Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: The Strand House

Outside The Strand House: red frontageAfter several weeks looking at Dublin city centre pubs, we’re heading back to the Northside, with a visit to The Strand House in Fairview. Locals will recall that this was most recently the BRÚ House Fairview, which was a BRÚ pub that became a Galway Bay pub retaining its BRÚ branding, but with the Galway Bay food menu and core beers. Clear? Great! However, just as The Beer Market (also a former Galway Bay/BRÚ joint) became The Christchurch Inn, so BRÚ House is now The Strand House.

Well, what’s changed?

The bar at The Strand House

First off, the frontage is red now, but the beer lineup is the biggest revision, and it’s quite a downgrade from my perspective. Whereas before there were the usual Galway Bay beers and some interesting guest taps, now it’s a standard Heineken/Diageo macro lineup, with a single independent option – the always-welcome Trouble Ambush. On the positive side, the Ambush was lovely and fresh, and hopefully it will remain that way, but it did mean that for me, there were not as many reasons to stop in and linger as there had been before. Indeed, while the interior looks welcoming, if not a huge change from the previous look and feel (the nice coat/bag hooks under the bar are certainly handy, and the darker colour scheme is pleasant), I’m not entirely sure it sets itself apart from Gaffney’s, just a few doors down now, whereas before, they were more distinctive – though the staff were all on top form, so also a big positive there.

Red leather seats at The Strand House

We’ll do a separate entry on Gaffney’s at some point, but in brief, it is a very comfortable Old Man Pub, also with a few craft taps (from Hope, in their case). And, so far, The Strand House feels quite similar, albeit with more children running around. One of the things that made BRÚ House such a useful neighbourhood pub was the children’s menu – and with Fairview Park right across the road, we would stop in not infrequently after a playground session, or even in the middle of trick-or-treating on Halloween. That’s not to suggest it was overrun with small children, by any means, but it was a very chill, family-friendly spot at reasonable hours. And while the food menu won’t kick in for a bit, there were still quite a few kids around, no doubt as the parents living nearby were presuming they’d be able to get them fed as under the previous management – time will tell.

I plan to visit again once the food is back – trad sessions are also on the way – but at the moment, it’s less of a destination than it used to be, at least for me. Perhaps more independent taps will be added in the future, but without them, it’s no longer my go-to post-haircut spot, despite being just around the corner from said establishment. That said, it’s nice to have more than one neighbourhood pub, so it’s more likely to fill that niche.

And if it turns out the food menu is the real draw, all to the good…fingers crossed!

Where: The Strand House, 12 Fairview, Clontarf, Dublin 3, D03 C998
Access from the city centre: Buses 14, 15, 27; DART to Clontarf Road
Food: Coming in May
Sport: Seems even more sport-friendly now: football, horse racing, GAA…
TVs: In the main bar area and in the back seating areas
Music: No music on my visit, but live music is coming
Family-friendliness: As mentioned, many children on my visit, though unclear if there will be events for them
Pub-crawl-ability: Low, unless you prefer a walk up to The Yacht Bar in Clontarf, though Gaffney's is almost next door
Local sites of note: Fairview Park, Croke Park, Clontarf Promenade
Haunted: Not that I've heard…
Other notes: Very handy for Martin's Off-License, one of Dublin's best; in theory, the Battle of Clontarf may have happened not far away, but that could also be LIES

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: Toner’s

Outside Toner's PubDespite its Viking-era foundations, Dublin rarely feels like an ‘old’ city by European standards – something we can, in large part, blame on the Wide Streets Commission, which resulted in the demolition of much of medieval Dublin in the 18th century. However, the city the Commission members desired can very much be seen in the part of Baggot street we are visiting this week as we look at Toner’s Pub. While perhaps best known as a literary pub (yes, another one – we do have a fair few), it’s also practically the Platonic ideal of a Dublin pub: a Georgian building, a past as a grocer and tea merchant, lots of dark wood, Guinness and a surprising number of snugs, nooks and crannies.

