Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: Mema’s

The bar at Mema's

In our discussion of Slattery’s last week, we mentioned that in-use early house licenses are becoming ever-more-rare, and this week’s pub is one that held such a license in its previous incarnation as The Metro, but nowadays, it’s business-hours-as-usual at Mema’s on Parnell Street. But that may be one of the few ‘as usual’ elements of this comfortable bar – few other Dublin pubs have a decorated pizza oven or cocktail towers, though fear not, Guinness enthusiasts – you’re well looked-after, too.

A pint of Rye River at Mema'sAnd yet, while some of those elements may not be what tourists envision when they think ‘Irish pub,’ Mema’s feels very much part of the fabric of the neighbourhood. One of the reasons I especially enjoy stopping in – beyond the comfortable seating options – is their support for independent Irish beer. There is always Ambush on from Trouble, and usually something from Rye River as well, plus a few other wild cards. The same can be said for their championing smaller Irish distillers, and some of the cocktails are a great way to showcase those producers (perhaps not, it must be said, in the ‘tower’ format, but in your standard-sized cocktail, absolutely).

The beer garden at Mema'sThere’s also what sometimes feels like a secret beer garden, which is a welcome respite on Parnell Street, and Mema’s is definitely one of those pubs that seems, TARDIS-like, to be bigger on the inside. In addition, it’s a handy spot for us Northside folk to meet friends, with the Luas just outside.  And speaking of meeting friends, it’s an ideal spot for a group hang (if you make a reservation, obviously – don’t be That Group that shows up with 15 people and no booking) – there are many seating options, and something for nearly every taste.

While early opening hours may be a thing of the past, Mema’s more than makes up for that with a slate of interesting events, music and drink options. The fact that it’s a handy walk for me is merely a bonus!

Where: 155 R803, Rotunda, Dublin
Access from the city centre: 15 minute walk; buses 1, 11, 9, 13, 16, 44, 46, 155, Luas Green Line
Food: Pizza, wings, chips
Sport: Not a sportsball spot
TVs: If they exist, they are well-hidden
Music: Usually a great indie vibe and some live music and comedy gigs
Family-friendliness: More of a post-uni scene, but there is pizza…
Pub-crawl-ability: Medium-high – The Big Romance, Kimchi Hophouse, The Flowing Tide, The Confession Box and Piper's Corner are not far at all
Local sites of note: Mountjoy Square, Rotunda Hospital, Hugh Lane Gallery, Garden of Remembrance, Abbey Theatre
Haunted: There could absolutely be haunted furniture or antiques; someone should start a rumour
Other notes: Lots of friendly doggos
Socials: Instagram, Facebook

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: Slattery’s

Outside Slattery's on Capel StreetWhat, you might ask, is an early house? If you’re not a Dublin local, this may not be a familiar phrase, but this week, we’re heading to one of the city’s very few remaining such establishments – Slattery’s. For the uninitiated, an early house is a pub with a special license allowing it to open at 7 am. While most pubs can open at 10.30, and a fair few do, it’s usually breakfast or tea and coffee people are going for then – you don’t have to assume Airport Rules apply. But in the early houses, no one would look askance at that 7 am pint, as the original aim of the licensing was to offer a pub experience for those working unsociable hours; back when the rules were drawn up, that meant dock workers, market traders and the like, but the tradition continues for health care practitioners coming off night shifts and others in a similar position – they could enjoy their time-shifted after-work pint. Nowadays, though, early houses that actually exercise their early-opening options are few and far between, and for that reason, Slattery’s is one of a very few go-to options – though even they don’t throw open the doors until 9 am.

The main bar at Slattery'sI’ve only done the (relatively) early-morning visit there a few times, and in both cases, it was For Science – once to scope out the best spot to record a Beer Ladies Podcast episode, and the second time to actually make the recording, though it’s certainly not our finest hour when it comes to sound quality. Even at 9 am, there can be a fair-sized crowd, especially with North American tourists whose flights landed at 6 am and they are waiting to get into their hotel rooms. For them, Airport Rules certainly seem to apply, and they can be liberal with their breakfast Guinnesses (though as an overnight flight in coach is a generally awful experience, no shade here for them).

