Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: Rascals HQ

At the bar at RascalsDublin is not – and this may shock some – a pizza destination. When we first moved, finding halfway-decent delivery pizza was something of a challenge. Granted, as ex-New Yorkers, we are picky; it was probably equally challenging when we lived in Seattle, so perhaps there’s some kind of damp weather equals mediocre pizza law of nature. As an aside, the worst pizza I’ve ever had was in Belgium, though, so even relative proximity to Italy doesn’t seem to come into it – but I digress. In many places in the US, you can find ‘taproom pizza’ – it’s usually pretty decent, and it at least goes well with the often-excellent beer on, with some examples being truly wonderful.

Beer Ladies at RascalsFortunately, Dublin has Rascals – where excellent pizza and fantastic beers meet. Although I often feel I don’t get there often enough, I seem to be darkening their doors quite frequently of late; they are top of mind as we had a fun day out at their Happy Days Beer & Food Festival last weekend (THERE WAS GOOD MEXICAN FOOD TOO, IT WAS A REVELATION), and they were kind enough to host a live episode of our little beer podcast earlier this year. In truth, they have been killing it recently with events of all stripes – a Father Ted night, some movie evenings here and there, a ska/beer release party last year, and a Eurovision screening in the offing, too – so much to enjoy!

Pints at RascalsFirst, though, some context for the visitor: Rascals is situated on a semi-industrial estate in Inchicore, with the brewery and restaurant all under one roof, so it’s much more of a ‘taproom’ than ‘pub’ vibe, and certainly not unlike many spots in the US or Canada in that respect; indeed, it reminds me very much of Victory before they had their renovation at their OG brewery in Downingtown, PA, USA, some years ago. I had never gotten around to doing the brewery tour before this past weekend’s festival, so I don’t think I had a sense of just how large it was, by local standards – so many tanks! As Rascals is one of the typical craft options you often seen at other pubs and bars around town, it makes sense that they need to keep cranking out their core beers like Happy Days, Yankee White and Wunderbar. But as with most taprooms, there’s always an interesting mix of pilot beers and one-offs only available on-site, and I always enjoy checking them out, even if they aren’t necessarily my sort of thing – and sometimes, they hit the jackpot with something like a gorgeous black IPA – looking at you, Rude Girl!

Inside the brewery at RascalsBut it’s also an incredibly family-friendly spot – even my weirdo kids can have their strange pizza needs catered to (to be fair, only the smaller one is weird now, and cannot manage exotic ingredients like ‘sauce’ on pizza). There are a few outdoor spots, too, with heaters for chilly weather.

It’s also worth noting they support the local football club, St Pat’s (as Bohs fans, we are required to boo here) – but given the size and budget of the League of Ireland, honestly, it’s just exciting to see the local teams get a look-in – the rivalries are still (mostly) friendly, and it’s great to be able to get locally-made beer at the teeny-tiny stadiums.

In short, given that the 13 bus goes from just outside my house directly to Rascals, I should get there (even) more often!

Where: Rascals HQ, Goldenbridge Estate, Tyrconnell Rd, Inchicore, Dublin, D08 HF68
Access from the city centre: Buses 13, C1, C2, C3, C4, G1, G2, Luas Red Line to Blackhorse
Food: PIZZA
Sport: Sometimes, if it’s a big game
TVs: Screens for certain events
Music: DJ nights and a very professional sound system; always a fantastic mix
Family-friendliness: Children welcome at the usual times
Pub-crawl-ability: Low – but there is a distillery next door, and an interesting bar nearby in The Saint – and it’s easy to hop on the Luas and head to Fidelity
Local sites of note: Stillgarden Distillery, Gravity Climbing Centre, Goldenbridge Cemetery
Haunted: Perhaps a candidate for a ‘modern liminal places’ hauntological experience
Other notes: Don’t miss their Instagram videos in advance of events – they are always very funny

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

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: BRÚ House Fairview

Inside BRÚ House Fairview2024 Edit: closed and re-opened as The Strand House.

