The George: George’s St.

Did you ever find yourself in a conversation with someone in or around town where you might be talking about one pub or another? One of those conversations where you wind up delving deeper into the topic and end up discussing pubs in general. And you might be ten or fifteen minutes in when the person with whom you are conversing might turn around and ask you if ‘ ye ever drink in Mulligans at all?’ and before you get a chance to respond, the question will quickly be suffixed with a proclamation that ‘that place is a fuckin’ institution’. And of course you’ll tell them that you have, and agree that, yes, it is. But then you might wonder later on, or a few days after, if it really is an institute – and if it is, why?

The George is a pub that will leave you with no such quandaries. Established in 1985, a full eight years prior to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the Republic of Ireland, it is Dublin’s longest running and operational gaybar. A mecca for Dublin and indeed Ireland’s LGBTQ community – it’s a boozer that can unequivocally be described as a living, breathing, bona fide institution.

The George, in its entirety, is a sprawling multi-levelled space which plays host to karaoke, drag shows, bingo and plenty of other LGBTQ friendly activities. When we last visited – we found ourselves a bit early for all of that, so we opted instead to make our way into the side bar for a pint. The bar (which is actually the original pub) is now, in homage to a former long serving member of staff, known as Bridie’s Bar and is, according to some light research, colloquially referred to as ‘Jurassic’ by some locals – someone in the comments might enlighten us on this one. (Named so due to its housing of older clientele – thanks to @fionarhw on Instagram for a swift response there)

On a Sunday afternoon we find Bridie’s to be busy enough such that we have to settle for standing space. Carving out a few square feed toward the far end of the room, we find the atmosphere to be a calm and friendly one and we’re engaged in conversation of the same manner by a few lads at the bar as we order a round. Our drinks are dispatched hastily by a competent barwoman who’s seamless service of a sizeable-enough crowd is noted separately by a few of us. Guinness clocks in at an even and reasonable €5 and is a good pour at that.

Looking at the design and layout of the bar, objectively, we find it has its hits and its misses. Appearing to have been the beneficiary of a relatively recent refurbishment, Pintman Nº2 and I find the time to indulge in a short argument over the wooden panelling behind the bar – him being against and me being impartial. We agreed that the Romanesque windows, topped with their flourishes of stained glass, were a nice touch but also come to agree that the two large pillars that sit parallel to the bar serve to break up the space more than we’d have liked them to.

Our visit passes off mostly without incident. At one stage someone, somewhere in the premises, presumably opens a door or flips a switch that they weren’t supposed to. A noisy alarm sounds and in the grand Irish tradition of ignoring alarms in pubs everybody goes on about their business as the barwoman scrambles across the room to silence the alarm again. One or two of us can’t help but have a bit of a giggle when someone brings up the episode of the Simpsons where a functioning steel mill turns into an uber-gay dance club upon the sounding of the hometime klaxon.

I’m trying to wonder now whether or not it’s been apparent in all of the posts we’ve uploaded on DublinByPub thus far that we’re not members of the LGBTQ community. Presumably it has. Hopefully more appeant though, has been the fact that we most certainly espouse a policy of live and let live without judgement or prejudice. Of course we’d be lying if we said we didn’t carry subconscious prejudices that come with an upbringing in a de facto theocracy which institutionally heaped scorn and stigma upon those who identified as LGBTQ. Thankfully though, prejudices as these can be challenged. And we can think of no better or more enjoyable way to challenge them than sinking a few pints in a friendly atmosphere of a Sunday afternoon. Give it a try sometime, won’t you?

Fitzgerald’s: Aston Quay

Growing up in Ireland, you come to realise that certain phenomena can occur from time to time that there’s just no excuse for. Hindsight is certainly 20:20, and 20:20 puts a harsh and unforgiving light on things once they’re done. Garda Patrol, Dustin the Turkey at the Eurovision Song Contest, The ‘Ah Here Leave It Out’ woman getting paid fistfuls of cash to appear to drunken nightclubbers – to mention a few. All equally inexcusable and blatantly ridiculous moments in Irish social history. This is okay though. All of these were quite evidently outside of the norm and it’s even easy for us now, as it was back then, to hold our hands up as a nation and say- ‘mea culpa lads, things got a bit out of hand there.’