Upstairs at Slattery'sAnd it is the Guinness most seem to be coming for; there aren’t any craft options, but they have added both 0.0 and the Heineken 0.0 of late, so there are alcohol-free options for those who want to have that morning pint, but also a reasonably productive day. Slattery’s has a classic Irish pub interior, with lots of dark wood and deep colours, some snugs and various nooks and crannies, as well as tributes to local historical and musical figures throughout the bar. And it does draw both that curious tourist and a steady local crowd, so it’s always a lively mix.

I’d still love to see at least one local craft tap some day, but when in the mood for a Guinness, it’s a fine spot.

Where: 129 Capel St, North City, Dublin 1, D01 YN83
Access from the city centre: Buses 13, 27, 49, 77A, 83, 151, Luas Red Line to Jervis or 12-ish minute walk
Food: Breakfast, bar snacks and all the other usual meals
Sport: All the big sports are on
TVs: In various spots throughout
Music: MOR tunes and live music options
Family-friendliness: There is a kids’ menu and they are most welcome at the usual (and slightly unusual) times
Pub-crawl-ability: High – the many pubs and bars of Capel Street include Pantibar, J McNeil’s Pub, The Black Sheep, Underdog, to name just a few; The Hacienda is just down the road, and The King’s Inn and Bonobo are also quite close, – Fidelity isn’t so far, either…
Local sites of note: Capel Street, Four Courts, Collins Barracks, National Leprechaun Museum, at some point, the Fruit & Veg Market will reopen…
Haunted: There is the Ghost Story Gathering upstairs…
Other notes: Not to be confused with Slattery’s in D4
Socials: Instagram

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: Grogan’s

Toasties and pints at Grogan'sThis week, we are journeying to one of those ‘needs no introduction’ pubs that’s simply part of the fabric here in Dublin, and sometimes, you just need a pint and a toastie. And so, to Grogan’s.

While the cash-only policy is, thankfully, gone, everything else is old-school in the right way. The slightly scuffed, but art-covered walls, the jumbled stools and tables, the mix of regulars and tourists and the just-right toasties that go perfectly with your pint are all present and accounted for. While Grogan’s – more correctly, Grogan’s Castle Lounge – has been a pub since 1899, the present incarnation has been going strong since the 1970s, when it became a renowned literary haunt for the likes of Patrick Kavanagh and Flann O'Brien. And while its old-school cred is very much deserved, it’s a progressive sort of old-school: Grogan’s was one of the first pubs in Dublin that served women without a fuss – and if you haven’t picked up Ali Dunworth’s recent book, A Compendium of Irish Pints, well…you should! It’s a fascinating look at the many nuances of ‘pints’ here in Ireland, and the relevant section here on how Grogan’s led the way on ‘allowing’ women to drink pints (rather than half-pints, or ‘glasses’ as they are more usually known here) IN FULL VIEW OF MALE CUSTOMERS…it was a whole thing! We also had Ali on the Beer Ladies Podcast in the season we just wrapped up, so do give a listen.

The colourful lightbox with regulars' faces on the wall at Grogan'sAnd, speaking of podcasts, there’s an entire episode of Three Castles Burning dedicated to Grogan’s, and it is very much worth your time; Donal Fallon’s always-excellent podcast is required listening for anyone visiting or living in Dublin, and it’s a fascinating story. You know when a pub has generated this much affection over the years, there’s likely a reason for it.

