The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Café Vaudeville


Restaurant review

Anthony McIntyre • Vacuum, November 2005

Between the two of us, I and my friend have seen the inside of some dives over the years, including Belfast's old shebeen scene. Many of the watering holes we quenched our thirsts in, not by any means in each other's company, were the type where you had to wipe your feet on the way out in case you soiled the pavements. Some times family could tell the location of an evening's 'swally' by the potency of the stench of alcohol and tobacco smoke that had permeated into the clothing. So it was with a sense of wonderment that we disembarked from our pirate taxi in Chichester Street. We have few qualms about travelling in such things. After all, Chichester Street is a part of the city we know better for its proximity to the courts, where our attendance was more often than not obligatory. This time, fortunately, the cells beneath the courthouse was not our destination but the newest addition to the Belfast night scene, Arthur Street's Café Vaudeville.

Both of us were suitably attired for the evening without overdoing it. Belfast city centre likes to think of itself as a site of culture and those wearing the everyday apparel of people who 'live' in estates rather than 'reside' in Cultra, often find themselves shown the door before they get though it. The one concession is to be addressed as 'sir.' No trainers or jeans sir, sorry.' Looking as sorry as undertakers who love business being dead is all part of the polite façade.

As we hastened down a darkened Arthur Street looking out for this new 'over the top' hot spot, the presence of two bouncers signalled to us that our quest had been fulfilled. We stepped inside without either doorman looking at us as they would something that had just fallen off their shoes. Quite a few of those within sported jeans. The clientele had not been sufficiently built up yet to allow any self-styled Cerberus and friends the luxury of refusing potential customers.

The building which houses Café Vaudeville is the old First Trust Bank. The bar man told me this as I discretely tried to find out more about the place, catch someone in an unguarded moment when they might disclose that the manageress is a 'bitch' or the manager a cocaine snorting 'pig.' Indiscretions were few last Wednesday.

A place apart, the interior layout of Café Vaudeville is what struck me immediately. Not staircase speckled it nevertheless had sufficient lack of centre to remind me of Dutch artist M. C. Escher's perpetual staircase concept. Where exactly the place began and ended seemed a mystery. Each part of the building was designed and furnished differently. At the table in front of us where ten people sat enjoying a meal, the chairs were a mish-mash of makes with no attempt to coordinate. Floor patterns changed as rapidly as the feet moved. TV screens offered scenes from the silent movie era. The most visually prominent interior work were the red chandeliers and ceiling lighting, surrounded by what my friend thought was some Italian decorating. Trees sat inside the place. I had experienced nothing like it although my drinking buddy in a swipe at its claims to be of Parisian style confessed to having seen something similar, but only in Bologna.

Not without its spatial downside, the most irritating aspect on this score is the position of the toilets. For the men it is a climb of four flights of stairs. Perhaps it is deliberately designed to get customers to fork out the money for the champagne in the country's 'first Bollinger bar', for which they can pay more but consume less volume-wise than they would were they to drink pints. We were having none of it. The trees would always prove convenient if the toilet seemed too far away.

Bar staff initially seemed a bit standoffish. Trying to get served was a difficulty. They looked on us in the manner which suggests that they didn't really expect us to have money. A bit of ostensible irritation on our part quickly reminded them that our cash didn't come from the Northern Bank and was as good as anybody else's in the place. Within an hour other staff had taken over. They appreciated that customers came into drink, not to case the place.

At £2.75 a pint the Café Vaudeville is unlikely to entice punters in from Belfast's estates. The consolation that it pulls a great pint of Guinness is negated by the fact that many other premises do likewise. We peeked at the menu but declined to sample the culinary delights on offer, which are itemised online at As the night moved on, there was nobody left dining but, trusting we had not reached an inebriation aided double vision, the crowd drinking at the bar had seemed to grow considerably.

The size of the place and the premium rate of rent the owners presumably pay for it, given its location, suggests it will have to pack its 'Parisian' interior from wall to wall if it is to stay in business. And then who would want to go - why get crushed in Café Vaudeville when you can do it in Robinson's for less the cost?









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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



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