Hospitality's finest honoured - but some notable absent friends
ONE hundred proud publicans, hoteliers and restaurateurs have walked away with a certificate of endorsement from their peers, marking them down as the region's outstanding hospitality stars.
Trade body Hospitality Ulster revealed its 2020 Top 100 at a glittering industry bash in the Crowne Plaza hosted by the mercurials Tim McGarry and Pamela Ballantine, and with a rugby-led panel chat featuring former international stars Ugo Monye and Tommy Bowe.
The impressive list, which is refreshed every year following rigorous scrutiny by a panel of expert judges, spanned Michelin starred restaurants and five-star hotels to buzzing city centre nightclubs, gastropubs, quaint country pubs and hotels.
But a notable and perhaps poignant absentee from this year's list (24 of the 2019 grandees were removed and replaced) was Belfast's Europa Hotel.
When it first opened its doors in the summer of 1971, against a backdrop of rising political violence, it stood as a hospitality beacon.
And in an era when 'service' in Northern Ireland often consisted of a waitress (doubtless with a cigarette hanging from the corner of her mouth) snarling "Are yous gittin'?", the Europa offered best-in-class.
Even between then and 1994, when it was damaged by explosions 36 times, gaining it the dubious title of the most bombed hotel in the world, life - and service - still went on at the Europa.
Alas, and in what is probably a reflection of an all-round rising of the hospitality tide, the Europa has fallen off this year's list, alongside a couple of other hotels in the Canal Court Newry and Portaferry Hotel.
Others left off for 2020 include the Garrick and North Whig in Belfast, the Ramore Wine Bar in Portrush and Blakes of the Hollow in Enniskillen.
But as well as the hardy annuals (who'll probably forever make the list) like the Merchant Hotel, Hadski's, Duke of York and the Muddlers Club, this year's top 100 includes hipster new eateries and establishments like Grouse in Ballymena, House of McDonnell in Ballycastle, Red Ned's in Armagh, the Lower House in Donaghmore, Points in Belfast, and Courtney's Steakhouse in Newry. The complete list of winners can be viewed online at www.hutop100.org
Danny Coyles, chair of Hospitality Ulster, said: “We're thrilled to shine the spotlight on the top hospitality businesses in Northern Ireland with the only awards, awarded by the industry, to the industry.”
“The Top 100 recognises the businesses who, through their premises, staff and product offer, embody the very essence of the unique hospitality industry, committed to going the extra mile to deliver an authentic customer experience that matches both their target market and customer demographic.
“The hospitality industry in Northern Ireland has no shortage of fantastic venues and so many businesses are at the very top of their game. We would like to congratulate all of our winners for making it in to the Top 100 this year.”
The awards were sponsored by Bacardi Brown-Forman, Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Counterpoint, Diageo, Dillon Bass, Drinksology, Heineken, Henderson Foodservice, Molson Coors, Musgrave Market Place, Pattison & Co, Richmond Marketing, Tennent's NI, United Wine Merchants Ltd and media partners, BT Sport, Hospitality Review NI, Sunday Life and U105.