Some other things though, are so engrained into our national identity that coming to view them with any sense of their ostensible ridiculousness is a harder affair. This is something I came to realise a number of weeks ago having donated blood and mistiming a bus. Realising that another bus wouldn’t be leaving the terminus for at least another hour, I knew there was only one thing for it. And that one thing was to be delivered in a pint sized vessel complete with black body and a white head.

Sitting in the confines of the canteen in the Irish Blood Transfusion Service’s clinic in the architecturally striking Lafayette House (a building based on that which houses Bruxelles pub) I opted to text Pintman Nº2 – who, as luck would have it, was practically across the road in Fitzgerald’s. With haste, I gathered up as many complimentary pens as I could and set about correcting the pint’s-worth of liquid deficit I’d just underwent.

Arriving into the ornate surroundings of the pub I met with Pintman Nº2 and two other friends, one of whom happened to be a Brazilian native. Explaining where I’d just come from to Pintman Nº2, our other Irish companion interjected  with an enquiry as to whether the act of donating blood still begets a free pint of Guinness. Retrieving my drink from the barman, I explained that the practice had ended some years ago, and with a hearty gulp of my newly poured pint I exclaimed, to laughter that fell one short of unanimity, that you now have to provide your own pint.

Thereafter, our somewhat perplexed Brazilian companion then listened intently as three Irish nationals described the grand old tradition of swapping pints of porter for pints of blood. I’m still not sure if she actually believed us, and who really could blame her – I mean the act of giving stout to blood donors is, admittedly, ostensibly, a bit ridiculous. When you try and disassociate from the national psyche for a bit, that is.

Named presumably after the Fitzgerald part of its owners – The Louis Fitzgerald Group, Fitzgerald’s is included in a portfolio that boasts other such city gems as The Stag’s Head and Kehoe’s. Decorated with that familiar Victorian pub architecture sort of persuasion in mind, its features include tiled and wooden flooring, a long granite bar, dark wood and high ceilings. These all combine to create a cosy aesthetic along the front half of the pub’s narrow space, a space that is nicely illuminated with the aid of large mirrors which distribute the light effectively. It would be far too picky of us to fault the appearance of this half of the pub – it’s a fine looking shop.

The back half of the pub, however, we we’re less keen on. Opening up wide for a more restaurant sort of vibe, it contains lower seating along with the much dreaded carvery bar. But given that that particular feature is tucked away into a corner and not too imposing, I’ll forego the same style of rant that we decided to level upon poor Madigan’s and leave it by saying that we couldn’t, in all good faith, deduct too many points for the back section, not when it does such a fine job of keeping all the tourists from cluttering up the bar, trying to decide what pints to buy. Speaking of pints, the Guinness we found to be tasty and well poured, as it should be at €5.50 a pop!

All in all Fitzgerald’s is a fine aul bar that we’ll likely visit more than just the once again. Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re off to petition Guinness to bring back the donor’s pint, and then to try and figure out how to tell our Brazilian friend about the pints given to women just out of labour.

 

Kimchi Hophouse: Parnell St.

Occurring in the form of premises decorated with ephemera alluding to places and people of no significance to local culture – the overseas ‘Irish Bar’ is an ever-intriguing anomaly. Of course, we’re more than aware that most are likely a mere means to generate profit, but it’s sometimes still a difficult task to silence that voice in your head (that same one verbalises after a pint or two to ask the Garçon in McNulty’s in La-Rochelle whether he’s ever been to Ballyfermot) from bigging-up the fact that the most popular variant of drinking establishment, worldwide, is that which replicates your own native one.

It would, though, make you wonder how others feel about similar circumstances. What would, say a native Korean, think about Dublin’s flagship Korean watering hole: Kimchi-Hophouse? Answers on a postcard, please.