While I do have a few pubs closer to the city centre in the Weirdo Dublin Pubs backlog, this week, we’re heading a bit further out to BRÚ House Fairview – (now) a part of the Galway Bay family that’s less likely to be intruded upon by tourists and/or the special type of Guinness Enthusiast we've discussed before – and yes, the particularly egregious story about one of them is still to come.

BRÚ and Galway Bay merged in 2021, with BRÚ’s then-head brewer Francesco Sottomano eventually heading to Lough Gill, where they have been making some fantastic beer of late, including a rare-for-Ireland bitter – perhaps an entry point for the future topic of ‘breweries I wish there were a car-free way to visit’ rant that you may hear parts of from time to time on the Beer Ladies Podcast (and not just from me). Mergers, though, were nothing new to the BRÚ team, who had previously hitched up with Carrig Brewery, with everything subsumed under the BRÚ name, in that instance. Post-Galway Bay merger, the BRÚ House in Fairview is the only one still operating with ‘BRÚ‘ in the name, but that aside, the only major change is the inclusion of more Galway Bay beers on tap, in addition to the BRÚ offerings, plus a few guests as well.

A bell jar beer canThat said, I have to admit I was a little bit – really, very mildly – annoyed when Galway Bay took over BRÚ; despite the fact that they ensured the BRÚ beers kept their identities and, indeed, began to put them on tap in their various other locations, it did mean that the food menu in Fairview also eventually became the standard Galway Bay menu. Now, there are plenty of good reasons for this, and I completely understand why it made economic sense, and, I’m sure, made things easier for the staff – I just really liked the veggie burger they used to offer that was quite different from the usual Galway Bay version – it was one that as a non-veggie, I still sought out regularly. Of course, I am easily mollified with the standard halloumi fries as an only moderately-less-healthy replacement, so all is forgiven on that front, especially when a steady supply of Weights & Measures is on offer.

Always, some Ted art - entertaining Father Stone, in this instanceWe’ve made some BRÚ House Fairview part of some family traditions since we moved to this side of the river; it’s one of two spots (along with the Cat and Cage) I like to go after getting my hair purpled-and-cut nearby, and it’s become the mid-point of our Halloween trick-or-treating journey with the smaller child – for the past 2 years, we’ve stopped in for an in-costume pint for me and a rare-treat Coke for her before turning around to hit the other side of Clonliffe Road (for the record, an excellent street for trick-or-treating) on our way back home. Like most other Galway Bay locations, there’s always a warm welcome for everyone, children included, and a lot of little nooks and crannies to settle in – plus a bit of Father Ted art. And with Fairview Park and its very impressive recently-redesigned playground just across the road, it’s often an easy sell, despite it being a longer walk than many of our other usual haunts. I’m reminded weekly when I’m trotting past on my way to or from my local Parkrun that I should sign up for more runs in the general area – there are a fair few just up the road in Clontarf, along the water – it would be a fantastic post-run pint location.

Yes, it's the back of the building, but it has some lovely brickworkIt’s also well worth mentioning BRÚ’s own beers, too – their lager is one of the few gluten-free options that really hits the mark for me, and the BRÚ IPA reminds me very favourably of Yards ESA – this is a Very Good Thing. With a selection of their core beers, plus the Urban Jungle range on tap alongside their Galway Bay stablemates, it means there is usually a very handy mix of styles and strengths.

