Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: The Oak

Pre-gaming for NeilThe time has come.

Yes, it’s the Guinness Enthusiast story, at last! And it takes place at one of my favourite city centre pubs – The Oak.

The Oak is a bit of a hidden gem, despite being physically attached to its fellow Galway Bay pub, The Beer Temple (one we’ll cover separately in a future post), and being smack-dab in the middle of Dame Street. It nearly always seems a bit quieter, no matter what’s going on next door or more generally in town. It’s my not-so-secret go-to spot before a show at the Olympia, just a few doors down, as the Olympia is an utter wasteland from a drinks perspective – nothing but Heineken and Island’s Edge as far as the eye can see. It’s important to be prepared.

The Oak’s interior is cosy and ‘pubby’ – lots of dark wood, repurposed from the RMS Mauretania, so they say, and small seating areas – and, perhaps because it’s small, it can be easy to overlook; Dame Street is busy. But because of its central location, it is a handy spot, both for locals looking for a pre- or post-event pint or for tourists from near and far – and that’s how it happened.

I was enjoying a quiet solo pint before a show, and there was a healthy mix of accents in the pub – some of my fellow North Americans, Irish of all descriptions, a sprinkling of Yorkshire and Lancashire, plus the common local Brazilian and Spanish regulars. There had already been a few ‘no, we don’t serve Guinness, but we do have our own stout’ encounters that evening – while some looked a bit surprised, all had at least given it a go on this occasion. A woman of middling years (as one of their number, I’m allowed to say so) with a pronounced Dublin 4 accent strode in purposefully and asked, not entirely impolitely, for a Guinness. The usual ‘no, but we have -‘ response began, and she immediately cut off the bartender mid-sentence, with rather more volume this time. ‘That can’t be. This is an IRISH PUB, you must have Guinness.’

Glances were exchanged all around the bar – after all, many of the tourists were here specifically to try other local beers – but she wasn’t done yet. ‘Are you SERIOUSLY SUGGESTING I cannot get a GuinnessIRELAND’S NATIONAL DRINK – at this so-called Irish pub?’ There was a pause, as she looked around for support, and she continued, at a further-increased volume, ‘do any of you here find this AT ALL ACCEPTIBLE?’ To the credit of absolutely everyone in the pub, not a single person responded directly, though there was a light chuckle toward the back of the room. After another dramatic pause, she tried once more to garner some kind of support – once again, upping the decibels: ‘I cannot BELIEVE that a business like this can exist, in this day and age, calling itself an IRISH PUB without Guinness.’

And with that, she turned on her heel and flounced out of the pub.

Slimer knows how to behave in the pubFinally, everyone smiled, and the visiting Canadian next to me made sure to leave a tip for the bartender, who just shook her head at the whole business. Someone else at the bar noted joking/not joking that surely a pub was Irish by dint of being, you know, in Ireland, but that they’d be more careful in future. He continued, ‘I bet she doesn’t even like Guinness,’ and with that, headed out.

He was probably right.
Or maybe it was performance art.

In any case, I was happy enough with my Weights & Measures.

Where: The Oak, 1-3 Parliament St, Temple Bar, Dublin 2, D02 AN28
Access from the city centre: You’re in it; 5 min walk from many sites
Food: Usual Galway Bay menu – I’m partial to the halloumi fries
Sport: Nada
TVs: No
Music: Always a nice background soundtrack, but not too loud
Family-friendliness: Children welcome at the usual times
Pub-crawl-ability: High – Temple Bar is right there if you have a fondness for stag parties and overpriced beer, or hit up The Lord Edward, The Bull & Castle, The Brazen Head or simply walk through to the other side
Local sites of note: Olympia Theatre, Dublin Castle, Dublin City Hall, Chester Beatty Library, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublinia
Haunted: Really, everything in this part of town should have a ghost or two – did the wood from the ship bring something with it? Would that make it Wood Tape Theory, vs Stone Tape Theory?
Other notes: If you really fancy something from The Beer Temple, you can simply walk through and order it, though there’s usually a guest beer or two on at The Oak as well

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: JR Mahon’s

Inside the newly-renovated JR Mahon'sI tend to do most of my pub-going on the north side of the Liffey because it’s, well, just better over here, and it means I usually avoid most of the more touristy areas of Dublin. However, the city centre is so called for a reason, and it cannot be denied that the south side of the river is an incredibly convenient spot, especially for out-of-town guests, or when one is trying to get people from other parts of the city to find a location that suits most, transit-wise.

