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

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

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: The Stag’s Head

Outside The Stag's HeadLook! We’ve gone south of the river! It does sometimes happen, if the right opportunity presents itself. And so, to The Stag’s Head.

While I had been to the pub at some point in the dim and distant past, long before I moved here, it was very much as a tourist. And while it does still feel a bit like a ‘tourist’ bar, with its well-preserved Victorian interior (see also The Long Hall, The Hut, The Palace Bar) and Temple Bar-adjacent location, there is some genuine local colour as well. That’s what brought me in most recently: a friend’s birthday party, and she chose the location because it has a very niche place in Irish music history: it is (so the story goes) where Neil Hannon and Thomas Walsh dreamt up The Duckworth-Lewis Method – birthing the world’s finest cricket pop over (more than) a few pints. As an aside, the two have a new song out under Walsh’s aegis – check it out!

Stag's Head mosaicBut back to the pub itself: while the ground floor hosts the main bar and generous snug, there are smaller spots to sit with a pint or a few friends, or even to host a corporate or life event – indeed, before we settled into the upstairs lounge, with its view over the alleyway, a wedding was in the process of winding down. The beer selection is mostly the usual suspects – a well-poured Guinness and the odd Five Lamps ‘crafty’ option – so not necessarily my first choice, but it’s worth noting that for a city centre Guinness, it’s not a bad price, and certainly cheaper than many (likely most) in the immediate vicinity.

A pint in the upstairs barIt does feel a bit less welcoming than the places I more typically frequent, with a bit of a wait to be served, even without a queue, but some of that may be that the staff had already slogged through a wedding, and it was by that point a Friday night, so very understandable, especially in this part of town. But it is a beautifully-maintained spot, and there are times when simply relaxing with friends over a Guinness is called for.

The parting glass - a blurry photo of the main barAnd as a folklore nerd, I’m curious to see what one of their Folklore & Fairies evenings is all about, though I suspect it would be full of the louder spectrum of The People From Where I Came From, and I tend to avoid that crowd – still, perhaps something to try with a few friends rounded up in advance…if more local craft beer options were on offer, I’d be in!

Where: The Stag’s Head, 1 Dame Ct, Dublin, D02 TW84
Access from the city centre: You are there
Food: Toasties, oysters, pub grub
Sport: All sorts on the televisions
TVs: TVs in the main bar
Music: Live trad bands Fridays & Saturdays; stereo soundtrack was ‘wedding favourites’ on my visit
Family-friendliness: Likely depends on the time of day
Pub-crawl-ability: High – very short walk to The Oak/The Beer Temple, O’Neill’s, The Lord Edward, The Bull & Castle, The Brazen Head, The Porterhouse and all of Temple Bar, if you hate your money
Local sites of note: Olympia Theatre, Dublin Castle, Dublin City Hall, Chester Beatty Library, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublinia
Haunted: Surely a quality candidate for ghosts, if ghosts like dark wood and leather
Other notes: Extensive whiskey selection

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: Cassidys

I must admit, the immediate vicinity of this week’s pub is something I typically speed through as quickly as possibly – the visual clutter from its side of Westmoreland Street is not the most inviting vista, featuring, as it does, the National Wax Museum (NATIONAL WAX MUSEUM), lots of plastic major-brand logos, and CCT Dublin’s building in that block must be one of the worst insults to architecture in any European capital (and I have a soft spot for a lot of ‘ugly’ kinda-Brutalist buildings, but this…is not that). The other side is no better, with a KFC, Kingdom of Sweets, various shops selling tourist tat and TGI Fridays all taking up just slightly too much space in their tired-looking mostly-19th century buildings, some very much in need of a bit of kind restoration.