All in all, it’s every inch the neighbourhood pub, and I’m always happy to have an excuse to pop in, whether it’s on my own, meeting friends or with the kids in tow. I’ve never quite managed to go on a day that made the pleasant little rooftop garden a good option, but someday…

Where: BRÚ House Fairview, 12 Fairview, Clontarf, Dublin 3, D03 C998
Access from the city centre: Buses 14, 15, 27; DART to Clontarf Road
Food: Typical Galway Bay pub grub menu
Sport: The usual big ones: football, rugby, GAA
TVs: In the main bar area
Music: Usually a nice soundtrack, also the odd bit of live music from time to time
Family-friendliness: Very high – Santa visits for photos before Christmas, usual Galway Bay kids’ menu
Pub-crawl-ability: Low, unless you prefer a walk up to The Yacht Bar in Clontarf, though Gaffney’s is very close for a more traditional pub experience
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: L. Mulligan. Grocer

Outside L. Mulligan. Grocer, at night. Some offspring pictured.I have a relatively small list of ‘must visit’ pubs that I recommend to overseas visitors, but, especially for those who are looking to sample local ingredients, craft beer and unique Irish whiskies, this week’s pub is very much in the top portion of that shortlist.

My first visit to L. Mulligan. Grocer, back in 2019, was an auspicious one. At that point, we knew we were moving to Dublin, but we were still waiting for the details and paperwork to fall into place. We had been looking at neighbourhoods online, though without knowing much more than what we could see and read there. We had made an initial connection with our relocation agent, who had what I can only describe as an idée fixe about which parts of Dublin were ‘appropriate’ for ‘people like us,’ and it was clear we had very different ideas on that front. I had heard nothing but good things about the beer and food at L. Mulligan. Grocer, and so made it a point of stopping in on a work trip to check it out, as well as the surrounding area, which looked from afar very much like one that was (shock!) suitable for ‘people like us.’

Halloween decor on that first L. Mulligan. Grocer visitI had an event at the nearby Lighthouse Cinema, so walking the extra 5 minutes from Smithfield to Stoneybatter was a no-brainer, and I immediately felt at home upon crossing the pub’s threshold. It was suitably dark and ‘pubby,’ but with a selection of unfamiliar-to-me (then) tap handles – definitely a good sign. I had a Trouble Dark Arts Porter and a lovely chat with everyone behind the bar; it was a quiet weekday, so a perfect way to do some fact-finding. I’d not been in long when a man came in and ordered a Guinness; upon being told they did not serve Guinness, but did have some alternatives from smaller local brewers, the man simply turned and walked out without another word. I was somewhat slack-jawed, but was told it happened not infrequently – indeed, I’ve now seen similar behaviour (and worse) at a number of local pubs – this is something we will be revisiting as a theme in this series. Don’t get me wrong, I like Guinness, but I find that specific type of Guinness Enthusiast very odd indeed, and they are legion – but I digress.

My sortie around the area after the pub visit confirmed that this was much more our style than the suburban, South Dublin newish-build/bland gated townhouse ‘communities’ we had been sent – having a pub like this nearby could only be a positive; this was somewhere I could see visiting regularly, and I made a mental note to do so. But such things took a little bit longer than expected…

Inside L. Mulligan....atmospheric.Fast-forward a global move, a pandemic (during which we enjoyed some online whiskey tastings and take-out meals from the crew) and pubs finally being able to re-open, and we finally had the chance to start visiting L. Mulligan. Grocer more often. Although we did not end up moving especially close to it, we’re not terribly far, either, and we’ve enjoyed some lovely events there – pumpkin painting two years in a row for Halloween (accompanied by Trouble Brewing’s Pumpkin Ale, of course), community book sales and, most recently, a lovely belated birthday dinner for me (there was a Lough Gill Mac Nutty Brown Ale on tap, so BROWN ALE JOY was all around).

While there are many wonderful Dublin restaurants featuring local ingredients, it’s more of a rarity for them to also promote Irish beer and spirits beyond those from the familiar megacorporations; on the flip side, relatively few pubs champion Irish meat, cheese and produce as well as drinks from smaller local producers; L. Mulligan. Grocer, covers that full spectrum, and they do so in a friendly, inclusive way – it’s never pretentious, it’s simply baked into its DNA.

