Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: Doyle’s Corner

Exterior of Doyle's CornerWe’re heading back to Phibsborough/Phibsboro this week, with a visit to Doyle’s Corner.

Dublin pubs – and, to be fair, other businesses – have a habit of lending their names to road conjunctions. In the case of Doyle’s Corner, this has happened twice: originally known as Dunphy’s Corner from the 1870s, with the requisite Joycean name-check, the intersection in front of the pub has been called Doyle’s Corner since at least the early 1900s. Although built by Thomas Dunphy in 1873, allegedly with leftover stone from nearby St. Peter’s Church, the Dunphy name receded when John Doyle bought both this pub and The Boh(emian) across the road. There is, like last week’s featured pub, The Cat & Cage, also a Brendan Behan connection, but there’s no evidence he offered to do any work here in exchange for a drink.

Although the pub’s name was changed (in the mid-2000s?) to celebrate Arthur Conan Doyle, it reverted to John Doyle’s, and then, re-opened in 2018 as Doyle’s Corner. For Dublin real estate enthusiasts/masochists, it’s worth noting that the pub sold for €4.2 million in 2006, but then had to ‘reduce its price‘ to €850,000 in 2011. These days, it’s a stretch to find many decent houses in Dublin for under that amount, much less a public one, but back to the bar…there are still some nods to Conan Doyle in the snug, with prints of various Sherlock Holmes illustrations on one wall.

The main bar at Doyle's CornerI never saw the pre-renovation interior, but I find the current atmosphere very pleasant, with distinct personalities in the two main floor sections. The main bar feels, well, pubby, and the snug, with its fireplace and wood, more ‘Irish pubby’ – at least, that’s how my brain likes to interpret it. But I would hasten to add that it feels ‘Irish pubby’ in the authentic sense, not in the came-in-a-kit regard you get from overseas ‘Irish pubs’ (and, sorry to say, at least one near me, though I will likely simply never mention that particular pub here). I seem to almost always end up next to the bookshelves near the front door, which is no complaint; it’s very comfortable and an ideal spot to be tucked away for a sneaky solo afternoon pint. And, given that I walk by the pub at least twice a day, it’s extremely handy for that solo pint for me – with bonus points given as I have never been accosted by That Guy here.

The snug at Doyle's CornerI confess I have not checked out the newer sports bar and/or party venue upstairs, which makes me feel like I’m cheating to some extent by mentioning it without that more thorough exploration, but I’m very happy with the spots I in which I tend to be placed downstairs, in both sections. The chief draw for me, beyond the convenience factor and comfortable seating, is, of course, a selection of independent Irish beers. There’s always Kinnegar Scraggy Bay on, and usually something from The White Hag, Trouble or Yellowbelly. Guinness is, of course, well-represented, so it does cater to a range of tastes, with some cocktails included in the lineup as well – the Island’s Edge is kept far off to one side, where it belongs.

Doyle’s Corner is very much a pub in my ‘regular circulation’ – a fresh pint of Scraggy Bay is always worth the walk.

Where: Doyle’s Corner, 160/161 Phibsborough Rd, Phibsborough, Dublin 7, D07 R26N
Access from the city centre: Buses 9, 40, 46A, 83, 140; Luas Green Line; 30ish minute walk
Food: Pub grub, excellent warm cookies on the dessert menu
Sport: Most major Premiere League & international football matches; rugby & GAA as well
TVs: An entire sports bar section upstairs; screens come down for big games in the main bar, TV in the snug
Music: You can program the music from your phone; also live music weekly
Family-friendliness: Kids’ menu; plenty of the smaller ones about at reasonable hours
Pub-crawl-ability: High – The Hut is right next door, The Boh across the street, The Bald Eagle and The Back Page just a few short blocks away in opposite directions, with a few more in the immediate area
Local sites of note: Dalymount Park, Blessington Street Basin, Mountjoy Prison, Mater Hospital
Haunted: Poltergeist? Allegedly a ‘noisy ghost‘ ‘terrorised patrons on the second floor‘ in the early 2000s
Other notes: Possibly the most pleasant women’s bathrooms in a pub, anywhere; also a list of cans and bottles from local breweries

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: The Cat & Cage

Recemt;y-repainted exterior of The Cat & CageThe sign outside The Cat & Cage declares that it has been trading here since 1690; its website repeats this assertion, though footage of the pub from the 1960s gives the founding date as 1750. While I am typically not inclined to take the ‘ancient’ claims of most Dublin pubs at face value, I’m more open to an earlier date for The Cat & Cage – and not just because I happen to think it’s a wonderful pub, though that helps.