And while I personally tend to go to quieter pubs most of the time, it’s hard to beat Grogan’s for people-watching (inside or outside), and it’s an ideal place to meet someone as it’s so central. The toastie (with or without ham – your choice) is a perfect quick bite, and it’s especially welcome in this part of town, where the options are pricier/larger sit-down meals or the odd packet of crisps. Beer-wise, there’s obviously plenty of Guinness on offer (both full-fat and 0.0), plus O’Hara’s as a local craft choice, and there is also Beamish, Murphy’s and the lesser-spotted draught Harp (at least here in Dublin – it’s much more common in Belfast), along with the usual macro suspects.

While it’s rare to find any empty seats, Grogran’s is also the kind of pub where if you simply wait a bit, something may open up, or you may be invited to join an existing party and have a chat. You may as well…

Where: 15 William St S, Dublin 2, D02 H336
Access from the city centre: You are very central
Food: Toasties
Sport: Only verbal gymnastics
TVs: No
Music: Not here
Family-friendliness: You do see kids brought in as tourists, but it’s awfully crowded for them; still, toasties!
Pub-crawl-ability: High – The Long Hall, The Hairy Lemon, Caribou, Peter's Pub, Sinnot's Bar and Bar Rua are all within stumbling distance, with many more beyond
Local sites of note: George’s Street Arcade, Gaiety Theatre, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin Castle, Chester Beatty, Craft Central (IYKYK)
Haunted: No well-known stories, but surely, at least a few old regulars would like to return…
Other notes: Grogan’s is open from 10.30 am, so you can always beat the crowds with a mid-morning tea
Socials: Instagram

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: The Bull & Castle

Gargoyle friend at The Bull & CastleBack in the day – you know, the late aughts to the mid-2010s – Ireland had very little going on from a craft beer perspective, especially compared to its neighbour across the Irish sea, or the larger one on the other side of the bigger body of water. And yet, a small-but-dedicated group of beer enthusiasts and homebrewers used to regularly meet and exchange notes at the subject of this week’s entry: The Bull & Castle.

While these days, the craft beer coterie tends to gather at The Underdog, there’s still plenty to enjoy at The Bull & Castle, and some amazing steak, to boot. Also: bonus ghost content! Well, dodgy ghost content, but surely, one expects nothing less. There is a literary connection, in any case, but it’s neither James Joyce nor Brendan Behan; it isn’t even Yeats!

The upstairs bar at The Bull & CastleBut back to the pub itself: The Bull & Castle is very much ‘sleek steakhouse with taxidermy and statuary’ downstairs, and if you’re simply looking for the bar, you need to head up the stairs. But before you do, it’s worth noting that the steak is top-notch; it’s part of the FX Buckley family, and if you are a meat-eater who hasn’t had their steak, well…you should probably get on that, whether at The Bull & Castle or one of their other locations around Dublin. Upstairs, there is also excellent food, but also a more pub-like atmosphere. There are a variety of local craft beer options: on my most recent visit, some Trouble, lots of O’Hara’s choices (also in bottles downstairs), including the house pale ale, The White Hag and others, plus a wider selection of ciders than you typically find in most places around town. It can feel a bit hidden, since you don't enter into the main bar right from the street as in so many other pubs, but that can add to the charm as well.

A goat friend downstairs at The Bull & CastleAnd, of course, there’s the aforementioned literary connection and ghost story. Poet James Clarence Mangan, whose bust can be seen watching over St Stephen’s Green, was born in a house on the site of The Bull & Castle, and legend has it that he makes his presence (absence?) known via cold spots and a melancholy atmosphere. Now, why he does this in the current building, which is not in any meaningful way the one in which he was born, merely on the same site, is a question for any passing mediums, but it’s a fun story. Regular visitors to my expanded universe will know we recently interviewed buildings archaeologist Dr James Wright on the Beer Ladies Podcast, and this connection certainly seems like one worth both revisiting for some mythbusting, as well as digging into for more concrete evidence – it’s entirely likely many other interesting stories could be unearthed as well.