Sometimes the longer walk is just what you need…

Where: L. Mulligan. Grocer, 18 Stoneybatter, Dublin 7, D07 KN77
Access from the city centre: Buses 37, 39, 39A, 70, 83, 83A; Luas Red Line, 30ish minute walk
Food: Fab chips and charcuterie boards, ‘fancy’ mains – definitely not your typical pub grub
Sport: Nope
TVs: Nope
Music: Has always been GenX-friendly on my visits
Family-friendliness: Elevated-but-approachable kids’ menu & house-made soft drinks
Pub-crawl-ability: Medium-High: The Cobblestone, The Belfry, The Barber’s Bar & Bonobo are quite close; Fidelity and (at present) The Underdog aren’t too much further away
Local sites of note: The Lighthouse Cinema, Arbour Hill Cemetery, TUD Grangegorman
Haunted: Haven’t heard any stories, but… Update: CASUAL GHOSTLY VIBES
Other notes: Amazing whiskey selection

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: The Back Page

Exterior of The Back Page, with Mrs Doyle saying 'Go on, Bohs'Yes, we’re back in Phibsborough again. I promise we will visit other parts of Dublin, but hey, I like convenience, and, as of this writing, am badly jet-lagged for nerd reasons. This week’s pub: The Back Page.

In my home country, I have an aversion to most sports bars; they tend to blare sports I don’t watch, to a largely That Kind of Dude crowd, and frequently have terrible beer. There are, of course, some exceptions to this – there are many excellent soccer pubs all over the US and Canada, and those tend to be a little more my scene: first off, they focus on a sport I actually follow, they tend to have a better beer selection, and are (often) more generally welcoming.

That said, I have also lived various places where the local soccer/football pub was one to be actively avoided; when I moved to East Ham in the 1990s, my brief sole visit to my closest pub, The Hammers, was enough to put me off West Ham for life, and I never made the mistake of crossing their threshold (or, indeed, going outside on game days) ever again – instead, it was the ‘Spoons that was a longer walk away for a safe pint for me.

Inside The Back PageBut soccer (and it is frequently/possibly more often ‘soccer’ vs ‘football’ here in Ireland) in Dublin is a very different beast. League of Ireland teams don’t have anything like the deep pockets their counterparts in the UK (or, for that, Germany, Italy, Spain or even the US) have, and it means that they simply don’t have the same level of awareness; most of the kids in my 8-year-old’s class have a favourite Premiere League or La Liga player, but they would be hard-pressed to pick a local hero – and many of these kids, mine included, actually play for various local teams’ youth sides. But that is a reason I love going to The Back Page – they support Irish soccer, especially at the hyperlocal level – and it’s not just the men’s teams. Best of all, you can nerd out over all things soccer over a good pint – there’s nearly always a fresh Scraggy Bay or other Irish craft option or two on – there was a new-to-me beer from Hopfully on my last visit.

A pint of Hopfully inside The Back PageOne of my favourite activities at The Back Page has been their series of soccer history/book club talks in their upstairs bar. I’ve learned so much from the guest speakers, not just about our own local team (c’mon Bohs!), but about the surprisingly complicated history of professional sport in Ireland in general. And, as mentioned, it’s been a fantastic spot to catch women’s soccer games, so I know we’ll be spending some quality time there during the Women’s World Cup this summer.

But it’s not just for footy fans – while all manner of sport is catered for, it’s equally possible to just swing by for a quick pint, borrow a board game, get into a ping-pong tournament or look at a book from The Back Page Book Club – and if you bring in a sporty title for the pub, you get a free pint.

The mural of Mrs Doyle on the outer wall gives you a great sense of what’s on inside: a sporty, but not sport-exclusive welcome, a good sense of humour, and some real local spirit. I always enjoy stopping in for a pint.