It was known by the 1780s as ‘…a famous old punch house…kept by a witty blacksmith’ in an 1860s review of Sydney, Lady Morgan’s autobiography; her mother had kept a country retreat nearby. And the literary references do not end there – no, not an appearance in Ulysses, but rather, in Sean O’Casey’s Pictures in the Hallway. The playwright was a regular and, at least per his book, got into a few scrapes here. In the same vein, Brendan Behan (allegedly) painted the exterior and was, so the story goes, at least partially paid in pints. His statue, not a terribly far walk away on the Royal Canal, would no doubt approve. But, back to ‘just how old is this pub?’

Once again, The Cat & Cage was described in the 1870s as ‘a very old two-storey thatched tavern’ whose heyday had been ‘thirty and forty years ago’ – a similar jab was levied at the pub in the early 2010s, so, it seems, ’twas ever thus. The insistence that a pub was once pretty fantastic, but now, leaves something to be desired reminds me very much of M.R. James’s rules for ghost stories: ‘For the ghost story a slight haze of distance is desirable. ‘Thirty years ago,’ ‘Not long before the war’, are very proper openings.‘ There seems to be a parallel tendency to think a pub is ‘past it’ – but the recently-renovated Cat & Cage is anything but…even if it’s not entirely clear exactly how old it is.

The snug inside The Cat & CageBut let’s look at what it looks like now: the exterior could easily pass for anything between ‘improved’ 18th century to late 19th century, while the interior has benefitted from a thoughtful facelift, marrying exposed stone with modern lights, design and seating, plus an old-school snug and an airy upstairs space that kept things ticking over as a bottle shop-and-takeaway-pizza spot during lockdowns, while the renovation in the main pub was happening downstairs. There are two sets of taps downstairs, one with the usual suspects of Guinness, Heineken and Lagunitas, but with a few always-on local craft taps from Trouble and Rascals. The other side of the bar, which opens into another, wallpapered room, features some other craft options, often from Scandinavia or Spain, and other locals like Wicklow Wolf or Whiplash. The upstairs lounge – formerly Knead, the aforementioned pizza-and-beer spot, also has a few taps, and some lovely bottles and cans.

A pint inside The Cat & CageI love that each part of The Cat & Cage has its own personality (and a variety of beer options), and that the renovation did a great job of showing off some of the building’s historic fabric, but allowed it to be very comfortable and modern at the same time. Given the pub’s age, regardless of which date is ‘correct,’ it’s nice to see it move with the times, but retain the aspects that give it character. And if I put on my amateur architectural historian hat – those archaeology degrees give me just enough knowledge to be dangerous, if not wholly accurate – I’d be willing to wager on something in between the two dates, and perhaps even to consider something a bit older, albeit spottily recorded. There would have been a small settlement here in the 17th century, and the church and churchyard just a short walk away was old enough to have been ‘dilapidated’ and needed a rebuild by the 1740s; nearby Belvedere House dates to the 1660s-70s, and given that The Cat & Cage was established enough to be a postal stop and coaching inn that featured in the 1798 rebellion, well…there are certainly possibilities. And while I could go do actual research, as with The Bald Eagle, it’s also nice to leave a bit of a mystery – and I’d rather just relax and enjoy a pint.

Fun wallpaper at The Cat & CageAnd that brings me to the other positive of this pub; it’s great for kicking back with other (grownup) friends, yet they will also happily handle my smaller child’s bizarro no-sauce pizza order without blinking if it’s a family afternoon or evening out. And while I sometimes feel that I need to campaign for more mac & cheese options in Ireland – why should the US have all the fun when the cheese here is an order of magnitude better? – the recently-returned-to-the-menu mac & cheese suppli are the best bar snacks around. I may have, on occasion, stopped in just to get some. Well, and a pint, but that goes without saying, and having a real variety of beers that aren’t all 6%+ helps keep things going.

