Brownlow Arms,
1-3 Railway St,
BT23 5HG

If you’re looking for a drink in Comber, and the locals recommend the TT Lounge, don’t feel that they are suggesting you go on the wagon and are directing you to a “soft drinks only” or non-alcoholic bar. No, the TT, in this case, has no teetotal connections at all but refers to the famous Tourist Trophy car races which once drew huge crowds to this popular circuit.

The Tourist Trophy is a superb theme bar, centred upon the cars, drivers, accessories and stories of this exciting, dangerous thrill-packed course. It’s appropriate, of course, that this particular pub should choose the Tourist Trophy race as its inspiration, because the corner on which it sits was a popular vantage point for spectators, either on the pavement or standing on the old railway bridge overlooking the corner. Indeed, it was from the upstairs windows of the pub that the Shell racing films were taken in the early thirties, and some of the actual 58 cars were parked in the backyard of the building.

It was built at the turn of the century by a man called Todd, whose name can still be seen in mosaic in the entrance to the downstairs public bar. For years, this part of the town was known as Todd Square, and later as MacDonald’s Corner, after a subsequent owner, so you can see how the pub occupied a very dominant position.

The race itself came to a sad end in 1936, when one of the drivers, Chambers, in a Riley, was killed outside of the town. At its height, the Tourist Trophy race drew half a million spectators and was one of the major courses in the world.

The circuit is still visited by enthusiasts from all over the globe, who use the Tourist Trophy Lounge as a kind of base-cum- museum. A party of South African MG Car Club enthusiasts was being shown around the exhibits during our visit. You start your course as soon as you enter through the chequered flag door entrance from the street.

A large two- dimensional racing car mural on your left introduces you to a marvellous collection of photographs, drawings, advertisements, memorabilia, and reports from the motor car racing world of the late twenties and early thirties. There’s a rare large colour map of the course, an original issue taken from the 1928 Belfast Telegraph, and a valuable collector’s item. It informs you that the race was 410 miles long, the circuit was 13 and two-thirds miles, with 30 laps and an average width of course of 35 feet.

The walls in the lobby area and in the magnificent lounge are adorned with mounted and framed exhibits. Double-breasted livery suits, chauffeurs’ Motor Dust coats, side-car bodies, car horns, lamps, lubricants, car body fittings and accessories, all from the early 1930s, are advertised for the enthusiast of the period.

A new Ford Ten would cost you El 50, or you could go for a superb two-door coupe on the new Morris chassis. There’s a gallery of tremendous action photographs of the race, some taken from the very window at which you may be sitting. It’s a kind of pictorial history of the Tourist Trophy story, with caricature drawings of the leading drivers of the time, several artists’ impressions of the face, and a fine drawing of a 1933 Newtownards Square tussle, signed by the race winner Nuvolari.

Your favourite may be the 1929 Le Mans style start photo, or the 1930 picture of Malcolm and the Duke of Abercorn. The lounge itself is, understandably, of the highest quality, the leader of the course, the front of the field.

Impressionistic thirties-style artwork of cars and drivers decorates the mirrors behind the counter, while the ceiling fans and hotel lobby plants reinforce the sense of a thirties saloon. The toilets, as you might expect, are designated The Pit Stop. There’s no doubt about it, the Tourist Trophy Lounge is the clear winner and in a class of its own, a fitting tribute to a great Ulster race course.