Spooky cask pintAnd so, even though it’s not one of my more usual haunts, I’ve certainly spent a fair bit of time in the former JW Sweetmans, now reborn as JR Mahon’s (it should be noted that local punctuation is consistently inconsistent when it comes to pub names – I try my best to roll with it). We apparently all dodged the proverbial bullet when the pub changed hands late last year, with the Mahon family, who own a number of what I think of as rugby-with-light-Irish-branding bars in NYC, outbidding Professional Main Character Conor McGregor for the spot.

By local standards, the renovation was quite swift, especially considering the winter holidays, and it reopened a few weeks ago with the new name, plus three house beers and – most importantly for me – the return of the beer engines that had been dormant post-lockdown. With the return of cask last weekend – and with a pre-planned event there anyway – it was a perfect opportunity to check out the changes. The pub occupies the same enormous spot on the Liffey, with multiple floors and masses of dark wood, but it has been beautifully renovated and considerably brightened up – the stained glass on the ground floor gives some much-needed colour, and while the warmth of the wood remains, things certainly seem lighter and much more airy than in the previous incarnation. There are still many – possibly more – little snugs, nooks and crannies, but the flow is much better overall, with all four floors of space having a bit of their own character.

Another snugThe beer is once again brewed by Barrelhead/Hopburgh/Hopkins & Hopkins, who also make a lovely (usually) bottled helles and schwarzbier, with the current offerings being a stout, pale ale and a red ale. It was the stout on cask for our visit, and this dry-hopped version was very much to my tastes – if you want to hear me drone on at length about my love for hoppy dark beers, we will shortly have a Beer Ladies Podcast episode for you, but I digress. Fresh cask beer doesn’t come cheap here, though – this was a €7.30 pint, with the kegged beers only slightly cheaper at €7 for the same size. Now, it’s not *much* cheaper at The Black Sheep, where cask options have also recently returned (huzzah!) for €6.75, but at least it is the same price for cask or keg there. It remains to be seen what cask prices will be when they return to The Underdog in (hopefully) a very short time when they make their move to Capel Street, but I suspect it won’t be hovering quite as close to €8. I quite enjoyed the pale ale, too, I have to say, possibly because it was simply a solid, old-school pale ale – no hazebois here!

Lights at JR Mahon'sIn the before-times, I had a series of disappointing-to-actively-bad food experiences under the old name, and as I’ve only had the chips so far, so I don’t feel fully qualified to speak to the food options at JR Mahon’s, at least, not yet. Back to the beer side, though, I do hope that Ambush appears on the tap lineup soon, to give another local option; it was listed on the printed menu, but not visible anywhere on this visit. Early days, though.

In short, this will never be your cheapest pint in Dublin, but the cask is good and the surroundings are lovely – and hey, it still beats Temple Bar!

Where: JR Mahon’s, 1-2 Burgh Quay, Dublin 2, D02
Access from the city centre: You’re essentially there; 5 min walk from many sites
Food: General pub grub
Sport: Horse racing, Premiere League, rugby, GAA, etc.
TVs: In the various bars, though not always visible from every snug
Music: Live music Thurs-Sun evenings; general background tunes otherwise
Family-friendliness: Children welcome at the usual times
Pub-crawl-ability: High – Temple Bar is a quick walk if you wish to continue parting with your money (though the Porterhouse there may help some), or O’Neill’s, Bowes, The Palace Bar, The Oval, Mulligans, The Flowing Tide & Piper’s Corner are all within a short stroll
Local sites of note: National Wax Museum, Trinity College, Abbey Theatre, Irish Whiskey Museum, O’Connell Street
Haunted: I should hope so, but have heard nothing
Other notes: There’s a ‘Spoons across the river if you have nearly bankrupted yourself, but need to carry on a pub crawl

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: Fidelity

A glass of beer at FidelityAnd…we’re back!