The bar at CassidysAnd yet, walk a few blocks in most directions, and you’re back in ‘tourist’ Dublin, with (slightly) cleaner streets, and Trinity College and the Central Bank/Parliament buildings just steps away – even nearby Temple Bar tends to look tidy compared to this particular section of road. And while I’d been curious about the nerdy art outside Cassidys – yes, finally, we’ve come to the pub itself – it’s only open in the evenings, and as a Tired Person who doesn’t tend to go out very late, I’d never had the chance to stop in – and, frankly, being-targeted-by-Star-Wars-art notwithstanding, I didn’t expect much from this spot – but that all changed, thanks to the hot weather that doesn’t seem to be ending.

Waxy candles at CassidysI had an event at the National Library of Ireland, and happened to be walking home past Cassidys as it was opening – and, as wearing adult clothes and walking to and from the Library had happened at the hottest part of the day, I thought I’d break up the trip home and grab something low-key to cool off; I’d heard they had a craft tap or two, so surely, I could find a refreshing Ambush or something along those lines. I was more than a little pleasantly surprised to discover that this was not a case of a few local beers, but what could nearly map onto a good bar in Brooklyn or Philly in terms of selection – local beers were represented by the likes of Rye River, Trouble, Rascals, Barrelhead, Crafty Bear and The White Hag – and not always with the most commonly-spotted beers, either. UK craft came in the form of Thornbridge, with the US represented by craft and crafty options: Cigar City, Blue Moon, Stone and Lagunitas (feel free to judge some as you prefer). There was also plenty of normal-person beer – Guinness, of course, but also Estrella, Murphy’s and Erdinger, plus a few others – and that’s before mentioning the cans.

FEELING SEENAdd in the mix of gothy-meets-nerdy dive bar décor – drippy red candles, dark wood, Star Wars art (again – I realize I am being Personally Targeted), beer and beer-adjacent stickers everywhere – and I immediately felt at home – indeed, I was annoyed with myself for not having known just what was hidden away in this otherwise-best-avoided block of Dublin. Granted, there was also a slight sense in the air that the bar staff here had ‘seen things’ – indeed, they had to remove someone only shortly after opening, but it was all handled swiftly and as politely as possible, before it became a bigger problem – I’ve mentioned it before, but I am always thoroughly impressed by how well Dublin bar staff can defuse a situation before it becomes a larger issue; I’ve not seen it done nearly as well anywhere else I’ve lived – there’s probably a larger lesson of some sort there.

They don’t seem to update any social media or websites at a useful cadence, so perhaps that’s why they had not really been on my radar; IYKYK, I suppose. Well, now you know, and knowing, as I’m sure you’re aware, is half the battle…

Where: Cassidys, 27 Westmoreland St, Dublin, D02 PX77
Access from the city centre: You are in it
Food: Pizza, apparently
Sport: Not a priority
TVs: Didn’t see any
Music: Bit of a would-be metal-bar vibe, but plenty of indie faves mixed in
Family-friendliness: Let’s not
Pub-crawl-ability: High – The Palace Bar is a short walk, JR Mahon’s, Piper’s Corner, The Flowing Tide and many more are nearby; there’s also Temple Bar, top, but you know how to manage that
Local sites of note: Trinity College, NATIONAL WAX MUSEUM, Ha'Penny Bridge, GPO, Abbey Theatre
Haunted: I sense something…a presence I’ve not felt since…
Other notes: Handy whiteboard with wifi details, beer specials and events near the front – also, plenty of cans; not to be confused with the other Cassidys in D2

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: The Beer Temple

Inside The Beer TempleThis week, we are back to a Galway Bay pub – The Beer Temple. Opened in late 2021, it is the bright, Shiny and Chrome conjoined sibling to The Oak, whose dark wood and deep colours we’ve discussed previously. Somewhat ironically, as it’s very much a Craft Beer with a capital Craft pub, you can get a Guinness here – whereas the Guinness Enthusiast story took place mere steps away in The Oak. But given its city centre location, right on the tourist trail, you do get Guinness Amateurs: on more than one occasion, I’ve seen customers take their 3/4 filled pints and begin to walk off, and the patient barstaff have to call them back to tell them that no, they will get full pints, it’s just going to take a moment. While I can’t personally imagine walking off with a partially-filled glass I’d paid something in the neighbourhood of €7 for (still cheaper than many, if not most, pints around Temple Bar), perhaps it’s a tradition somewhere.

