22 December 2017

2017 proved to be a reasonable trading year for transactional activity within the public house and hotel markets. While 2016 saw the concluding phase of notable distressed sales  in the licensed sector with the disposal of the likes of the Botanic portfolio, this year has seen a trickle of distressed sales largely in provincial outlets.  This is supported by the fact that the majority of this year’s sales have been on behalf of willing vendors following a lacklustre decade. 

Public Houses

At the time of writing, the Washington Bar has just come to the market with a price tag of £2.5 million.  The pub is owned by Eamon Diamond who also owns Duke’s Hotel, The Bellevue and The Chester, both of which are in North Belfast.

Osborne King acted on behalf of the vendor in the sale of the former Fly nightclub in Botanic which has been refurbished to very high standard and is now trading as Time Belfast in conjunction with Pat Scullion’s Cookstown venue.  We also acted for the landlord in relation to the letting of The Marcus Ward & Foundry at Bankmore Square which completed at the start of this year.  Another significant transfer this year within the public house market was the portfolio sale of McCracken’s, Queen’s Café and the Beechill Inn to Drinks Inc.  McCracken’s, which is now operated by Mark Beirne, is currently undergoing a transformation to provide a modern new beer garden bringing much needed life to Joy’s Entry.  In addition, Downey Bros have expanded their city centre presence and acquired the former Social 21 premises on Hill St, which has been renovated to include a beer garden and now trades as The Thirsty Goat. 

The Belfast market is thriving with numerous refurbishments occurring throughout the city.  Another deal concluded by Osborne King is Revolución de Cuba which opened during the summer following a significant refurbishment.  This is the group’s first outlet in Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland and trading has surpassed their expectations.  In addition, at the time of writing, the former Madison’s, acquired by Shamus Jennings and simultaneously leased to Alan Clancy, is currently undergoing a much-needed refurbishment.  Clancy, a well-known publican in Dublin, also owns The House and 37 Dawson Street, Dublin, both of which are high -end licensed outlets and it will be interesting to see a similar venture appearing in Botanic very shortly, which can only improve the profile and hospitality circuit in an area currently experiencing a revival.

Beyond Belfast, transactional activity was limited and sporadic.  Provincial sales included The Back Door, Maghera, The Scotch House, Bushmills, Halliday’s, Dungannon, the former Alfie G’s, Kilkeel and The Telstar Bar in Derry, all of which we sold.  In terms of the Derry city market, ,W & R Holdings have a number of new projects under construction including former Wetherspoon’s on The Diamond  which has been re-branded as Granny Annie’s Kitchen whilst  the former Clarendon Bar is  undergoing a significant renovation and will trade as The Tipsy Bird.

Liquor Licences
Demand for licences remains steady with the bulk of demand coming from convenience operators.  The most recent licence sale brokered by Osborne King in October realised a value of £90,000 for our client.   A number of off-licences have also changed hands this year largely off- market and again Osborne King was involved in some of these transactions, one of which was the sale of the former Wineworks in Saintfield to Winemark where we acted for the vendor.  


The main “hot topic” this year has been the on-going development of city centre hotels which gathered apace.  In 2018 over 1,000 new bedrooms are due to be added to the Belfast market. a significant boost to the existing stock of approximately 3,500 rooms.  Many hotel proposals are planned, however, I would expect that only “first past the post” will actually materialise.  Titanic Hotel, Belfast opened its doors recently providing 119 bedrooms.  Other notable hotels under construction and scheduled to open next year include the Grand Central, a Hastings Hotel development, which will comprise 304 bedrooms, AC Hotel by Marriott, a four-star 188-bedroom hotel at City Quays, Hampton by Hilton on Hope Street by Andras House, a three-star brand comprising 179 bedrooms and another hotel by Ireland’s largest hotel operator, the Dalata Group on Brunswick Street, providing a further 206 bedrooms.  Furthermore, a number of established hotels are also expanding including Ten Square and The Bullitt.  We have yet to see any significant development of the Signature Hotels’ projects in Belfast, namely the Scottish Mutual Building and Crumlin Road Courthouse.  

Meanwhile, a number of established hotel premises changed hands throughout the year including The Curran Court, Larne, Beechlawn, Dunmurry, The Belfray, Derry, Francis Court, Newry while Me & Mrs, Portstewart, has also reopened.  The other notable sale was that of the Dunadry Hotel sale from the Mooney Group to the McKeevers who now hold a portfolio of five outlets.  The total value of these hotel sales for the year was approximately £9 million.

Looking ahead to 2018 

Looking into the New Year, I expect that the market generally will evolve in a progressive manner with pubs and hotels continuing to change hands.  The Belfast skyline will continue to evolve with the welcome sight of cranes many involved with hotel construction.  One of the most eagerly awaited openings will be the Grand Central Hotel, the brain child of the late Sir William Hastings.  Demand and values for well-established and viable opportunities and   businesses should continue to improve.  The addition of hundreds of new bedrooms to existing stock in Belfast will become a reality sustaining demand from this growing market.  Hopefully room rates and occupancy levels can be maintained and enhanced.  Pubs and nightclub venues will continue to be revamped in keeping with current trends thus requiring operators to regularly reinvent their offering - costly but a necessity.  Brexit, Stormont, VAT, licensing legislation and staffing issues will continue to be much talked about within the industry in terms of their impact on the hospitality sector, but as always, this industry is not for the faint-hearted!

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