Where: The Back Page, 199 Phibsborough Rd, Phibsborough, Dublin 7, D07 A0X2
Access from the city centre: Buses 4, 9, 46A, 140, 155, Luas Green Line, 25ish minute walk
Food: Excellent pizzas, flatbreads & now, chicken
Sport: Yes, all of it: Premiere League, League of Ireland, Six Nations, F1, etc…
TVs: Everywhere!
Music: Usually top ’90s tunes; also karaoke (in a separate room) – you have been warned
Family-friendliness: Can get crowded on big game days, but fine during the usual hours
Pub-crawl-ability: High – Doyle’s Corner, The Boh, The Hut & The Bald Eagle are all within a short walk; a few others closer to the Luas
Local sites of note: Dalymount Park, Mater Hospital, Blessington Street Basin, Mountjoy Prison, TUD Grangegorman
Haunted: No obvious signs
Other notes: I need to do a better job of checking for the only North American sport I really enjoy – ice hockey

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: Juno

I’ll be honest, my expectations were not high.Juno

I only had a passing familiarity with The Red Parrot as it was – an awareness of its reputation as an old-man pub, saw it absolutely packed outside on Croke Park game days and had picked up the odd takeaway pint during the no-wet-pubs time, but that was more or less the extent of my knowledge. Still, it was (and is) my closest pub, so when it was evident that it was not going to re-open in avian guise, and that some fairly significant refurbishment was taking place, I kept a close eye on developments.

When the new signage appeared, I assumed ‘Juno‘ was a nod to Seán O’Casey, born just down the road. As there is now a cocktail called The Paycock on the menu, that would seem to track. I’m not sure there’s a hard-and-fast rule that every pub in Dublin needs to be mentioned in Ulysses and/or has a Brendan Behan anecdote, I am all for bringing in other local writers. I had zero familiarity with the ‘beers, beats and Battlestar Galactica’ reference now above the front door, but much cooler Young People have told me it’s to do with The Office; I’m not one of those people who is Not Into Television as their personality, I just never had time to catch that one (see also: Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Scrubs, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos – essentially anything else on American television between about 1992-2008 or so), so I really had no reference point as far as what kind of ambience it was suggesting inside. But the fresh paint outside was still encouraging, and clearly, much work was happening in the pub’s interior. The initial keg delivery was – for me – underwhelming, with the usual suspects you see at nearly every pub, but I was still curious.

A pint at JunoIn the summer of 2022, the doors began to occasionally open on weekends; as I walk by several times a day as a matter of course, it was important to stop in to investigate, For Science. At the time, only the main bar was open, and the single craft-y tap was a Brewdog one, but the Guinness was in good shape, and the décor was a good start – freshly-painted all around, with framed pictures and art that celebrated Dublin (local art, Three Castles Burning, Shane MacGowan) without veering into theme pub territory, and an assurance that more was coming – at the time, the bar on the other side of the building was still very much under construction. I became cautiously optimistic that good things were not far off, that time I walked past a burning dumpster next to the bar notwithstanding – sometimes, these things happen when you live in the city.

I caught a glimpse of the other part of the bar during the holidays, when they opened briefly to host an excellent local arts and craft market, and I really liked what I saw – it wasn’t quite ready for prime time yet, but the bar area had been beautifully tidied up, and some lovely snugs with comfy seating were being readied.

Fast-forward to early 2023, when Juno began offering food and independent Irish beer, and it was time for a re-visit or two. This time, all the impressions were not just positive, but outright excited. Scraggy Bay is one of my favourite Irish beers to find on tap anywhere, and the freshly-tapped keg did not disappoint. The White Hag’s Little Fawn is another excellent go-to, and I had a wander around the entire space, eventually settling in one of the snugs, which now has not only a sofa and comfy chairs, but books of an especially eclectic thrift-shop selection – something I am very much here for.

