Today a public house stands in Quay Street next to the Tower House. Patton dates the building to about 1860 when it had three storeys and states that by 1864 it housed the Abercorn Hotel. In 1863 the business was owned by Thomas Andrews, while the building belonged to William Lowry under a three lives lease of 1802 from the Ward family. This type of lease meant that three people were named on the document and when the last one died the lease was up unless it provided for a new name to be added on payment of a fine. James Potter Junior was granted a spirit license in 1866. He ran the business for about ten years. It was advertised to let in 1876 when it was called Potter’s Belfast Tavern. There were no details on the facilities, but the advertisement stated that it was opposite the Steamboat landing. This meant that it could take advantage of the crowds coming from Belfast for day trips on the paddle steamers.

Rabbit Rooms Bangor 2020
The Rabbit Rooms 2020

In 1878 Mr Abram Jordan acquired the lease of 20 years at a rent of £25 per annum, together with the spirit license and good-will of the Belfast Tavern at a cost of £280. The following year he proposed retiring from business and offered for auction his interest in the leases of the Ferry Tavern in Station Street, Belfast and the Belfast Bar in Quay Street, Bangor. The following month a long advertisement was devoted to the Belfast Bar alone.

The vendor stated that he had “got up” the premises under the supervision of an architect so they could “grapple with the Summer Trade”. All the facilities were described, including a “Secret Cupboard in Shop that would hold, in all about 130 doz. bottled ales.” As well as the bars there were two dining rooms on the ground floor and a further two, plus three bedrooms and a parlour upstairs. In addition, the house was stated to be in the healthiest position in Bangor. It was claimed that the purchaser could make a small fortune within a short period of time, due to people from Belfast coming on the steamboats. Moreover Bangor was claimed to be foremost among the favourite watering places of the North of Ireland.

A year later Mr Jordan once more offered the bar for sale and by 1882 Miss Eliza Johnston was running the business. She also owned the Prince George Hotel in Belfast. In 1885 she advertised for a barmaid of good character for the Abercorn Hotel in Bangor, having renamed the premises. Soon she was offering the hotel lease for sale as well as the Prince George. An advertisement of 1886 stressed the modern improvements and the very good position.

Rabbit RoomsThe new owner of the business was Robert McKendry. When Mrs McKendry advertised for a barmaid in 1887, she called the premises The Mermaid Hotel. In 1887 the North Down Herald noted that Mr McKendry’s Hotel had a painting above the door featuring a mermaid on a rock in Bangor Harbour. The paper, however, was noted for its occasional satirical pieces so this information may not be correct. Certainly there was a story from monastic times of a mermaid at Bangor. Soon afterwards the hotel was offered for sale when it was claimed Mr McKendry had spent over £200 on improvements. The advertisements, like earlier ones, emphasized its very good position close to the Bangor steamers in a highly respectable portion of the town. Mr McKendry died on 8th July 1891at the age of 43, but the hotel had already changed hands.

The new Proprietor was Mr. James Campbell. In 1890 a directory listed The Mermaid among the principal hotels in Bangor. In the same year the North Down Herald referred to the delicious American beverages which the popular manager Mr McGuigan had introduced. Later in 1890 the same paper noted the steamer, train and car timetables which the proprietors of The Mermaid and the Shakespeare were giving out to patrons. In June 1891 the freehold of the premises was offered for sale and Mr Campbell was named as the tenant carrying on the business. He had changed the name back to the Abercorn Hotel from The Mermaid. He was paying a rent of £25. When his lease expired in six years it was estimated that the premises could be let for £60. Mr James Campbell purchased the building and was given a fee farm grant by Robert Edward Ward on 21st December 1891. In 1892 Mr Campbell advertised the facilities of the hotel: it had well-furnished and well-ventilated bedrooms, offered luncheons, dinner and teas, and hot joints daily from 12 to 4. Its liqueurs were of superior quality.

By April 1896 Mr Campbell was dead and the license was transferred to his widow Ellen. Debtors of Mr Campbell took legal action and the premises were auctioned. An advertisement of 1897 gave particulars of the hotel. There were two large open bars on the ground floor. They were furnished with plate glass mirrors and had Sunlight and other gas fittings. The upper part of the premises had a Dining Hall 36’ by 13’, seven bedrooms, a kitchen etc. Mr Thomas Rafferty bought the premises with a bid of £1,710. By this time a fourth storey had been added to the building.

The name of the hotel has undergone more changes than most such businesses. A writer recorded that by about 1874 it was known as the Mermaid Hotel and later reverted to the earlier name of the Abercorn Hotel. The evidence of directories and newspaper advertisements, however, shows a somewhat different pattern. By 1868 it was known as the Belfast Tavern or Bar, a name which lasted until at least 1880. By 1885 Eliza Johnston was calling it the Abercorn Hotel. Robert McKendry then adopted the name the Mermaid Hotel by 1887. James Campbell subsequently changed the name back to the Abercorn Hotel by 1891. Its name has also been changed several times in the twentieth century, including to the Steamer and the Marine Bar. It is now The Rabbit Rooms.