McCollams, or Johnny Joes as it is known, is one of the great old pubs of Ireland, famed for its friendliness, authenticity - and traditional music sessions on Friday night all year, plus Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday in summer.
As well as the original cosy public bar there’s a huge covered yard at the back, which is also highly atmospheric - and an outside staircase leads up from it to the restaurant, Upstairs At Joes, which is run separately but also supplies Johnny Joes with ‘small plates’ that are perfect for the bar and well priced at £11.95 for three (such as soup of the day with crusty bread; mussels marinière with sourdough; pulled pork slider).
Up the stairs from the yard, you arrive into the little bar/reception area (where there’s proper little bar with pints on draught) and the restaurant takes up several rooms above the pub. Traditionally furnished and with menus offering a mixture of traditional and modern food, mainly in variations of ‘small plates’ and ‘big plates’, it has a homely feel that’s underlined by really friendly and helpful staff.
So what might you eat? During the day you could have something light - a pasta or rice dish such as saffron & pea risotto with crispy sage, perhaps, or a ‘sarnie’ such as steak sandwich with onion rings, pepper sauce and fat chips.
Or you could make a proper meal of it by starting with one of those small plates - delicious potted crab and salmon with tomato jam, perhaps, or pear and goats cheese fritters with candied pecans - and then a big plate like beer batter cod & chips with mushy peas and tartare sauce, or chicken and champ with tobacco onions...
Either way, you’d be well advised to keep some room for dessert - an unusual take on strawberry pavlova, for example, that comes with a crust of the local sweet speciality, ‘yellow man’.
Sunday lunch and evening menus will offer a different choice but with some of the specialities above featuring.
McCollams and Upstairs at Joes make a great duo, and well worth working into any itinerary when visiting Co Antrim.