It’s getting out of hand. Really out of hand. These days, every city from Amsterdam to Zurich has an Irish pub.
It’s reached the stage, in fact, that the point of Irish pubs, the reason they’re imitated across the world (usually badly), is getting lost. So, given that you’ve probably sampled the sanitised version in your own hometown, why not give the original a try?
Put simply, there aren’t any pubs like Dublin pubs. The clichés are, largely, all true: The hospitality is legendary, the beer sacred, the history rich, and both drinkers and staff characterful. But none of these fully account for that one, elusive element so missing from foreign imitators yet ever-present in the originals. Ambience. You can’t bottle it, you can’t explain it, and sometimes, you can’t even define it. But in Dublin’s pubs, you can’t miss it. And it’s ace.
For a taste of a Dublin Friday night as it’s meant to be — i.e. not overrun by English stag parties making merry at others’ expense — you can’t beat the labyrinthine old-school chaos of Kehoe’s (9 South Anne Street, 677 8312). Most nights of the week it’s busy, but on Fridays, the place — earthy in the extreme, with little respect paid to those after high-concept design or faint touches of modernism — heaves with an after-work crowd unlike any other. There’s no whingeing about colleagues or whining about pay; rather, everyone realises that work is best left in the office and that the pub is best savoured for drinking. The scruffy upstairs room was once the lounge of now-dead owner John Kehoe, and has nary been changed since he was in residence. He’d doubtless appreciate the jollity carried out in his name nightly.
You will, of course, find Guinness in most every pub in Dublin. But you’re unlikely to find a pint as good as those served to a crowd of droll locals and thirsty visitors at Mulligan’s (8 Poolbeg Street, 677 5582). The quality of the black stuff here has taken on almost mythic proportions and, though the difference may be barely noticeable to the non-connoisseur, you can at least be assured you won’t get a bad pint in what is a pleasingly shabby, typically Dublin setting.
Of course, there are other beers available in Dublin, and the cream of them can be found at the Porterhouse Brewing Company (16-18 Parliament Street, 679 8847). One of the two finest microbreweries in the city (the other is the Dublin Brewing Company at 141-146 North King Street, 872 8622, open only for tours by appointment), the Porterhouse doles out its own delicious beers, alongside a hand-picked selection from around the world, to reverential but friendly locals. The food’s good, too, and the Temple Bar location and understated, tastefully woody decor perfect.
As Dublin pubs go, Davy Byrne’s (21 Duke Street, 677 5217) is not especially memorable. The drinks are decent enough, the staff not unfriendly and the decor only so-so. However, if you’re a literary buff — and many who visit both Dublin and Davy’s are — then this pub should be your first port of call. For it’s here that Leopold Bloom had a glass of burgundy and a gorgonzola sandwich in Ulysses, the most famous book by Dublin’s most famous literary son, James Joyce. For that reason, it’s not to be missed.
This writer’s favourite Dub pub, though, is the Stag’s Head (1 Dame Court, 679 3701). Furnished with deep, dark woods, dim lighting and the driest bar staff in the western world, it’s everything a pub should be, save for open on Sundays. Grab a pint and some grub — the food here is terrific — take a seat in the cosy snug and you’ll never want to leave. After all, that’s why you came. Isn’t it?