Mark Bignell finds that ex-pat Poles have as much fun in Belfast as they do in Warsaw
A euro-techno-pop soundtrack, Polish flags on the walls, classic Polish cartoon Bolek I Lolek projected on the back of the stage, and bar fully stocked with piwo (Polish word for beer) was the setting for Belfast’s Polish ex-pat community and Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival goers.
The evening began with a free Polish buffet, consisting of pickled cucumbers, stew, big sausages, mustard, shredded beetroot and red cabbage, rye bread and potato salad.
Fine food, with the exception of the stew - nondescript other than the main ingredients being flour and salt.
The sign at the entrance stated that bigos would feature as part of the buffet. Having had the pleasure of sampling bigos (stewed cabbage with bacon) before, I was looking forward to it. I failed to spot the bigos but could definitely smell them.
What made the buffet worthwhile was the succulent, juicy sausages, all the better with the traditional Polish mustard.
Washing the sausages down with a cold piwo was the highlight of a rather disappointing feed.
The food, and smell of bigos, disappeared quickly and it wasn’t long after that the only stocked Polish beer, Tyskie, disappeared too.
I was lucky enough to get the last beer while the barman exclaimed, ‘This is mental, we shifted the last eight cases of that stuff within 45 minutes!’.
After a stadium-rock style warm-up, the promising band opened with a flute-led instrumental cover of Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’.
Perhaps it was a practical joke. A few tracks later the Polish members of the audience warmed to the band, singing along to some Polska nostalgia tracks.
Once the DJ took over and the beer kicked in, dancing was in full swing and McHugh's took on an altogether different atmosphere.
The dancefloor filled and the Polish people seemed to enjoy every minute, including a big sing song with much-loved Polish classics.
A beer-filled basement of drunken Northern Irish and Poles dancing to classic techno matched the craic in any of Warsaw's busier pubs. Na zdrowie!