Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: J. McNeill’s Pub

J McNeill's Pub - musical instruments in the windows

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.

Three ladies under the stairs in the pub, with your author in the middle. Does this count as a snug? Sure.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.

BeamishWe 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…

Pub fireplaceWhere: 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
Socials: Facebook

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: The Ivy House

Outside The Ivy HouseWelcome to the new home for Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs! If you’re a regular visitor, you’ll notice we’ve spun off to a new, stand-alone site, just in time for the first anniversary of this series, and we’ll be adding some new features and categories as we go. With that bit of housekeeping out of the way, we’re back to normal service with another Northside pub – The Ivy House in Drumcondra.

The Ivy House is in a lovely three-storey building (with the date ‘1809’ above the pediment…we’ll get back to that), so it’s quite a substantial place, but it could easily be argued that it’s two pubs in one. Although most visual interest is drawn by the frontage, the smaller, one-storey structure to the side could almost be overlooked, were it not for the arresting image of an older man – one Patrick Carthy, formerly of Carthy’s Bar, painted on the wall, and this part of the business is still known by his name. Indeed, despite living nearby and walking past regularly a few times a week (it is, after all, just past The Cat & Cage), I’d not really noticed the separate entrance. However, I finally had a chance to stop in the other day, and given the bitterly cold snap we’ve been having, its fireplace was a very welcome find.

Patrick CarthyMy perception of The Ivy House before this visit was that is was more restaurant than pub; the larger main section is sleeky and modern – there’s a lot of dark blue – with many booths and tall tables, though there is a fireplace toward the back, albeit a large open and, again, very modern one. It’s less cozy and more efficient, with a large menu suiting most tastes (including my still-rather-picky younger offspring). Indeed, they always seem to be doing a roaring brunch trade at the weekends, and when I’m out and about for a solo pint, I frequently stop at The Cat & Cage, rather than The Ivy House, simply out of habit, but also because on those occasions I’m looking more for a nice spot to sit and relax, rather than go for a full meal.

Inside Carthy's BarBut as I happened to be in the area and wanted to get inside as soon as possible, I finally stopped in to the Carthy’s Bar side of The Ivy House, and ‘side’ is the key word here – it has an entirely separate entrance around the corner, complete with its own frontage. And, once inside, it’s quite the contrast from the other side of The Ivy House – it’s every bit the old-man-pub, complete with the aforementioned fireplace – not a woodburner, but lovely an warm. On my afternoon visit, there were at least 3 different sports on – possibly one for each person in the pub at that moment – but nothing was too loud or distracting. And as the bar serves both sides of the pub, it’s easy to order one of the local craft options – they always seem to have Hope Hop-on on tap – or a Guinness or Beamish from either spot.

There are also old photographs, press clippings and other memorabilia from the pub’s history on the walls within Carthy’s Bar; while the date mentioned above certainly doesn’t relate to the current building, which was built around 1910, there were buildings on this site long beforehand, so it’s not unreasonable to assume the earlier date does correspond to an earlier establishment.

And if you’re keen to make a pub crawl out of it, you can easily cheat by hitting both sides of the bar before moving on to The Cat & Cage and/or further afield – you do have to use the exterior doors, after all…

Where: The Ivy House, 114 Drumcondra Rd Upper, Drumcondra, Dublin, D09 CX74
Access from the city centre: Buses 1, 11, 13, 16, 44
Food: Extensive food menu, including brunch and children’s options
Sport: Football, GAA, snooker…everything seems to be covered
TVs: Quite a few around both sides of the pub
Music: Always seems to be a pleasant playlist of late ’90s-early 2000s jams when I’m in
Family-friendliness: Certainly on the larger main side; feels more adult-orientated on the snug side
Pub-crawl-ability: Medium – very short walk to the Cat & Cage, slightly longer to Fagan’s & Kennedy’s
Haunted: No obvious circulating lore, but why not? Brendan Behan does appear in some photos…
Local sites of note: Glasnevin Cemetery, National Botanic Gardens, DCU All Hallows & St Patrick’s campuses, Croke Park
Other notes: There’s also a beer garden for better weather
Socials: Instagram, Facebook

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: The King’s Inn

Outside The King's InnI was busy doing Important Work Stuff in London last week (only time for one half-pint of cask, alas, but at least it was a lovely Sussex Best), but we’re back at it with Weirdo Dublin Pubs this week.