While the street-level steakhouse feels more like an ‘occasion’ restaurant, don’t sleep on the bar upstairs; it’s a lovely spot with a lot of interesting history, both in recent events from a craft beer perspective, as well as of the more ‘shrouded in myth’ variety.

Where: 5-7 Lord Edward St, Dublin 2, D02 P634
Access from the city centre: Buses 27, 77A, 150, 151, 11-ish minute walk
Food: All the good steak, other smaller options in the upstairs bar
Sport: Big events
TVs: Some discreet televisions upstairs
Music: Jazzy downstairs, more chill vibes upstairs
Family-friendliness: All the FX Buckley steak places are great with families
Pub-crawl-ability: High – The Lord Edward, The Christchurch Inn, Tailor’s Hall, The Beer Temple/The Oak are all more or less in one direction, with The Thomas House, Love Tempo, Dudley’s, Swift, Arthur's and other Liberties spots (including a certain Guinness Storehouse) in the other; The Brazen Head is also a short walk away
Local sites of note: Christchurch Cathedral, Dublinia, St Audoen's Church, Guinness Storehouse, Vicar Street, Olympia Theatre, Dublin Castle
Haunted: Mangan likes the cold? Sure, why not?
Other notes: The side door going straight upstairs doesn’t always seem to be open, but when it is, it’s a welcome sight
Socials: Instagram

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: Caribou

A glass of beer, a candle and a cocktail menu at Caribou

After a bit of an unplanned break, we are back, and this week, we are heading into the city centre to check out Caribou – the new bar from the Animal Collective folk that has recently opened in the former P Mac’s spot. The recent spate of Galway Bay pub closures/rebrandings, including Against the Grain and BRÚ House Fairview (now The Strand House) has not boded well for Dublin-based craft beer fans; most of the re-opened pubs have had zero or, at best, one craft tap remaining; the shift from The Beer Market to The Christchurch Inn is – so far – the only relaunch bucking that apparent trend.

While P Mac’s was not part of the Galway Bay family – its sister pubs include Cassidys and Blackbird (the other P Mac’s in Dundrum closed a bit ago), and the family resemblance was best seen through the dark spaces and drippy, red candles – it was always a spot with a nice selection of Irish craft beer, and when its closured was announced, I know I was not the only person concerned that it might be relaunched as a Fake Oirish Pub, with all macro beer and diddly-eye music for tourists, especially given its location, a short walk from St Stephen’s Green. Fortunately for us beer nerds, Caribou has us covered, with a nice selection of Irish craft beer, plus some international choices – and there are plenty of standard offerings for The Normals, too, as well as some very interesting cocktails. There is also an impressive array of alcohol-free cans and mocktails that is worth noting.

The bar at CaribouThis is no surprise, though, as the other pubs in the group have always supported independent beer; we’ve covered Bonobo before (though wouldn’t it be improved by more housing nearby, instead of a vacant site? Well, that’s another story we won’t get into here), and Impala in Cork is lovely. I have yet to make it to Kodiak in Rathmines, but I had been past the OG Caribou in Galway and knew they had a good selection as well. Rather than find a new animal, the Caribou name has been transplanted to Dublin after the closure of the Galway spot, and very pleasant it is, too.

For anyone familiar with P Mac’s and its rather cavernous feel (not a bad thing, by my reckoning), the new look and feel at Caribou is light and airy, yet in discussions with the excellent staff, they said that not much had been done to the place, structurally. The removal of a snug near the front has opened up some windows that I would never have noticed before, and the new colour palette – lots of white, faded blues and mid-century modern wood – gives it an entirely different feel. And while the old red candles are gone, they have been replaced with white pillar candles – perhaps a nod to the old space? I am obliged to credit my fellow Beer Lady Katie Malone with this idea – and it’s a good one!