After a brief Easter break, which included starting a new job and a quick trip to London (two not-unrelated activities – although I am mostly remote, my new office is a short stroll from the Bermondsey Beer Mile, and I am not *cough* remotely *cough* mad about that – sorry/not sorry), it’s back to business as usual for Weirdo Dublin Pubs, with more or less weekly updates.

We’ve previously covered The Big Romance, and this week, we’re heading to their sister bar, Fidelity, which is very much brought to you by Whiplash, with the music-geek vibe begun at The Big Romance turned to 11 (or whatever it would be people who are *really* into their sound systems would say in 2023 – I just appreciate the tunes). But that respect for the music and the atmosphere still means that it’s not too loud to enjoy conversation, except when the currently-still-smallish spot is packed in the evenings, though there is work going on to expand the space. And while they also have great cocktails and some things I am told are called ‘wines’ on a few taps, this is a proper Beer Appreciation Chamber, with the taps not only as the aesthetic focal point of the bar (MANIFOLD POURING SYSTEM, FOLKS!), but with the form following function – each one can be dialled (literally with an analog dial, so I am told) exactly to the ideal temperature for the specific beer it dispenses. This level of nerdery may be lost on many, perhaps even most, patrons, but it’s not simply window-dressing; the emphasis on quality is real.

manifold taps, y'allThe beer list over the bar is also very intentionally designed in a way that won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I quite like it, and, more importantly, I love what it communicates – a varied lineup of styles, strengths and guest taps, often from a brewery that’s in town to do a collaboration with Whiplash; recent and upcoming partners include England’s Left-Handed Giant and Track, as well as Spain’s Garage, plus other Irish breweries like Mescan. I’ve especially enjoyed Whiplash’s own Bowsie Brown Ale (everybody knows that I love…brown ale) and The Dead, a heritage-recipe porter, and it's been a treat to try beers I’ve only ever previously had canned fresh on tap – Dark Steering, their glorious schwarzbier, is especially nice.

It's like that - speakers & artAnd while it’s slightly disappointing that there won’t be a Fidelity beer festival this year, it’s great to have another craft beer outlet within a reasonable walking distance – the fact that it’s ‘only’ Whiplash and Friends is no bad thing.

I still prefer to visit Fidelity relatively close to when they open – as an official Old, I like my bars to be a bit less crowded – but I’m also very glad to have Fidelity in the mix; it’s a great addition to Dublin (and, of course, on the Right Side of the Liffey, too).

Where: Fidelity, 79 Queen St, Smithfield, Dublin 7, D07 DW3R
Access from the city centre: Buses C1, C2, C3, C4, 37, 39, 39A, 70, 83, 83A, Red Line Luas, 20ish minute walk
Food: Not at the moment
Sport: No
TVs: Definitely not
Music: Very serious, but Good Serious
Family-friendliness: I’ve seen people with hipster baby carriers in for a drink (not judging, I’ve been that person), but it’s not a great spot for the small folk
Pub-crawl-ability: High – Bonobo, The Cobblestone, The Belfry, The Brazen Head and L Mulligan, Grocer are all within a few minutes’ walk – and that’s just getting started
Local sites of note: Collins Barracks, Four Courts, St Michan's Church, St Audoen's Church, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublinia
Haunted: There is a history to the spot, so perhaps there are ghosts from the former Dice Bar
Other notes: Keep an eye on the socials for tap takeovers and collab announcements