Let it be said at the start: I am a fan of Beannchor, the company behind Bullitt and, it can seem, much of the rest of Belfast. In the decade since its (five-star) Merchant Hotel opened, scarcely a year has passed without another launch: bar, cafe, pizzeria chain. Think of those 1960s groups turning out an LP every 12 months, each one a departure from the one before, then think of Bullitt as Beannchor’s back-to-basics album.
Belfast these days is finding spaces in places it had forgotten it even had places: 40a Church Lane was, until recently, a pair of rusting blue gates beneath a solicitor’s office, though on a street not lacking in interesting cafes and bars. The archway now leads to Bullitt’s Courtyard Bar – its tables, chairs and arcades blurring the distinction between inside and out. Once definitively inside, a large open-plan bar – the Bullitt Bar – flows into the Taylor & Clay restaurant.
That’s Taylor & Clay as in Steve McQueen’s San Francisco address in the 1968 movie from which the hotel takes its name and branding. Steve himself is everywhere: he even entered Belfast lore when two women in their 60s tried to make off with a giant picture of the star from the bar.
For all its San Francisco references, Bullitt wears its Belfast heart on its sleeve
The reception desk sells snacks, water, and more fortifying drinks: an example of an ethos that has dispensed with minibars in its 43 bedrooms. It has dispensed with wardrobes, too, or replaced them with clothes rails, putting the focus in all three bedroom types – Dinky, Comfy and Roomy – on the beds. Which, let’s face it, is where you will be spending most of your time. We were in a Comfy with a view on to the courtyard and a flat-roof mural – that only residents and low-flying aircraft could possibly see – of an astronaut in a sky full of stars.
That is a very Bullitt touch: every angle is covered. The mugs upturned on the tray under the window say, “Hello Brewtiful”; the pencils are of the “2B or not 2B” variety. They made me smile, as did the voice in the lift (broadcaster Joe Lindsay) that announced with perfect Belfast phrasing, “doors open, so they are”. Because, for all its San Francisco references, Bullitt wears its Belfast heart on its sleeve. The third bar, styled as the city’s first après-ski bar, is called Baltic, which as everyone here knows is what it feels like stepping out of your door on a winter’s evening.
I’d take Baltic over the Bullitt Bar, not least for the other new angle it gave me on the city. It faces on to Victoria Street, one of Belfast’s longest and straightest, and retains the tinted-mirror curtain wall of its office-building predecessor. This means that, when you head to Taylor & Clay, as we did from Baltic, you feel suspended between the car lights flowing past and the flames from the restaurant’s enormous asador grill.
The effect is spectacular, and the food is right up there with it. Small plates start at under a fiver and only one of the mains – the wagyu beef – is more than £18. From the small plates, we ordered sumac and garlic tiger prawns, and cauliflower steak with harissa and sunflower tahini, followed by a larger lamb plate and a squash succotash special. With roasted root vegetable side, a cheese plate, an Achill Island salted caramel cheesecake (I actually moaned) and one more glass of wine each than we had intended, the bill was still well shy of £100.
Breakfast is served in Taylor & Clay, too, or guests can take the brown paper bag hanging from the inside of their bedroom door and hang it on the outside and wake, as we did, no less refreshed for the absence of a wardrobe or mini-bar, to orange juice, granola and a banana.
It was Saturday morning, the sun was shining in the courtyard and Belfast was as quiet as a bucketful of ceasefires. We left without seeing the Good Room, which besides being available for private functions is already hosting talks and literary events, but we’d seen enough to conclude that Bullitt was an all-round very good thing.
Some places, like some albums, take a few goes to grow on you; others you get straightaway. Bullitt is one of the latter. Give it a whirl. It’s fun.
• Accommodation was provided by Bullitt (doubles from £120 with paper-bag breakfast, 028-9590 0600, bullitthotel.com)
Ask a local
Karen O’Rawe, marketing manager, Belfast International Arts Festival
Staffed by volunteers, the Dock Café, right on the waterfront near SS Nomadic, works by honesty box – you pay what you feel you should. The cakes are excellent.
A hipster dive with really good pizza, The Sunflower is a relic of Belfast’s past, with a blast cage still included. Brewbot Belfast on Ormeau Road is a great all-craft beer bar, bottle shop and brew pub.
Find beautiful, local, handmade craft gifts from members of the Craft & Design Collective at the SpaceCRAFT shop and gallery in the Fountain Centre. There are also gifts, food and fresh produce at Belfast’s last Victorian covered market, St George’s Market on East Bridge Street.