A snug at JunoSome may find the upcycled church fittings in this part of the pub a little too ‘hipster’ for them, but I’ve always had a soft spot for that kind of thing, so I am a fan. They are now definitely ticking all the boxes for ‘great spot for solo pint and book’ and as they are mere steps from my door, I am not remotely mad about this. And, depending on when you read this, we have either just recorded and/or just dropped a Beer Ladies Podcast episode on what makes a great pub, and we spent a fair amount of time on furniture and atmosphere – it’s worth considering.

In fact, I’m thrilled that all my ‘hipster bar with boring beer’ misgivings have been proven wrong – there’s a lot of character here, some excellent beer and a variety of spaces to sit or stand. I’m sure it’s going to become absolutely slammed on game or concert days going forward, but that’s no bad thing – and being able to pop over for ‘just the one’ on quieter days looks like a regular future activity.

It’s a worthy addition to the list.

Where: Juno, 58 Dorset Street Lower, Dublin 1, D01 EP86
Access from the city centre: Buses 1, 11, 13, 16, 40, 122; 25ish minute walk
Food: Brand-new food menu has just launched
Sport: Screen for big games of all sorts – footy, rugby, GAA
TVs: Chiefly in the main bar
Music: Good mix of indie faves; no live music so far
Family-friendliness: Still trying to figure this one out…more testing required
Pub-crawl-ability: Medium; there are other pubs within a 10-15 minute walk, but the closest few are not terribly exciting
Local sites of note: Croke Park, Royal Canal, Mater Hospital
Haunted: Is there a ghostly taxidermied parrot? Only time will tell
Other notes: Some interesting cocktails and good mocktail selections, too, plus main-floor toilets

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: The Black Sheep

As promised last week, we’ll be visiting a number of Galway Bay pubs in this series; while one of the things I really enjoy about their various bars is that each has a bit of its own character and style, I’m particularly lucky that one of my favourites happens to be a relatively short walk away from my now-home – something of a happy accident. Let’s rewind.

I first encountered The Black Sheep on a work trip to Dublin in 2016; at the time, we were living in Seattle and had no plans to move (again). I recently came across the old WhatsApp group that was used to coordinate post-meeting sustenance and frivolity. In those conversations, I saw The Black Sheep described as ‘kind of like Brave Horse‘ – the now-shuttered bar in the middle of the Amazon campus where people would go to extend their desk-crying sessions over a pint – and also as ‘one of those hipster beer places, but more Irish.’ However, I was also warned that it was ‘far from most other things’ and that the area was ‘kind of sketch, but no guns, so all cool!’ Thus prepared, I set out with a small group of fellow Amazonian beer nerds after a long day of meetings, looking at the ‘trek’ from the offices to the supposedly ‘sketch’ Northside of Dublin as quite an adventure.

Cask Corner in the Before-TimesIf memory serves, there was mild disappointment from some in the group on the nearly-complete lack of ‘sketch,’ but everyone was very pleased to find The Black Sheep had something for everyone in our group – cask ale (sigh – more on this in a moment), some good Galway Bay beers, a guest tap or two that catered to other tastes, and possibly the oddest nachos I’ve ever come across – the chips on the night were certainly not made from corn, but whether that was a case of ‘the kitchen ran out and improvised’ or whether that was the recipe at the time, I cannot say – jumping ahead briefly, I am pleased to report the current state of Black Sheep nachos is very different – in a good way! On that occasion, we sat at one of the big tables on the Cask Corner (sob! again!) side of the pub, but I made a firm mental note of the comfy couch by the window and the bar seating on the other side, and immediately made plans to return on my own a few days later. For the record, Untappd tells me that on that initial visit, I had a White Hag Little Fawn and Galway Bay’s own Pilot 014 – Dortmunder Lager.