Inside Toner's PubBuilt as a house in 1734, Toner’s has been continuously operated as a pub since 1818, and to quote the National Built Heritage Service, ‘[t]he remarkably intact exterior greatly contributes to the historic streetscape in the centre of the south Georgian core.’ On my recent visit, that history was very much on display, as Toner’s is the first Pub Museum, an initiative sponsored by Heineken, and we did a bit of poking around to see how it all works (and, full disclosure, to get a free Heineken 0.0, which regular readers know is not my go-to, but it was a nicely-organised event). In brief, the project lets you scan a QR code at the front of the pub and then to investigate objects and locations throughout the rest of the pub – that may be a voiceover, a bit of music or other information about the item in question. It did reveal some fabulous anecdotes about former visitors, from WB Yeats to David Bowie, though I imagine many visitors just want to sit with a pint and soak up the history more organically. That said, it’s not always easy to find out those little historical snippets that the bartender or regulars may just ‘know,’ so it is very handy for tourists (or history nerds like me). Time will tell how scalable it is to other pubs, but I am all for doing a better job of documenting (and funding) pub history.

Front snug at Toner'sAnd Toner’s does have an interesting history; it’s alleged to be the only pub Yeats ever went to, and his brief? occasional? presence in the front snug seems to be one of the connections that gets Toner’s onto the list of Dublin’s haunted pubs – again, something I’d like to see grow, at least from a folklore-gathering perspective, although alas, his magickal duel with Aleister Crowley took place in London. But Yeats was not the only Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn member to stop in at Toner’s – Bram Stoker was a more frequent guest, as he lived just a short walk away.

But what of the pub itself? First off, it’s bigger on the inside (no, really) – the front bar, while picturesque, is just the beginning. It winds around inside, with quite different-feeling sections upstairs and downstairs, but the enormous beer garden is one of the largest in Dublin – and it’s even heated. There are covered booths, some with laptop or phone charge points, as well as other seating options, so a rainy day need not rule out a bit of fresh air. Beer-wise, it’s very much a Heineken-plus-Guinness shop – the only ‘crafty‘ option is Five Lamps lager, but there is now a Murphy’s tap; the demise of Islands Edge has cleared the way for its return around town. Although I’d personally prefer at least one local independent option, you do have two (actual) stout options.

Only a tiny portion of the beer garden

While it’s true I rarely find myself in this part of town, I did make a mental note that the beer garden is going to be lovely once it warms up a bit more…perhaps an ideal spot to take out-of-town guests who want to see a ‘real Irish pub’ in the middle of their museum visits; stopping in at Toner’s can count in both columns.

Where: James Toner’s, 139 Baggot Street Lower, Dublin 2
Access from the city centre: 5-minute walk from St Stephen’s Green
Food: Crisps/peanuts or bring in a pizza from Cirillo's next door
Sport: Can have quite a rugby crowd, but big events in general tend to be shown
TVs: One above the main bar, a few elsewhere here and there
Music: Trad sessions and the odd ‘secret’ gig for the likes of Dermot Kennedy and Shaggy (indeed!) – keep an eye on the socials
Family-friendliness: More of a grownup spot, but the beer garden does have plenty of space if you’re getting pizza
Pub-crawl-ability: Medium-High – McGrattan’s, Kennedy’s, O’Donoghue’s and Doheny & Nesbitt are all very close, though I’d personally head further on up toward Cassidys, Bowes or The Palace Bar
Haunted: Did Bram Stoker bring any kind of attached elemental from Marsh’s Library when he drank here? Let’s say yes!
Local sites of note: Little Museum of Dublin, Huguenot Cemetery, St Stephen’s Green, Merrion Square, Fitzwilliam Square, Royal Hibernian Academy, Oireachtas, National Library of Ireland, National Museum of Ireland (Archaeology and The Dead Zoo), National Gallery of Ireland…etc.
Other notes: If you do venture outside, you will not be troubled by seagulls.
Socials: Facebook, Former Twitter, Instagram

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: O’Neill’s Pub & Kitchen

Outside O'Neill's: sign & clockAs tourist season seems more or less nearly in full swing, we’re sticking with Dublin city centre this week and O’Neill’s Pub and Kitchen – a tourist-friendly but also authentic pub that caters to a range of tastes and preferences – and one that’s large enough to offer a different experience depending on where you are in the pub (and just how crowded it is on the day or evening).