The tapsI’m drawn to The Beer Temple because they typically have a very interesting list of guest beers from other Irish breweries like Third Barrel, Lineman and Boundary, as well as some of the more unusual Galway Bay beers; my current obsession is I Hear You Like IPA, their cold IPA (is it a ‘real’ style? don't at me, it’s tasty). However, my most recent visit this past weekend was Purely Medicinal – I was incredibly thirsty after running 10K in the VHI Women’s Mini Marathon, in unusual-for-Ireland heat and sun, and desperately needed something isotonic and food so pairing a BRÚ IPA (plus a lot of VitHit Hydrate) with some halloumi fries was the order of the day.

Post-race refreshmentAgain, given its city centre location, The Beer Temple does get a lot of tourists, but quite frequently they are there specifically to find new-to-them beers, and on this visit, I ended up in a lovely chat with a few of them, offering tips on other places to go and beers to try, and I also got some great suggestions for their cities in return. I always advise they make sure not to skip The Oak, given that it’s literally on the other side of the wall, and that they can order from either bar, but it seems many do not notice it’s there, despite the two bars sharing a staircase and toilets – so this is part of my justification for having two separate entries – not just do the pubs have different VIBES, but they do seem to end up with different customers. Indeed, I do find I am usually visiting one or the other, rather than both, depending on what I’m in the mood for or what has brought me to this part of town.

And while all 18 taps may not always be on, I love the blackboard above the bar, listing out each beer – it’s a cliché I am always here for, even if Dave and Barbara aren’t necessarily the ones to refer me to it…

Where: The Beer Temple, 1-3 Parliament St, Temple Bar, Dublin 2, D02 AN28
Access from the city centre: You are in it – nearly everything touristy is within a 5-10 minute walk
Food: Usual Galway Bay menu
Sport: Not so much
TVs: Nope
Music: Always plenty of bangers on the speakers
Family-friendliness: All Galway Bay pubs are pretty family-friendly, but I would usually head to The Oak if in town with the smaller one
Pub-crawl-ability: High – Temple Bar is right there if you enjoy watching money disappear, or hit up The Lord Edward, The Bull & Castle, The Christchurch Inn, Dudley’s, 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: Did the renovation unearth any ghosts? Or are they all up the road at The Lord Edward?
Other notes: Don’t be like me and forget there’s often a Dungarvan tap on The Oak side

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: The Palace Bar

The exterior of The Palace BarI know it’s been a minute, but between offspring, work, Eurovision and work travel, I had a lot on, so going out anywhere in Dublin wasn’t happening over the past few weeks, though going out in London for delicious cask mild and bitter was a nice bonus of the work travel.

On a side note that, back when I worked for dot-coms in the 1990s would have been a pop-up (this is before pop-up blockers were invented, children), I did very much enjoy a quick pint of ‘modern’ beer at The Kernel, but it’s always cask I seek out when on the Neighbouring Island, though I am happy to continue to report on the small-but-something cask resurgence happening here at places like The Black Sheep and the soon-to-be-reborn-again Underdog. Up North, homebrew stalwarts Get ‘Er Brewed have had a lovely series on cask by Matthew Curtis, and it was a nice coincidence to read the third part this week, especially the note on the cask line at Bullhouse East in Belfast, since I’m headed in that direction this weekend to celebrate a certain beer historian’s birthday. I was fortunate to live in places in the US with easily available cask – indeed, regular cask festivals – in both Philadelphia and Seattle, so I do hope that an increased focus on how great cask can be will encourage more of it on the island of Ireland – and this, dear reader, is where you would have closed your pop-up window, likely with an actual button, possibly animated, at the bottom of your window.