In the back at Caribou - couch, table and lamp

All told, it’s not terribly dissimilar to Bonobo in ambiance, and there are still some cosier spots toward the back for a more relaxed conversation – the absence of the front snug is no cause for concern, and I say this as someone who loves a good snug. I suspect it’s a trickier balance to get right than it might appear at first glance – there’s a difference between simply throwing together some charity shop furniture and hoping it gives off hipster vibes, versus having a more intentionally-designed space and aesthetic. There is another pub I won’t mention by name that seems to have attempted a similar ‘vibe’ and missed the mark; it ends up feeling rather impersonal and slightly chaotic (though the less-than-stellar service hasn’t helped with that). A lot of the warmth and welcome at Caribou does come from the staff, so they’ve done well in that regard, and my suspicion is that this is what cements that feel of the place. Even with a brand-new (brand-new retro?) facelift, it feels authentic in a way that some pubs and bars attempting to play in this space simply do not.

And given Caribou’s location, just around the corner from St Stephen’s News – Craft Central for Those In The Know – there’s no excuse not to have some great craft beer options, and a well-trained staff who know their stuff, so it’s great to see that tradition continue in this location. The red candles may have gone, and I did very much enjoy them, but I can still go to Cassidys for that vibe, but the new chilled-out feel that Caribou brings is most welcome in this part of Dublin.

Where: Caribou, 30 Stephen Street Lower, Dublin 2, D02 XY61
Access from the city centre: You are in it
Food: Only a drinks spot at present
Sport: Less sport, more chat
TVs: No obvious sign
Music: Bit of jazz, bit of indie
Family-friendliness: A more grown-up (or, at least, Elder Gen Z+) vibe
Pub-crawl-ability: High – The Hairy Lemon, Bar Rua, The Long Hall, Grogan’s, Peter’s Pub, Sinnot’s Bar and more are all within a brief stroll – and there are many more beyond
Local sites of note: St Stephen’s Green, Gaiety Theatre, Craft Central (absolutely a landmark for the beer nerds), Little Museum of Dublin, George’s Street Arcade
Haunted: There was that definitely-real incident with the hot dog ghost
Other notes: An ideal spot for a book and a pint
Socials: Instagram

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: Hynes’ Bar

Outside Hynes' BarFrom the exterior, Hynes’ Bar still looks to be an Old Man Pub; indeed, this was one of storied pintman Paddy Losty’s haunts, back in the day, and if you’re unfamiliar with the lore around Dublin pintmen, a visit to Publin for the backstory is well worth your time. But step inside, and it’s evident that Hynes’ Bar today welcomes a much broader array of regulars and characters (dogs included – this is Stoneybatter, after all), with a beautifully-restored interior, gorgeous beer garden and great lineup of local beers (Kinnegar, Trouble and Rascals, plus the usual suspects), cocktails and amazing food – plus well-curated tunes.

Blur or Oasis?On a recent Saturday evening, I found people making the most of the remaining visit from the sun in the beer garden, which comes complete with a DJ booth and Oasis-v-Blur cigarette disposal – a reference that here in Ireland is both a GenX comfort blanket and general Father Ted reference that even the younger set who don’t recall the 1990s will recognize – they know all about Fathers Dougal and Damo (though I note that as I write this, it’s the 30th anniversary of the release of Parklife, so I may crumble into dust before we’re through here – let’s see!). But the mural on one wall does pay homage to Paddy’s probably-apocryphal ‘wouldn’t be fond of drinking’ quote, so Old Stoneybatter is still here, too.

Inside Hynes' Bar

It could also be said that Old Stoneybatter persists in another way, too – Hynes’ Bar is one of several around town that hosts regular Irish language events, and you can get a discount on a pint if you order as gaeilge. While Stoneybatter was once considered one of the ‘…last Irish-speaking areas in Dublin,’ it’s probably better-known now internationally for its ‘cool‘ status, but don’t be put off by that; it comes by it pretty honestly, meaning that you can still find trad nights alongside DJ sets, open mic nights and all manner of pop-up markets and seasonal events, both at Hynes’ and in and around its excellent neighbours like L. Mulligan, Grocer and The Barber’s Bar, to namecheck just a few.

