J O’Connell’s: South Richmond St.

Sitting in the middle of the Caribbean Sea there lies a small city on the northern coast of Panama with a population of five thousand people. This city boasts a tropical maritime climate and a quick search online shows me that it’s currently bathing in a sunshine which has brought a temperature in the region of the high twenties. This is in stark contrast to the current Irish weather conditions which have, in the last few days, began to exude that icy November chill that has you finally digging out your biggest coat from the back of the wardrobe. Thankfully I’m sheltered from said iciness, but less thankfully is the fact that I’m in work – in a drab office block, and aside from writing this, I’m also neglecting my professional duties by perusing a collection of images of this little city mentioned above. It’s a picturesque place – dense forest-like growth buffers between land and sky on all inland horizons while horizons off into the Caribbean look just as exotic as you might expect The Caribbean would.

I’m sure some of you might be starting to wonder where I’m going with this. Well, the reason why I’m harping on about such a far-flung place is namely down to the fact that in the last few weeks – we happened to have a pint in an area of Dublin which not only is a namesake of this Caribbean town, but happens to have actually been named after it. The area we refer to is Portobello.

So as it would turn out, this fair little canal-side district was so named, not after a type of mushroom, as yours truly had thought, but instead from the occasion of some aul colonial English prick getting one over on some aul colonial Spanish bollox. This delightful little bloodbath, which happened in 1739 is now referred to as The War of Jenkins’ Ear. But enough about that.

J O’Connell’s, from what we can tell, is an old boozer. Our limited research skills haven’t managed to date it, but a record in ‘Thom’s Almanac and Official Directory for the Year 1862’ lists a Mr Walter Furlong – a grocer and spirit dealer, as it’s occupant. A further record from an electoral register dated between 1908 and 1915 describes the building as being a ‘Licensed House’. What’s nice though about this pub, though, is the fact that none of that is rammed down your throat. Nowadays we live in such a marketing-centric time, and it’s of particular annoyance to us when a pub which is barely opened a wet day bombards its patrons and potential patrons with a PR-spun, contrived ‘back-story’, which takes more than enough of its fair share of artistic license when deciding on how liberal to be with the truth. In J O’Connell’s this is no concern.

What you do get here is an authentic Dublin boozer. The colour scheme is one that I can’t come to describe without mention of the word – festive. Glossy reds and greens cast a warming glow on the pub which is of a medium size overall. High seating is available at the bar only and a traditional combination of pub couches and low stools make up the rest. The walls display a good mix of the usual fare – horses, GAA, local history and some nice portraits of Brendan Behan & Co. Mix nicely along with the whiskey and beer trinkets about the place. Pintman Nº2 was taken with the arrangement of the shelving behind the bar and I noticed the barrel end of a few casks which sat into the bar, as they would have in the era before mainstream bottling. I wondered if they were an original feature at the time, I’m less uncertain now having discovered the age of the place.

The vibe when we visited was quite a chilled one – a mix of young and old locals sat ensconced into various corners engrossed in quiet conversation. The radio was kept low enough and was playing Billie Holiday, or Billy Holiday-esque sort of tunes – we all agreed it an unusual set of tunes in the context of Dublin pubs en-masse, but too agreed that they suited the mood perfectly. The staff were excellent, the barman was on the ball with service and barely allowed us to leave our seats to obtain a jar. The pint was a bargain at €4.80 and was as satisfying on the palate as it was on the pocket.

J O’Connell’s is one of the true undiscovered gems in Dublin’s landscape of pubs. And yes, the Panama Canal may be more impressive than The Grand, and there’s little doubt that the weather in the Carribean is nicer than ours. But who wants to be drinking rum in a wicker hut with sand down your trousers when you could instead be cuddled into a couch with a pint of plain in Portobello. I know which one I fancy more.

Cassidy’s: Camden St.

What do Robbie Keane, Bill Clinton and Daniel O Donnell have in common? Now there’s a question you never thought you’d ever hear, and a question we never thought we’d ever ask. It’s not that Bill had sweet first touch when he played five-a-side on the lawn of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave – no, no. And we’re pretty certain that you won’t find Keano in any brass section warming up to the dulcet tones of Baker St. Nor will you find Bill Clinton going out of his way to attract older wom….. actually, never mind.

Well if any of you out there thought that Cassidy’s of Camden Street was the particular commonality between the three distinguished figures aforementioned, you would be right because this pub happens to be one which at one time or another purveyed a pint to each of the three lads.