Sitting in the somewhat Asian district of Parnell Street: Kimchi-Hophouse trades in a premises that’s been involved in the purveying of intoxicants since 1848 and which, much to our delight, retains the signage bearing its former name: The Shakespeare. The reason for this we’re not sure of. Whether it was a decision based on finances or a deliberate nod to the past is uncertain, but we’re sure Will-o himself would approve. Past being prologue, and all that.

As it turns out, a Korean bar in Dublin isn’t that unusual in the grand scheme of things. The similarities between Korea and Ireland are many, with some even referring to Korea as the Ireland of Asia. It’s also well reported that Korea is a country not too dissimilar to ourselves when it comes to the partaking of a few social beverages. A fact that is easily evident when you consider that their national spirit – Soju, was the world’s best-selling type of liquor in 2017.

This is all good and well, but the 72-Billion KRW ($64M at the time of writing) question is whether this all translates to persons of Korean lineage running a good boozer? And using Kimchi-Hophouse as an example, the answer is yes. A narrow sort of pub, its appearance is characterised by a light blue and white colour scheme with homely wooden flooring underfoot. TVs are ubiquitous and my companion, a far more discerning football fan than I, agreed that the pub is a perfect setting in which to take in a match. The drink on offer comprises of both craft and mainstream, and the prices – all of which are helpfully displayed upon labels hung from the taps, are good. The Guinness was of a very high standard, costing a mere and moreish €4.50 a pint.

The overall vibe of the place is a buzzy one and the adjoining restaurant means there is plenty of movement from the kitchen which is situated somewhere toward the back of the pub. On any visit we’ve found the crowd to generally be a young one, with trendy inclinations. Many of them seem opt to occupy the smoking area out the back of the pub. The staff are sound too and our only complaint about the experience of the pub was an ordering process which seems to come into effect in the evening whereby one can only be served if they are standing within the confines of a relatively small section of the bar. This we found to be an unnecessary practice especially so when it was enforced with a strictness that meant a you’d miss out on the chance of service if you were merely a foot out of place.

But overall, we’re very fond of this boozer -having all the adventurousness of a departure from the norm with all of the comforts of the familiar – Kimchi-Hophouse is a pub we’ll definitely revisit, even if only to try some of this Soju stuff.

The Deer’s Head: Parnell St.

Lately in thinking about The Deer’s Head, we’ve been considering pub names in a bit more detail than we usually would. Our reason for this is that we’ve decided that The Deer’s Head is part of an exclusive-ish club, speaking in terms of the confines of Dublin City. Along with another four somewhat similarly named boozers – The Stag’s Head, The Boar’s Head, The Brazen Head and The Turk’s Head, this pub is a member of what we’ve decided to call The Headed Pubs Club. And recently we’ve become quite curious toward the genesis of these peculiar names. So much so that we don’t actually get around to speaking about the actual pub until about 8 paragraphs in, feel free to skip ahead if you want. We don’t mind.

Previously, having visited The Boar’s and The Stag’s head, we were content enough to think that these type of boozers were named so in accordance with their prized pieces of taxidermy. But reflecting further upon this, and considering the lack of taxidermy in The Deer’s Head, along with a hypothetical angry Turkish lad or two, we’ve decided that we don’t really know that much after all.

Now most of you may already know or will have observed that pub names in Ireland tend bear the name of the proprietor of the premises, or the former proprietor as the case may be. This is a result of the requirement to do so which was legislatively enshrined into rule by the Licensing Act of 1872. This act decreed that ‘Every licensed person shall cause to be painted or fixed, and shall keep painted or fixed on the premises in respect of which his license is granted, in a conspicuous place – his name’. Failure to abide by these directions would incur the hefty penalty of a £10 fine or a £20 fine in the case of repeat offenders.

This is all good and well, and certainly does explain the emblazoning of ‘O’Reilly’s’ upon the left hand side of the façade of The Deer’s Head – but having completed an unfruitful search in the text of the aforementioned Licensing Act for the words Stag, Boar, Brazen, Turk and head, I can’t say any closure was given to our sense of curiosity. What followed this would be a sluggish wade through torrents of digital articles pertaining to the listing of ‘the top ten maddest’, ‘the world’s most memorable’, ‘Ireland’s weirdest’ and ‘Britain’s funniest’ pub names. Progress was slow! But eventually we did find some material of substance.

