puns aside, the drink was flawless. I only wish I could have ordered something to nibble on, and I though I’d be able to as the bar’s tagline begins with the word tapas, but they don’t serve food anymore.
Clearly a place for the thirsty and not for the hungry, the rest of the menu listed the over 50 different rums on offer as well as a decent beer & cider and a tequila selection. Neat spirits ranged between £4 and £40, beers and ciders £4.10 to £6 and most of the cocktails were priced £7.25.
Tell me about the rum club- I asked Ciàran. He took out an oversized deck of cards and a form, then he explained to me that each card represented one of their rums and that members of the club were encouraged to “get out of their comfort zones” and try different things by shuffling the deck and picking a card. This would show them the drink they’d be enjoying next. The quality of finishing and design of the cards was remarkable, each with a picture of the bottle, a description of it as well as everything else you’d find on a poker card.
You get two chances- he said, which was convenient if you got a drink that you weren’t interested in. And you also can take another if you get the Joker- only fair, as the card featured Diplomatico Ambassador, a £40 a serve ultra premium rum that you could sip at cost price (£12) after completing the rest of the options. Only five people have completed the challenge, and their prize also included a bottle of rum on the house.
With 52 cards in a deck and 52 weeks in a year, you could drink a different rum every Saturday without repeating seasons. Maybe this is just a fun drinking game to play once if you’re a tourist in Belfast, but if you’re sticking around for longer and you appreciate rum, this is probably one of the best ways to learn about it on this side of the Atlantic.
In a city flooding with whiskey and craft beer, The Spaniard Bar stands indifferent to trends, it is the sort of unexpected place that makes a city feel more cosmopolitan (or as their Plantation 3 Star, Clement Shrubb, fresh lime and cranberry juice is named, Rumpolitan); one moment you’re in Belfast and the next you might as well be in the Antillas Españolas so relax, enjoy and pick a card.
The Spaniard Bar
3 Skipper St.
Central Cathedral Quarter
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.