St George’s Market is the last surviving Victorian covered bazaar in Belfast. Located close to the River Lagan and the city’s Waterfront Hall, the facility was refurbished in the 1980s and now hosts over 300 vendors each weekend, including food sellers, gift retailers, and crafters of all sorts.
“I have been making and selling bespoke jewelry here for about six years,” shares local artisan Dawn Newberry, who fashioned her business – A Thousand Kisses – after a Leonard Cohen song.
“There has been a real resurgence in arts and craft here over the last two decades, especially amongst younger people. These days, it is not unusual for students of our local art schools to start up their own businesses right after graduation.”
Efficient online merchandizing, and cost-effective social media, means that young people can now afford to set up shop regularly at area agora.
“I need to be here each week,” continues Newberry. “Customers need to see my work in person, feel it, and try it on. And it is important for me to meet people face to face in this milieu, chat with them, and get to know them.
“There is something very special about this space; look around you – there are lots of teens and tots about, and no one is staring at a screen. We are talking with one another, laughing aloud, experiencing this together as one community.”
Outside the bustling market, about two dozen men and women, some from away but most from home, have gathered for a guided food excursion.
“I am impressed that we are seeing more and more area residents join us each week,” says Taste & Tour guide Caroline Wilson. “Many of them are pleasantly surprised to learn what we’ve got cooking in our very own backyard.”
Over four hours, Wilson and her troupe tramp around the city centre, sampling an assortment of locally produced artisan goodies, including organic breads, meats, fish, sweets, and more.
“Most of the spots we stop along the tour are run by people in their 20s,” notes the thirtysomething. “They hold high ideals about their craft, and they are true wizards at what they do – mixing and matching natural ingredients into something scrumptious and nutritious.”
That culinary alchemy is on display just down the road, in the city’s creative Cathedral Quarter where, each day, the youthful MasterChef Gareth McCaughey and his team at The Muddlers Club spin basic and whole dietary elements into gastronomic gold.
“We are always dreaming up new and inventive ways to prepare and present our meals,” smiles the lightly-bearded and heavily-tattooed hipster, pointing to his eatery’s multi-course menu. “With nouveau cuisine, things can get quite imaginative in the kitchen – sometimes, maybe a little too imaginative.
“When we get it right, our patrons let us know, because their plates are clear, they pay their bill, and they come back. When we get it wrong, however, we usually know right away by the small explosion on the grill followed by a big poof of smoke arising from one of our pots or pans. I suppose it is a little like chemistry class used to be in school. But sooner or later we figure out the right formula, and the final results are delicious.”
Belfast’s changing tastes are accompanied by its changing face; the Cathedral Quarter is also peppered with dynamic and diverse street art.
“The city is awash with works from both established and emerging artists,” says Adam Turkington of Seedhead Arts, who – among his many roles in ‘Alternative Ulster’ – organizes Belfast’s annual, autumn ‘Hit The North’ street art festival.
“The majority of the murals are done with spray paint, but some of the pieces are so good and so complex that you would swear that they had been done with oils and brushes.”
Colourful collages from the likes of Nomad Clan, AKA Cbloxx, Aylo, Dan Kitchener and Irony have given a new voice – and look – to local and area residents.
“Belfast has always been covered in graffiti,” notes Turkington. “However, most of it was of a divisive nature. Some of that stuff is still there, for sure, but almost all of it has now been painted over by the next generation.”