On a typical Irish summer’s day (gale force winds, horizontal rain), we were lucky enough to take refuge in the Ulster Reform Club in the heart of Belfast. Being founded in the 1880s, it is one of our more modern reciprocals, but clearly has its traditions and they are well maintained. The Club is on Royal Avenue, a main shopping street, if you know the area it is an unassuming entrance between the Castle Court Shopping Centre and the recently (and tragically) burned out historic Primark store. Once inside, the Club is anything but unassuming, and has maintained much of the Victorian splendour and style it must have enjoyed when first opened.
Of course, we visited in the midst of COVID precautions, we had booked for lunch and the welcome and efficiency could not have been bettered. We were greeted warmly at the door, a greeting which grew warmer when it was disclosed we were from the Liverpool reciprocal. In our new norm, we were safely sterilised, escorted up the stairs to the dining room, re-sterilised, lightly sprayed with Dettol and shown to our table – quite rightly, no germ was going to get the better of this Club! All staff wore “Club” face coverings and (stereotypes aside) whilst you could not see the smiles, the “Irish eyes” always smiled.
The lunch was excellent and portions very hearty. All food was homemade from local suppliers, complemented by a very exciting wine list (see https://www.ulsterreformclub.com/dining for the daily menu and wine offering). The dining room was well populated, and quite formal (all gents with jacket and tie for lunch), with tables clearly being “COVID spaced”. Fabulous food is one thing, but the visit was made special by the staff, so friendly and welcoming, just as you’d hope for in a reciprocal Club.
The downside was not being able to see all the Club, out of respect to the COVID restrictions. However out of such hardship and adversity there is always opportunity – it does give us an excellent reason to return! There is always a very warm welcome in Northern Ireland, and Belfast in particular, especially when you mention Liverpool, and the Ulster Reform Club typified this – visiting was a splendid experience and one of the real privileges of Athenaeum membership.
Mark and Adrienne Cronin