As is the case for countless Dublin pubs – indeed, for countless pubs across Ireland – J. McNeill’s Pub purports to be quite a different business, at least partially; in this instance, a music shop. However, as with the many pubs that were once also grocers (insofar as licensing purposes required) or other sorts of local shops, there is very much more than a grain of truth in this case. Indeed, J. McNeill’s did begin life as a musical instrument shop, back in 1834, albeit a few doors further down Capel Street, though the music business moved out of Dublin a good 20 years ago, and J McNeill’s has been ‘just a pub’ ever since.
But it retains a strong musical tradition, from the instruments in the window to the nightly-ish trad sessions in the main bar, and the wealth of photographs of well-known musicians throughout the pub. While the entrance and front bar are rather small, the pubs winds its way back in slightly eccentric fashion, with a series of not-quite-snugs (you may decide for yourself whether our seating area pictured here, with your own fair author deep under the stairs, counts as a snug) to a cozy back room with another fireplace, as well as a heated outdoor area, which on our visit was rather smoky, as outdoor areas tend to be, but given how central this is, it’s rare to have much of an outdoor offering at all.
Beer-wise, there’s only a single local craft tap – Wicklow Wolf on our visit – but it does change hands from time to time. However, given that many trad pubs are Diageo-only shops, it’s nice to have at least one alternative option. Not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with a Guinness with a trad session, but it is pleasant to have a few more choices. There is some well-kept Beamish from the folks at Heineken as well (one wonders if the Beamish is back after an our long national Islands Edge nightmare ended – excellent news, if so), which is what I opted for on this occasion.
We didn’t stay for the session, as it happens, but it did look like it was going to be a good one; plenty of regulars were arriving for it just as we were leaving, which is always a good sign.
All in all, J McNeill’s is a great little spot on Capel Street for those seeking out a more traditional pub experience vs a bar or club setting, but within easy walking distance of a wide variety of options if your afternoon or evening (or even morning, if you started just down the road at Slattery’s at 7 am – no judgement, I mean, we’ve recorded a Beer Ladies Podcast episode on early houses there, as you do) is just getting started…
Where: J. McNeill’s Pub, 140 Capel St, North City, Dublin, D01 F9R2
Access from the city centre: Buses 13, 27, 54A, 77A, 123, 150, 151; 12ish minute walk
Food: Toasties and the usual peanuts and crisps
Sport: GAA, rugby, football, etc
TVs: Scattered here and there around the pub
Music: Trad session most evenings
Family-friendliness: Probably not the best spot for the littles
Pub-crawl-ability: High – Capel Street is lined with pubs and bars, including Slattery’s, The Boar’s Head, The Black Sheep and The Underdog, to pick just a few, with even more like The Beer Temple/The Oak and The Lord Edward just across the river…
Haunted: No obvious lore, but the walls look like they’ve seen things…
Local sites of note: Capel Street, Jervis Centre, National Leprechaun Museum, Henry Street shopping area
Other notes: Two lovely fireplaces