Some of the Father Ted artAs planned, I stopped back in for a solo pint on the couch before heading home, taking in the Father Ted wall decorations and the usual tin brewery signs, I thought about what a thoroughly pleasant pub it was, and that this was somewhere I would visit regularly if I lived nearby. As that was not even a vague idea, I thought no more of it, but continued to make a point of stopping in on subsequent work trips – the fact that it was not especially close to the Amazon offices, but was quite convenient for Chapters Books may well have played a part; once again, Untappd let me know that in March of 2019, I had some lovely cask pints – from Kirkstall, in this case – over some newly-acquired books. And then, later that year I got the unexpected offer to take a new role in Dublin and, well – here we are.

While we initially lived south of the river for a year – a combination of a pandemic, a relocation agent who refused to believe that we actually meant it when we said we were ‘city people’ and the ongoing housing crisis in Ireland, when we finally had the chance to move to the Northside, we took it, our landlord from the old house telling us, in all seriousness, that we were ‘so brave,’ notwithstanding. (Some Southside Dubliners have a very skewed idea of what happens once you cross the Liffey – it’s a thing). While we had not planned it, we ended up only a few minutes’ walk from The Black Sheep; although it’s not quite close enough to be our local, it’s a very easy sell to head in that direction.

The first pint backWhen pubs could finally re-open, after the last of the major Covid restrictions were lifted in January of 2022, The Black Sheep was the first place I headed to get a pint at the bar (again, for the record, a BRU Xtra Pale Ale and a Weights + Measures). Sadly, a combination of Brexit and all things pandemic meant that the Cask Corner did not return to its full function…I give it a bit of a sad look and a sigh each time I’m there, but I am always hopeful that it may, at some point, go back into at least partial use. But even without that, there is much to enjoy at The Black Sheep: the standard Galway Bay beers are always in tip-top shape (I am especially partial to the aforementioned Weights + Measures as well as the Bay Ale), and the guest taps have been varied and interesting, featuring other Irish breweries as well as some international options.

And I have to say, again, that the nachos are the real thing now – although sister bar Taco Libre has closed, some of the skill that went into their excellent chips and guac has settled into The Black Sheep. I am always a fan of the halloumi fries, too, and seem to find an excuse to get them at every Galway Bay location.

Also worth noting is the absence of televisions; for the non-sportsball fan, The Black Sheep can be an oasis of calm when every other pub is full because ‘the game’ is on. And while there are many times when I do want to go see whichever ‘the game’ is on, it’s nice to have alternatives when it’s not your sport or team – or just to have that relaxing solo pint.

That couch is still a very comfortable spot, and it’s wild that I can simply walk there any time.

April 2023 update: Cask Corner lives again! Keep an eye on The Black Sheep’s socials on Thursdays – there’s a lot of good stuff headed our way.

Where: The Black Sheep, 61 Capel St, Rotunda, Dublin
Access from the city centre: 10 minute walk, 46 bus, Luas Green Line
Food: Galway Bay standard pub grub menu
Sport: Nope
TVs: Nope
Music: You are safe here, fellow Gen Xers
Family-friendliness: Kids’ menu, always a welcome at the usual times
Pub-crawl-ability: High – all of Capel Street is right there (edit: and now, the reborn Underdog!), from early houses like Slattery’s to other Galway Bay pubs like The Oak and The Beer Temple on Dame Street if you keep walking…also a short walk to Smithfield and beyond…
Local sites of note: Capel Street, Chapters Books, Wolfe Tone Square, Jervis Centre, ILAC Centre, 14 Henrietta Street, King’s Inns
Haunted: Only by the absence of cask ale, unless anyone has a story to share CASK IS BACK!
Other notes: Everything is on a single floor – no need to trek to a basement toilet; excellent bottle list

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: Doyle’s Corner

Exterior of Doyle's CornerWe’re heading back to Phibsborough/Phibsboro this week, with a visit to Doyle’s Corner.