It would be hard to think of a pub with a more lived-in, traditional interior than The King’s Inn, but in fact, the current owners only took it over and refurbished it in 2018 – and after it had been shut for 3 years. The same team behind The Flowing Tide (more recently spruced up and discussed here) worked their magic here first, and their attention to detail shows. The prints and pictures around the pub are all genuine nods to the immediate neighbourhood – 18th century Henrietta Street and the enormous King’s Inns (plural, though the pub is singular) complex of roughly the same vintage, still a key site of the country’s legal training, so law-related themes are very much on view inside the pub. And it does come by the age posted outside honestly – although it was originally built as a residence, it has been a licensed pub since at least the 1860s, if not before, so the ‘since 1842’ signage is certainly more accurate than many with a date advertised outside.

Inside The King's InnWhile there is a peculiarly ersatz suit of armour, the overall feeling is still much more genuine; you don’t feel you’ve been transported into an Oirish Pub, with its random assortment of road signs in Irish and black-and-white images of stone walls, or, possibly even more worthy of hand-wringing, a Wetherspoons with all its LOOK AT OUR LOCAL CULTURE posturing (though to be fair, the ‘Spoons would at least have cask).

The 'suit of armour'Lack of cask ale notwithstanding, and that’s hardly unusual here, there is nothing to complain about with the beer here: traditional though it may feel, with plenty of well-poured Guinness, there are also taps for the likes of Trouble, Kinnegar and The White Hag – indeed, similar to the lineup in their sister pub nearer the river. Unfortunately, on my most recent visit they had run out of toasties – the only reason my smaller companion for the afternoon had agreed to leave the house – and so we had to move on elsewhere, but as there is so much in the immediate vicinity, it was easily managed. Ironically, the very next day I listened to the Publin episode about toasties, so there must have been something in the air.

Although it is generally handy for me as it’s a relatively short walk, it’s also extremely useful for anyone visiting the excellent 14 Henrietta Street museum, a must-do for anyone touring Dublin who wants to find out more about the Georgian architecture all around, and how this area’s fortunes changed over time – there are few better social history museums anywhere, and given how difficult Dublin likes to make it to look after its built heritage, the entire street, anchored by The King’s Inn is an example of how it can be done well.

Hopefully, next time I head over, the toasties will be back.

Where: The King’s Inn, 42 Bolton St, Dublin, D01 EH56
Access from the city centre: Buses 1, 11, 13, 40, 46A, 122, Luas Green Line, 20ish minute walk
Food: Toasties, crisps
Sport: ‘All the big sports’ per their Instagram, but certainly plenty of GAA
TVs: For the sport
Music: Gentle indie tunes on my last visit, but turned down for the sport
Family-friendliness: No one seemed to mind my smaller food & drink partner of a Sunday afternoon, but it could easily be too crowded for the younger set at peak times
Pub-crawl-ability: High – Underdog, The Black Sheep, Bonobo, Bar 1661, The Church, Slattery’s…you could easily carry on to L. Mulligan, Grocer and/or Fidelity
Local sites of note: 14 Henrietta Street, King’s Inns, The Hungry Tree, Smithfield
Haunted: Given the history of the local area, the entire street must be haunted
Other notes: Lovely fireplace in the back for chilly and damp weather, very dog-friendly

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: The Cat & Cage

Recemt;y-repainted exterior of The Cat & CageThe sign outside The Cat & Cage declares that it has been trading here since 1690; its website repeats this assertion, though footage of the pub from the 1960s gives the founding date as 1750. While I am typically not inclined to take the ‘ancient’ claims of most Dublin pubs at face value, I’m more open to an earlier date for The Cat & Cage – and not just because I happen to think it’s a wonderful pub, though that helps.

It was known by the 1780s as ‘…a famous old punch house…kept by a witty blacksmith’ in an 1860s review of Sydney, Lady Morgan’s autobiography; her mother had kept a country retreat nearby. And the literary references do not end there – no, not an appearance in Ulysses, but rather, in Sean O’Casey’s Pictures in the Hallway. The playwright was a regular and, at least per his book, got into a few scrapes here. In the same vein, Brendan Behan (allegedly) painted the exterior and was, so the story goes, at least partially paid in pints. His statue, not a terribly far walk away on the Royal Canal, would no doubt approve. But, back to ‘just how old is this pub?’