Beer garden at Hynes' BarAll told, it would be a challenge to find a more inclusive, welcoming spot, and the bao buns are absolutely fantastic. If the sun does come out again at some point, make a beeline for the beer garden; it’s a glorious spot.

Where: Hynes’ Bar, 79 Prussia St, Stoneybatter, Dublin 7, D07 FH51
Access from the city centre: Buses 37, 39, 39A, 46A, 70
Food: Currently Vietnamese-adjacent – bánh mì, spring rolls and more from The Streets
Sport: The odd pre-rugby pint, it seems
TVs: If they are still there, they are well-hidden
Music: It was lit at the club!
Family-friendliness: Probably more for the post-uni+ set
Pub-crawl-ability: High – L. Mulligan, Grocer, The Barber’s Bar, The Belfry, Kavanaugh’s, Walsh’s, The Glimmer Man, and only a short stroll to Smithfield for The Cobblestone, Fidelity
Local sites of note: TUD Grangegorman, local Sheela-na-Gig
Haunted: Is Paddy still looking for another pint?
Other notes: Dogs are very welcome – they could easily do their own pub crawl in Stoneybatter; keep an eye out for events and music nights on the socials
Socials: Instagram

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.
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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

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: Bowes

Bowes stained glass windowI don’t have the largest list of city centre Dublin pubs to recommend (yet!), simply because I’m not in the more touristy parts of town very often, but one pub in this area I do quite enjoy is Bowes. It really does tick all of the boxes for a Victorian pub out of central casting – dark interior, stained glass, wood panelling and slightly worn around the edges. The exact parameters of those edges have been under discussion for some time, as there have been numerous attempts to get permission to expand into the sadly-derelict Irish Yeast Company building abutting the pub, but there doesn’t seem to be a clear path for or against that happening at the moment.

The bar at BowesBut as of this writing, Bowes seems to be doing just fine as-is: in addition to the usual well-kept Guinness, there’s always an excellent whiskey selection, rivalling that of The Palace Bar, and a good variety of local craft beer – Kinnegar, O’Hara’s, Rye River – plus some useful non-alcoholic options. One speculates that this kind of non-whiskey variety was unimaginable when Bowes was a regular hangout for Irish Times journalists in decades past, but it does suit its current mix of Trinity College students, tourists and long-time regulars; on my visits, I’ve always found a wide range of ages, accents, genders, backgrounds and interests, all equally welcome.It’s not the kind of pub I usually go to in my own neighbourhood, largely because I’m more often out and about with family in those situations, but it’s an ideal spot for a real ‘pubby’ pub when meeting up with other grownup friends and kicking back with a pint or two.

Pints of Rye River at BowesFor me, Bowes combines the best features of Old Man Pubs – decor, vibe and unpretentiousness – with what I also expect on a good afternoon or evening out: local beer and whiskey, a more diverse crowd and a generally sound atmosphere. If someone could just point me to a ghost story (or create one), it would have everything…

Where: Bowe’s Lounge Bar, 31 Fleet St, Dublin 2, D02 DF77
Access from the city centre: You are there
Food: I’ve only ever seen crisps consumed, but the internet claims there are other snacks
Sport: Not sporty
TVs: Possibly an old one somewhere, but never seems to be on
Music: Fairly MOR, but never too loud; I’ve also been when it has been music-free
Family-friendliness: Leave the kids at home for this one
Pub-crawl-ability: High – Doyle’s is next door, but O’Neill’s, 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: It certainly looks and feels like it should be haunted
Local sites of note: Trinity College, Book of Kells, Grafton Street, NATIONAL WAX MUSEUM, Irish Whiskey Museum…you are as central as can be
Other notes: Handy coat/bag hooks, which more pubs should have
Socials: None seem active