I have yet to collect any specific ghost stories, but let’s just say I wouldn’t be mad about it – a resident spook would be a perfect fit for a pub with such a heritage.

Plaster likely isn't all that old, but it's atmosphericWhere: The Cat & Cage, 74 Drumcondra Road Upper, Drumcondra, Dublin, D09X620
Access from the city centre: Buses 1, 11, 13, 16, 44
Food: Pizza, tacos, pub grub, gorgeous mac & cheese suppli
Sport: Most major Premiere League & international football matches
TVs: A few small ones, with a screen that comes down for bigger games
Music: Often top 80s and 90s jams on the speakers, though not live music
Family-friendliness: No specific kids’ menu, but smaller sizes are available and children are welcome
Pub-crawl-ability: Low-Medium: it could be done, but would require a fair bit of walking between stops
Local sites of note: DCU St Patrick’s & All Hallows Campuses, Drumcondra Church & Churchyard, Griffith Avenue, Belvedere House, Croke Park, Tolka Park
Haunted: One would hope so – vibes
Other notes: Excellent bottle/can list

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: The Bald Eagle

The bar at The Bald EagleIt’s time for the first instalment of my Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs.

You guessed I’d start off with my own local, right? While *technically* I have several other pubs within much easier strolling/stumbling distance, one of the many benefits of city living to someone like me who is essentially incapable of living anywhere non-urban, is having a number of choices and opting for the one that’s a slightly further walk, simply because it’s more what I’m in the mood for on a given occasion. So, today, it’s a look at The Bald Eagle, which stands next to the Cross Guns Bridge on the Royal Canal in Phibsborough (or, if you prefer, Phibsboro – it’s a thing).

For the uninitiated, Phibsborough is one of the World’s Coolest NeighbourhoodsTM, at least according to Time Out, and as a former staffer from back in the 1990s, I have to agree, right? Well, having lived or worked in a few of them, frequently long before they were cool (side note: Walthamstow was most certainly Not Cool when I lived there, but hey, why not now?) because I am An Old, I do (mostly) agree in this case. Although I am not personally cool enough to live in Phibsborough itself, I’m in and out of it several times a day – it’s just a short walk up the canal for me, so I get all the Cool Neighbourhood benefits without the full Cool Neighbourhood price. And Cool Neighbourhoods need cool pubs, but it’s all about being just the right level of cool, and not trying too hard – and that (finally) brings me to what I love about The Bald Eagle.

Dalek mural at The Bald EagleWhile the interior is, at first glance, your ‘typical’ Irish pub with a lot of dark wood, a lovely snug, some old pictures, mirrors and a wee bit of taxidermy, it’s spruced up with a splash of pop culture and nerdery: Star Wars and other action figures that seem aimed squarely at my demographic, as well as a tattoo aesthetic toward the back and outside on the sun-trap deck – well, on days when there is sun, that is. There’s also a life-sized mural of a Dalek out back, again, targeting My People very directly.

Of course, it’s also about the beer: there are almost always local beers from Hope, Rascals and Trouble on, and not infrequently another guest tap or two, along with the usual Guinness and Friends lineup you will find everywhere else. There’s always a warm welcome from the staff who make a point of saying hello whenever we appear, even if it’s busy, and it’s the kind of place I can go for a quiet solo pint on a rare afternoon off, an evening out with friends or for a family dinner with the kids in tow – the desserts are always crowd-pleasers, and the seasonal cocktail offerings are a nice change from the beer on occasion.

Solo pint at The Bald Eagle, in the snugIf this all sounds too much ‘of the now’ for you, there is also a heritage here: although it’s only been The Bald Eagle for a few years, there has been a pub on this spot – or, at least, very near – since the 1740s, though maps from the 1830s onward seem more certain about this being part of the origin story of the current pub; one has to assume the workers at the mill just a bit further along the canal would have wanted a drink. But sometimes it’s nice to leave a bit of mystery, too – something to come back to later, which suits a pub like this perfectly.

I do come back often.

