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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
£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 http://www.cafevaudeville.com/.
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.
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?