Once again, The Cat & Cage was described in the 1870s as ‘a very old two-storey thatched tavern’ whose heyday had been ‘thirty and forty years ago’ – a similar jab was levied at the pub in the early 2010s, so, it seems, ’twas ever thus. The insistence that a pub was once pretty fantastic, but now, leaves something to be desired reminds me very much of M.R. James’s rules for ghost stories: ‘For the ghost story a slight haze of distance is desirable. ‘Thirty years ago,’ ‘Not long before the war’, are very proper openings.‘ There seems to be a parallel tendency to think a pub is ‘past it’ – but the recently-renovated Cat & Cage is anything but…even if it’s not entirely clear exactly how old it is.

The snug inside The Cat & CageBut let’s look at what it looks like now: the exterior could easily pass for anything between ‘improved’ 18th century to late 19th century, while the interior has benefitted from a thoughtful facelift, marrying exposed stone with modern lights, design and seating, plus an old-school snug and an airy upstairs space that kept things ticking over as a bottle shop-and-takeaway-pizza spot during lockdowns, while the renovation in the main pub was happening downstairs. There are two sets of taps downstairs, one with the usual suspects of Guinness, Heineken and Lagunitas, but with a few always-on local craft taps from Trouble and Rascals. The other side of the bar, which opens into another, wallpapered room, features some other craft options, often from Scandinavia or Spain, and other locals like Wicklow Wolf or Whiplash. The upstairs lounge – formerly Knead, the aforementioned pizza-and-beer spot, also has a few taps, and some lovely bottles and cans.

A pint inside The Cat & CageI love that each part of The Cat & Cage has its own personality (and a variety of beer options), and that the renovation did a great job of showing off some of the building’s historic fabric, but allowed it to be very comfortable and modern at the same time. Given the pub’s age, regardless of which date is ‘correct,’ it’s nice to see it move with the times, but retain the aspects that give it character. And if I put on my amateur architectural historian hat – those archaeology degrees give me just enough knowledge to be dangerous, if not wholly accurate – I’d be willing to wager on something in between the two dates, and perhaps even to consider something a bit older, albeit spottily recorded. There would have been a small settlement here in the 17th century, and the church and churchyard just a short walk away was old enough to have been ‘dilapidated’ and needed a rebuild by the 1740s; nearby Belvedere House dates to the 1660s-70s, and given that The Cat & Cage was established enough to be a postal stop and coaching inn that featured in the 1798 rebellion, well…there are certainly possibilities. And while I could go do actual research, as with The Bald Eagle, it’s also nice to leave a bit of a mystery – and I’d rather just relax and enjoy a pint.

Fun wallpaper at The Cat & CageAnd that brings me to the other positive of this pub; it’s great for kicking back with other (grownup) friends, yet they will also happily handle my smaller child’s bizarro no-sauce pizza order without blinking if it’s a family afternoon or evening out. And while I sometimes feel that I need to campaign for more mac & cheese options in Ireland – why should the US have all the fun when the cheese here is an order of magnitude better? – the recently-returned-to-the-menu mac & cheese suppli are the best bar snacks around. I may have, on occasion, stopped in just to get some. Well, and a pint, but that goes without saying, and having a real variety of beers that aren’t all 6%+ helps keep things going.

I have yet to collect any specific ghost stories, but let’s just say I wouldn’t be mad about it – a resident spook would be a perfect fit for a pub with such a heritage.

Plaster likely isn't all that old, but it's atmosphericWhere: The Cat & Cage, 74 Drumcondra Road Upper, Drumcondra, Dublin, D09X620
Access from the city centre: Buses 1, 11, 13, 16, 44
Food: Pizza, tacos, pub grub, gorgeous mac & cheese suppli
Sport: Most major Premiere League & international football matches
TVs: A few small ones, with a screen that comes down for bigger games
Music: Often top 80s and 90s jams on the speakers, though not live music
Family-friendliness: No specific kids’ menu, but smaller sizes are available and children are welcome
Pub-crawl-ability: Low-Medium: it could be done, but would require a fair bit of walking between stops
Local sites of note: DCU St Patrick’s & All Hallows Campuses, Drumcondra Church & Churchyard, Griffith Avenue, Belvedere House, Croke Park, Tolka Park
Haunted: One would hope so – vibes
Other notes: Excellent bottle/can list