Where: The Bald Eagle, 114-115 Phibsborough Rd, Phibsborough, Dublin, D07 VX23
Access from the city centre: Buses 9, 40, 46A, 83, 140; Luas Green Line; 30ish minute walk
Food: Pub grub, pizzas, desserts
Sport: Most bigger Premiere League, Rugby and GAA matches are on
TVs: Visible from most of the pub, including the deck, but not overpowering
Music: Usually excellent ’90s jams on the speakers, though not live music
Family-friendliness: Useful kids’ menu and friendly welcome at reasonable hours
Pub-crawl-ability: High. Multiple options within the immediate area
Local sites of note: Royal Canal, Mater Hospital, Mountjoy Prison, Dalymount Park
Haunted: Not obviously
Other notes: Handy for a Guinness 0.0 when needed, also some cans and bottles of other local craft beers

A Theme for 2023: My Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs

The Underdog - just one upcoming feature!It’s a new year, and as I’ve become wildly undisciplined about writing outside of work, I’m giving myself a prompt for 2023: semi-regularly writing about some of my favourite pubs here in Dublin.  Now, there are already several excellent, long-running blogs that focus on the full spectrum of Dublin pubs: Every Pub in Dublin and Dublin By Pub are out there doing fantastic work, so this will be a much more idiosyncratic approach. If I were a Terrible Person, this would be A CURATED LOOK AT DUBLIN PUBS, but because I can, on occasion, reign in in, you will be spared that kind of nonsense.

Instead, I’ll focus on what makes the pub especially welcoming, handy or interesting for me, so do expect a bit of a Northside bias: proximity helps, but it’s not the only determining factor; regular readers and followers know that I will travel for cask, though alas, compiling a list of all cask pubs in Dublin would be an all-too-swift task (though if the pub does do the odd cask event, it will be noted). You can expect that the majority of the pubs covered will have at least a few local/Irish/overseas guest craft taps, but we simply don’t have dozens of craft beer pubs to choose from as you might in London or Philadelphia.

Can you guess the pub?And while not all pubs need be family-friendly – indeed, at least a few on my list are very much Grownups Only – I will be including the options for kids, including children’s menus and family events, where relevant; after all, those are the ones I tend to get to more often, and new entries will, broadly speaking, be written based on how recently I’ve been to a particular pub and grabbed a few photos (so hey, recency bias, too! Let’s ignore the fact, for now, that the last time I was out with only my nearly-adult kid, they kept trying to give him the pint and me the Coke, but I digress).

I’ll only include some of the ‘usual suspect’ pubs that typically appear in tourist guides to Dublin if there is something about a particular venue that does stand out for me – there’s no need for me to write up a Temple Bar pub if it’s something I typically avoid, but there are some ‘must-do tourist pubs’ that are actually very pleasant, though it may be some time before I get around to those.

Do expect some of the usual off-theme posts as well…I’ll still be doing some (hopefully) regular travel-related updates, plus some things related to work, beer festivals, breweries and the Beer Ladies Podcast, so do come back to check those out as well as they appear, and a big thank you to Boak and Bailey for (possibly unwittingly) getting me to finally commit to this!

Expect the first entry in the Dublin Pubs series later this week…and hopefully, a few will surprise you.

Updated to add direct links to entries:
The Bald Eagle, Phibsborough
The Cat & Cage, Drumcondra
Doyle's Corner, Phibsborough
The Underdog, City Centre-ish
The Black Sheep, Capel Street
Juno, North Inner City
The Back Page, Phibsborough
L. Mulligan. Grocer, Stoneybatter
The Big Romance, Parnell Street
The Hut, Phibsborough
BRÚ House Fairview, in, uh, Fairview
Fidelity, Smithfield
JR Mahon’s, City Centre
The Oak, City Centre
Rascals HQ, Inchicore
The Palace Bar, City Centre
The Flowing Tide, North City Centre
The Beer Temple, City Centre
Cassidys, City Centre
The Underdog (yes, again – new location), Capel Street
Bonobo, Smithfield
Kimchi Hophouse, Parnell Street
Piper’s Corner, North City Centre
The Porterhouse, Temple Bar
The Old Spot, Beggars Bush
The Brickyard Gastropub, Dundrum
The Botanic, Glasnevin
The Gravediggers, Glasnevin