Dublin pubs – and, to be fair, other businesses – have a habit of lending their names to road conjunctions. In the case of Doyle’s Corner, this has happened twice: originally known as Dunphy’s Corner from the 1870s, with the requisite Joycean name-check, the intersection in front of the pub has been called Doyle’s Corner since at least the early 1900s. Although built by Thomas Dunphy in 1873, allegedly with leftover stone from nearby St. Peter’s Church, the Dunphy name receded when John Doyle bought both this pub and The Boh(emian) across the road. There is, like last week’s featured pub, The Cat & Cage, also a Brendan Behan connection, but there’s no evidence he offered to do any work here in exchange for a drink.

Although the pub’s name was changed (in the mid-2000s?) to celebrate Arthur Conan Doyle, it reverted to John Doyle’s, and then, re-opened in 2018 as Doyle’s Corner. For Dublin real estate enthusiasts/masochists, it’s worth noting that the pub sold for €4.2 million in 2006, but then had to ‘reduce its price‘ to €850,000 in 2011. These days, it’s a stretch to find many decent houses in Dublin for under that amount, much less a public one, but back to the bar…there are still some nods to Conan Doyle in the snug, with prints of various Sherlock Holmes illustrations on one wall.

The main bar at Doyle's CornerI never saw the pre-renovation interior, but I find the current atmosphere very pleasant, with distinct personalities in the two main floor sections. The main bar feels, well, pubby, and the snug, with its fireplace and wood, more ‘Irish pubby’ – at least, that’s how my brain likes to interpret it. But I would hasten to add that it feels ‘Irish pubby’ in the authentic sense, not in the came-in-a-kit regard you get from overseas ‘Irish pubs’ (and, sorry to say, at least one near me, though I will likely simply never mention that particular pub here). I seem to almost always end up next to the bookshelves near the front door, which is no complaint; it’s very comfortable and an ideal spot to be tucked away for a sneaky solo afternoon pint. And, given that I walk by the pub at least twice a day, it’s extremely handy for that solo pint for me – with bonus points given as I have never been accosted by That Guy here.

The snug at Doyle's CornerI confess I have not checked out the newer sports bar and/or party venue upstairs, which makes me feel like I’m cheating to some extent by mentioning it without that more thorough exploration, but I’m very happy with the spots I in which I tend to be placed downstairs, in both sections. The chief draw for me, beyond the convenience factor and comfortable seating, is, of course, a selection of independent Irish beers. There’s always Kinnegar Scraggy Bay on, and usually something from The White Hag, Trouble or Yellowbelly. Guinness is, of course, well-represented, so it does cater to a range of tastes, with some cocktails included in the lineup as well – the Island’s Edge is kept far off to one side, where it belongs.

Doyle’s Corner is very much a pub in my ‘regular circulation’ – a fresh pint of Scraggy Bay is always worth the walk.

Where: Doyle’s Corner, 160/161 Phibsborough Rd, Phibsborough, Dublin 7, D07 R26N
Access from the city centre: Buses 9, 40, 46A, 83, 140; Luas Green Line; 30ish minute walk
Food: Pub grub, excellent warm cookies on the dessert menu
Sport: Most major Premiere League & international football matches; rugby & GAA as well
TVs: An entire sports bar section upstairs; screens come down for big games in the main bar, TV in the snug
Music: You can program the music from your phone; also live music weekly
Family-friendliness: Kids’ menu; plenty of the smaller ones about at reasonable hours
Pub-crawl-ability: High – The Hut is right next door, The Boh across the street, The Bald Eagle and The Back Page just a few short blocks away in opposite directions, with a few more in the immediate area
Local sites of note: Dalymount Park, Blessington Street Basin, Mountjoy Prison, Mater Hospital
Haunted: Poltergeist? Allegedly a ‘noisy ghost‘ ‘terrorised patrons on the second floor‘ in the early 2000s
Other notes: Possibly the most pleasant women’s bathrooms in a pub, anywhere; also a list of cans and bottles from local breweries

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: Medium: The Ivy House, Fagan’s and Juno are all within a reasonable walk, but allow for strolling in between
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