Firstly, the point we need to make about the ‘headed’ pubs before any other is one that separates The Brazen Head from the pack. This is mostly because the genesis of The Brazen Head’s name falls outside the norm given that it stems from the occurrence of a nosey hooker falling afoul of an errant Williamite cannonball. But that most certainly is one for another day.

As for the rest of our ‘headed’ pubs, it would seem that these are so named with a hearty dollop of influence from the culture of the former oppressor. Yep, it seems that The Brits have had a certain propensity down through the years to name pubs in accordance to popular and/or local heraldry – heraldry being the act of attributing a coat of arms to your family name or bloodline, (very) broadly speaking. That, too, is not to say that people didn’t just name pubs after a boar that might have been moseying around the town, or a stag up in the park or the like. Pictorial symbols were most definitely the way to go back when the majority of your customer base was illiterate!

Overall though, it’s the sole inclusion of the head in each of the names we’re currently writing about that would leave us to believe that some coat of arms, while maybe not directly bringing it about, certainly influenced the naming of the boar’s, stag’s and deer’s head, or even a pub they were named after, or in the same vein as. And again, with The Turk’s head, we can say this with a higher degree of certainty, given that pubs of the same name are ten-a-penny across the water and are well reputed to be named  in accordance with heraldic symbolism that popped up during and after the crusades.

So that’s about the shape of it with regard to these pub names, enough to satisfy our curiosity at the least anyhow. And if you had asked us a few weeks ago, as we emerged from The Deer’s Head in a state of giddiness from what we had just encountered whether we’d end up writing anything akin to that which precedes this sentence – we would likely have rebutted your query with a response that was overwhelmingly laden with profanities. But still, here we are.

Having wandered in upon a whim following a couple in The Shakespeare we found ourselves greeted by a pub that we scantly remembered from our previous visit some years ago – not because of any renovations, just because of our brutal memories. To walk into this pub of 10 o’clock or so on a Friday evening as the summer is beginning to wane is to experience working class Dublin through multiple senses. The first is smell. Upon stepping beyond the threshold one encounters an aroma of feet and perspiration that starts with a degree of pungency before subsiding to a more minor consideration. The second sense affected is sight. No dress code applies here, snickers and steel toe boots are commonplace and certainly go some way to explaining the smell. Scores of hardy men gather around wooden plinths dancing like teenage girls would do to pop music in their bedrooms, empowered in the knowledge that no-one is looking at them. When there we rejoiced at a man in a full length Hi-Viz jacket striding, Jagger-esquely, up and down the length of the pub accosting people with the lyrics of the song playing on the PA, which brings us nicely toward the third sense at play here – sound. What other band on this entire earth could possibly be responsible for such widespread expressive physical movement other than Madness! Twenty one solid minutes of Madness, in fact. I’m even struggling now to try and remember if the DJ played any other artists than Madness while we were there, or if even he possessed the copies of any other recordings aside from those released by Madness. Possibly not. And with the reaction of the patrons in the pub, who could blame him.

Other than the over exuberant patrons, the appearance of the pub was fairly standard. Most seating comprised of couches and low stools with the option of higher seating around the aforementioned wooden, plinth-like structures and at the bar too. Colour-wise the bar is light enough, with white walls and green carpet taking dominance of most views. Pictures did hang about the wall and could have been displaying images of Tanzanian Ski Championships for all we knew – given we didn’t pay them too much heed with the other distractions about. It was noted, however, that there was no taxidermied Deer’s Head to couple with the name though.

The pint was a perfect pour and rounded in at an even more perfect €4.50 a pop. We had just the one as we were on a schedule at the time, and maybe subconsciously we were afraid as to what would happen if the DJ ran out of Madness tunes.

So for those of you who have stuck with us here and have read this whole thing all the way through – we’d like to thank you. And suggest that you do take a visit to The Deer’s Head on one of these steamy autumnal evenings. The locals will ask you about baggy trousers ten times over before anyone even suggest a query on the provenance of the pub’s name. But it couldn’t hurt to know, now could it?