The stained glass inside The Palace BarAnd so back to regular service, and this week’s Dublin pub – which does contain unused (or possibly entirely prop) hand pulls, as it happens – but we’ll give it a pass. We’re heading back into more touristy realms and crossing the river to the south side, but only just; The Palace Bar sits in between visitor hotspots like Temple Bar and Trinity College (plus, uh, the National Wax Museum), but I’ve always found it a pleasant place to stop in, even with a crowd, as you can still get beers from Rye River or The White Hag in addition to your Guinness, plus a top-notch whiskey selection. And it has a proper history to it – the Victorian interior is genuine, not the sort of ersatz mix you find in IrIsH pUbS elsewhere (and, regrettably, even in Dublin, sometimes – anyone who spends much time in my neighbourhood knows exactly which recently-renovated pub I’m likely being wildly unfair about; honestly, all would be forgiven if they would just put in one local craft line – sorry, yet another digression). But from its beautiful exterior which regularly features on the sort of ‘pubs of Dublin’ posters tourists buy at Carrolls to the dark-wood interior, it would be well worth a look-in, even without the welcome variety of beers, though I’m partial to the (often less crowded) back room with its glorious stained glass. Indeed, Publin has an entire feature on stained glass in Dublin pubs that is also well worth your time.

And there are the literary associations as well – of course, Brendan Behan, since few pubs, like the previously-featured Cat & Cage and Doyles Corner,  do not claim him as a former regular, but also the likes of Patrick Kavanagh (currently the subject of much anger in our household, at least for a few more weeks, since the Leaving Cert requires much memorization of his works), Flann O'Brien (whose typewriter is here), Con Houlihan. Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney, per The Inquirer. As it’s been here since 1823, per the bar, or 1828 after conversion from a corset factory, according to Whisky Magazine, it’s quite an old pub by Dublin standards; we simply don’t have much in the way of really old pubs in the city, regardless of what some might say, but this certainly works.

Inside The Palace BarGiven its location and atmosphere, it gets more than its share of tourists; I don’t think I’ve ever been in and not heard a North American accent declare that yes, it’s true, the Guinness really is just better here – it’s a modern-day ritual. And it’s not one I mind, either, though I suspect the ‘better’ has much more to do with ambience and the fact that Diageo makes sure the tap lines in the city are clean, but that’s fine. It’s the same reason I’m always seeking out cask when I head to England, or traditional lagers in Germany…we all have our fair share of broadly similar craft beers – and I absolutely adore our local Irish ones, and they are my usual go-tos – but if I’m travelling, I want the local speciality.

I have great respect for a pub like The Palace Bar that lets you experience both options – your ‘classic’ Irish pub with a pint of Guinness, plus the opportunity to support your smaller, local independent breweries. And for the whiskey nerd or novice, there’s plenty to try, and lots of expert guidance, too – don’t be too shy to ask.

Where: The Palace Bar, 21 Fleet St, Temple Bar, Dublin 2, D02 H950
Access from the city centre: You are in it
Food: Crisps?
Sport: GAA: hurling is especially big here
TVs: I’ve only ever seen the GAA on, though it’s possible there’s other sport
Music: Keep an eye out for evening trad sessions
Family-friendliness: I’ve seen kids in with crisps, but they are probably bored
Pub-crawl-ability: High – Temple Bar if that is your thing, but other, better options within a short walk include Bowes, The Flowing Tide, Mulligan’s, The Stag’s Head, Cassidys, The Oval, JR Mahon’s
Local sites of note: Trinity College, NATIONAL WAX MUSEUM, Ha’Penny Bridge, GPO, Abbey Theatre
Haunted: Perhaps haunted by its former Irish Times regulars?
Other notes: In the same family since the 1940s; now (edited 20/08/2023) also stocking Ballykilcavan bottles – huzzah!

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 Christchurch Inn, Dudley’s, 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