A historic pub owned by the National Trust in Belfast city centre has closed its doors because its licence has lapsed.
The Crown Bar on Great Victoria Street is one of the most famous in Northern Ireland, distinguished by its period gas lighting, church-style stained glass windows, cosy wooden snugs and mosaics of tiles.
It was once a Victorian gin palace and dates back to the early days of the railways and industrialisation in the early 1800s.
The shutters were pulled down after a permit to sell alcohol was not renewed, believed to have expired in November 2012 following an “oversight”.
It is currently run by Nicholson’s, which is part of the Birmingham-based pub corporation Mitchells and Butlers.
When contacted, the company issued a statement under the name of “a spokesperson for the Crown”, which read: “Due to an administrative oversight the Crown will be closed temporarily until the new license application hearing takes place on 17 January.
“During the closure we’ll be taking the opportunity to carry out some staff training - at what it is our quietest time of year - and also some cleaning.
“We do apologise if this inconveniences our regulars but under the circumstances it is the right course of action for us to take.”
A Trust spokesman said: “The Crown Bar has been leased to the current tenant since 2006. All statutory obligations, including the renewal of licences, rest with the tenant.
“We are very concerned to learn about this oversight and we encourage the tenant to seek a speedy resolution to this issue to ensure this historic building is reopened to the public as soon as possible.”
The Trust purchased the property in 1978 and restored it to its full Victorian splendour, when it served travellers just off the train at the old station nearby.
The pub includes ten different-shaped and elaborately carved wooden boxes, lettered form A to J. The snugs contain gunmetal plates for striking matches, and an antique bell system, very common in Victorian houses, where servants where employed, which alerted bar staff.
The Crown has been a magnet for tourists and local regulars on one of the busiest streets for nightlife in Belfast.
Colin Neill, chief executive of Pubs of Ulster, said: “This is an unfortunate oversight by the licensee Mitchells & Butlers Leisure Limited.
“We are aware that they took the appropriate course of action as soon as the issue came to light and have decided to close their doors until this issue is resolved.
“This is not an ideal situation as the Crown Bar is one of Northern Ireland’s most iconic and historically important pubs.
“However it must operate within the law and we are confident that this important asset will be back in operation once the matter is resolved.”