Pubs boss will close Belfast bars early ‘to avoid another Temple Bar’

Duke of York and Harp Bar owner Willie Jack vows to close ‘by midnight at the latest’

Willie Jack, owner of the famous Duke of York and Harp Bar in Belfast city's Cathedral Quarter, who has been awarded an MBE. Picture date: Thursday June 15, 2023. PA Photo. See PA story HONOURS Ulster Jack. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Willie Jack, owner of the iconic Duke of York and Harp Bar in Belfast, says his pubs will now be closing from midnight, as he doesn't want the city’s Cathedral Quarter to become another Temple Bar in Dublin (Liam McBurney/Liam McBurney/PA Wire)

Two of Belfast’s most iconic bars will call last orders early from now on - because their owner fears the area could become “another Temple Bar”.

Legislation allows hostelries in areas like the city’s bustling Cathedral Quarter to stay open until 3am.

But in a shock move, Willie Jack has revealed that he will be pulling down the shutters at the Duke of York and Harp Bar by midnight.

He and fellow directors of Commercial Court Inns Ltd, whose other venues include the Dark Horse and the Friend at Hand whiskey museum, have set out their position in an open letter published in today’s Irish News.

They insist their decision will work in favour of customers, staff, and also the integrity of the area, which is rich in history and culture, has a strong connection to the arts, and is known for its live music, street art, and good food.

And they say it is part of a collegiate shared vision among neighbouring businesses to ensure the Cathedral Quarter does not become another Temple Bar, where some terrified business owners in the Dublin district say violence in the streets is now out of control.

“We have decided that both our public houses will call last orders every day at midnight, or possibly even earlier,” says Mr Jack, who was awarded an MBE in 2023 for his services to the arts and tourism in Belfast.

His letter goes on: “We have noticed a shift with many of our clientele deciding to come out earlier and leave earlier, enabling them to access better public transport, and this is a culture we would like to encourage and promote.

The Duke of York at Commerical Court in Belfast city centre has been named among the top 20 bars in Ireland by Lonely Planet travel website. Picture by Hugh Russell
The Duke of York at Commercial Court in Belfast city centre will be closing by midnight from this week, its owners say

“Whilst we appreciate some venues may wish to avail of the opportunity now available for extended opening hours, it is not a business model we wish to follow, nor do we think it would be sensible for all licensed premises to stay open until 1am, or even 3am.

“Providing a welcoming, safe and enjoyable environment for our customers has always been our priority, and we feel earlier closures will enable us to do this sustainably, while also helping to reduce the strain on emergency services.”

It adds: “We also want to provide our staff with the best work life balance possible, and this move will aid shorter shift patterns that prioritise balance and safety for our teams.”

In its most recent trading year (up to March 2023) the Commercial Court Inns group, which employs 80 staff, saw its turnover more than double to £8.5 million, while its bottom-line profit tripled to £2.1 million.

Mr Jack said the recent proliferation of new licensed premises, combined with the extension to opening hours, has the potential to greatly change the Cathedral Quarter - and not for the better.

“We hope our decision is a clear demonstration of our commitment to continuing to ensure the Cathedral Quarter remains a safe and welcoming place for the people of Belfast, and visitors to our great city,” the letter adds.