1 Donaghadee Rd,
BT19 6LG

This is not just a fanciful name chosen at random by a publican to give his place some undeserved character. This building was indeed the actual stables of the Maxwell family, whose home has now become the Groomsport House Hotel.

The church and crofters’ cottages, also part of the Maxwell estate, can be seen from the front window. The Stables lounge bar/ restaurant has been in the present owner’s family for a quarter of a century. Alan Hanley lives for the business, and his flair and imagination have made this one of the most attractive and memorable pubs in the county.

That ceiling you sit under was originally the hayloft, and the two blazing open fires, one at either end of the main bar, were used to warm stable hands and horses alike. The Stables is probably the first bar/ restaurant in the Province to supply food all through the day, probably because the Hanleys were caterers first and foremost, and the drink licence came subsequently, instead of the other way round, which is more usual.

That licence, by the way, is a very old one, well over 200 years old, and was transferred from an old country village pub when it closed its doors. Go into the new lounge bar and you’ll expect to hear a horse whinneying. Above the bar canopy is a hayloft full of hay; the backrests of the seating are red and white painted horse jump poles; up in the tack room are bridles, saddles, harnesses, a saddle rack, hay rack and wooden floor; the forge area, besides its blazing fire, offers a blacksmith’s anvil, all his authentic horse-shoeing tools, and the original Payne and Sons blacksmith’s shop sign.

Everything is real and solid, even though this lounge bar is only a few years old, because, instead of using reproduction materials, Alan Hanley has created his effects using real stuff. Those horse jumping poles came from a field at Six Road Ends, the stone flags forming the floor of the “forge” were taken from a row of Belfast terraced houses being demolished, the granite bar-top was dug out of the Mournes by Jones Monumental Sculptors, and the walls are of best Scrabo stone.

The brand new conservatory at the front, with its long glass corridor entrance, and seats overlooking palm trees and the Irish Sea, houses fifty guests and is the latest in a series of tasteful, thoughtful improvements.

Most important of all are the hospitality and service. We happened to call on Shrove Tuesday and, like all customers that day, were treated to free homemade pancakes and cream. If the horses in the old days were as well looked after in their stables as customers are in today’s Stables, they must have been among the sleekest in the country.