The snug downstairs at O'Neill'sI recently had the unpleasant experience of stopping in a pub I’d never tried, and which shall remain nameless here, that was so aggressively diddley-eye that I had to flee after a single quick pint – the Clancy Brothers on a loop, too loud; a complete lack of non-Guinness options, the various tin signs and old farm equipment on the wall just that little bit too much like an Oirsih Pub of the sort you find anywhere in the world, and that doesn’t need to exist in the middle of Dublin. When I asked the bartender if there were any local craft options, she claimed not to know what that meant. Now, that in itself isn’t a dealbreaker, there are some excellent Guinness-only pubs that are well worth a visit – The Gravediggers and The Hut immediately come to mind – but add in the twee décor, the music (and I love good trad…just not the same four or five particular bits that get played endlessly to tourists) and the Americans wearing Peaky Blinders hats, and it was a big nope.

Barrels on the way up the stairsHappily, O’Neill’s is nothing like this, and visiting it not long after The Pub to Remain Nameless made its positive features stand out all the more. Yes, there are trad sessions – good ones are always welcome – but the usual background music is quiet enough to chat, not painfully loud. Yes, there are various old photos and signs, even some barrels as you head upstairs, but they seem like a more natural accumulation over the past 150-200 years, rather than having come from a warehouse as part of a kit. The ground floor is something of a warren (in the best possible way), with the bar serving several distinct spaces, including a pleasant snug by one of the doors. There is a good variety in terms of local craft options on tap (again, we’ll let the decorative hand pulls set high up on a shelf slide – there’s no cask here), but it’s always a good idea to have a backup choice selected; in my experience, the first choice is nearly always the one that just kicked. Happily, though, there are some good options (Lineman, Bullhouse, Whiplash and Trouble, to name a few independent Irish breweries showcased on my most recent visit, with Third Barrel upstairs), so it’s in no way a hardship.

Upstairs near Whiskey CornerAnd speaking of ‘upstairs,’ there’s a nice ‘Whiskey Corner,’ all red leather and dark wood, though of course you’re welcome to drink anything you’d like (and the whiskey selection is indeed a very good one). It can be quieter up here (not necessarily on big game days, of course), especially during the afternoon, and it can make a pleasant spot on your literary pub crawl, given its Seamus Heaney connections, among quite a few others. But again, there is a good variety of seating, with many little nooks and snugs, so it’s also a nice escape from Grafton Street shopping, just outside.

So, while my more usual MO is to hit up one of my locals before heading into town proper, my most recent visit to O’Neill’s was a good reminder that there are very nice spots right in Dublin city centre as well – they are not all tourist nightmares, even when you are absolutely in the middle of everything. Good times are possible!

Where: O’Neill’s Pub & Kitchen, 2 Suffolk St, Dublin 2, D02 KX03
Access from the city centre: You are there
Food: What I would term ‘tourist pub fare’ – Irish stew, soups, sandwiches, toasties and then burgers, etc.
Sport: Various screens for various sports – football, GAA, horse racing, etc
TVs: See ‘sport’
Music: Quiet enough to have a conversation; also trad events
Family-friendliness: Plenty of food options if it’s not late/too crowded
Pub-crawl-ability: High – Bowes, Cassidys, Mulligans, The Palace Bar, JR Mahon’s, The Oval, Porterhouse Temple Bar, Tapped and many, many more are all within a very short stroll
Haunted: With its literary cred, a ghost would be a big plus, but no obvious stories
Local sites of note: Grafton Street, Trinity College, NATIONAL WAX MUSEUM, Irish Whiskey Museum…you are central
Other notes: Not to be confused with O’Neill’s Victorian Pub & Townhouse on Pearse Street
Socials: Nothing updated for quite a few years