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: 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: The Hut

Outside The HutIn contrast to last week’s visit to The Big Romance, this time, for the week that’s in it, as they say here, it seemed appropriate to share a pub that doesn’t serve any real craft beer, and isn’t much on the tourist trail, but does tick all the boxes for what people from elsewhere – as well as the local neighbourhood – (should) think of when they conjure up ‘Dublin pub’ in their heads, Guinness included, of course.

And so to The Hut: while The Long Hall rightly lands on many a must-visit list, with its beautiful Victorian interior, The Hut gives it more than a run for its money, with its tiled floor, dark wood bar, converted gaslights and mirrors galore, and that perfectly-poured pint of Guinness won’t set you back quite as much here in Phibsborough (€‎5.80 at last check) as it will in the city centre, even though it’s only a relatively short distance out. The fact that it’s a spot I need to walk by several times a day makes it all the more convenient for me personally, and on a chilly, wet day, sometimes that’s just what you need. I stopped in this week to catch a bit of the action from Cheltenham (for those not in the know, I had a horse racing blog for a decade – yes, I should probably fix it up a bit, even if I don’t write anything nowadays) over a quiet pint, and it’s the ideal spot for it – this is when Old Man Pubs come into their own, especially if you’re keeping an ear out for tips.

Inside The HutBut The Hut has its surprises as well – the small upstairs bar hosts music events, and sometimes, there are quite big names there on the down-low; it’s tough to beat seeing your favourite father-daughter folk duo a short walk from your home on a school night, even (especially?) if it wasn’t an official gig. It’s a wonderful space for a small, intimate show, and it’s well worth keeping an eye out for other folk- and trad-themed evenings.

Shh, don't tell!Interior notwithstanding, there’s nothing fancy nor downtrodden about The Hut – this is neither gastropub nor dive bar, just an authentic, old-school pub. Indeed, if it were magically transported to North America or continental Europe and deposited in a city centre (or worse, in a strip mall) as an ‘IRISH PUB,’ it would probably be dinged for not having any rural signage (something that would be wildly out of place here, of course) or random old photos around the place. But that’s what gives it its character; it’s a true urban pub, and it just gets on with it as it has done since the 19th century.

And as for the name – well, it seems it’s a bit of an open question

Where: The Hut, 159 Phibsborough Rd, Phibsborough, Dublin, D07 HA21
Access from the city centre: Buses 9, 40, 46A, 83, 140; Luas Green Line; 30ish minute walk
Food: Irish beef stew, as per the sign outside, plus some old-school pub classics
Sport: All of them. Horse racing, football, GAA, rugby…
TVs: In both sides of the downstairs bar(s)
Music: Live sessions upstairs
Family-friendliness: Not much for the kids to do
Pub-crawl-ability: High – Doyle’s Corner 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: Well, if Doyle’s Corner is, perhaps their ghost wanders through the shared wall
Other notes: You’re probably not really coming here for a meal, but perfect for a relaxed pint