The perfect example of a deceivingly large boozer, this one has to be up there with one of the longest pubs in the city. The pub is popular with Donegal natives and we have it on good authority that it’s managed by wee Daniel’s brother too. Exuding a comfortable vibe that must be difficult to maintain in such an expansive space – Cassidy’s is a Victorian pub which characterised with all the usual features one would expect of a place described as such. Dark wood and brass fittings serve as a welcome aesthetic in the midst of part of town that seems to become trendier by the day.

The pint, we usually find as being up to scratch here and we’ve certainly no recollections of a bad one ever being put on front of us on any visit. Upon our last visit we were charged an even fiver for the dark and creamy pleasure, but use that as a rough guide only – we’re fast approaching the year anniversary of that visit at this rate.

Regrettably we don’t haven’t spent half as much time as we’d have liked to in this pub over the years. We’ll definitely be making sure to remedy that in the near future.

East Side Tavern: Leeson St. Lower

Dublin, as most of you will probably have already noticed, is a city that was constructed on a bit of an ad-hoc basis. In the past we’ve alluded to the difference between the streets of Dublin and those of a city in the USA and these are many – we don’t do blocks, we don’t do symmetry, we barely do straight lines – and that’s ok, this is the way we like it. You see, we’ve decided to let logic form our assumption here that The East Side Tavern was so named due to the fact that it’s on the east side of St. Stephen’s Green. But the thing is, St. Stephen’s Green is not a space whose boundaries are aligned in accordance with the four major points on a compass, so it’s sort of on the South-eastern side of the green. But South-eastern Side Tavern doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, now does it?

This one we’re coming at with plenty of disappointment, because we’ve just found out in the last few days that The East Side Tavern has closed permanently. About a week or so ago. And we’re raging. Because it wasn’t all that bad of a boozer.  Set in a building that has been guised under a few different monikers over the last decade or so, it was a pub that we thought had finally broken the curse and managed to dig its heels in. Unfortunately not so.

Comprising of a modern sort of aesthetic it boasted a mix of high and low seating which could have stood (or sat) to have been a bit more comfortable. There was a bit of exposed brick around the place which wasn’t too unkind to the eye and dark wood was the order of the day elsewhere. The talking point of the pub, however, was the wall of bottles which adorned the back of the bar – stretching to the height of the ceiling these were lit in such an accentuating manner that to gaze upon them was to feel you were gawking directly at the face of the almighty, well after a few scoops anyway. Speaking of the scoops, we last visited over the summer and found the pint to be as good as the one in Hartigan’s and at an even fiver was a full ten cent cheaper than Harto’s too.

Years ago, when the pub was known under a previous name we happened to find ourselves in for a few pints following a Damien Dempsey gig in The National Concert Hall. We were about a pint and half in when we began to notice members of the large ensemble, who had performed on the night, file into the boozer and make their way upstairs. Feeling a bit brazen from the evening’s pints, as a whole, we thought we’d wander up and have a look ourselves.

Arriving unimpeded up on to the first floor of the building, Pintman № 5 and I made straight toward the only vacant table left in the room. Now, before I go any further, I need to tell you a little bit about Pintman №5. A textbook definition of a man before his time, Pintman №5, who penned our post on Chaser’s of Ballyfermot, has been taxi-ing drunken hordes of Dubliners home from their evening’s debauchery since his mid-twenties. Speaking exclusively in a rare Hiberno-English dialect which blends rhyming slang and dead colloquialisms – he’s the type of man that comes along to the pub to see your mates’ covers band and shouts up requests for ‘Óró Sé do Bheatha ‘Bhaile’ amidst all the calls for Thin Lizzy and The Beatles. And no, that’s no hypothetical or fictional scenario – Pintman №5’s vocal penchant for this War of Independence rebel anthem became such a mainstay of these aforementioned gigs that random punters even took to requesting the tune in Pintman № 5’s absence.

It didn’t take particularly long on this evening for us to have found the vacant space at our table filled up with the later arrivals to the after-party. Turning to see who had sat down beside us, we immediately realised that we had then been joined by Kerry Trad Legend – Seamus Begley. Accordion in his lap and the lot. Seamus, as it turns out, is a gem of a fella – and sat with us for the guts of an hour swapping stories and jokes. In the midst of all this gaiety at our own table we came to realise that the inevitable seisún had begun in earnest for the rest of the room and more inevitable again we found Seamus leaving our table, having been accosted to play a tune.

Obligingly, he took to the centre of the room and began knocking out a waltz on his accordion. This was received with applause that suggested he might play another. It’s no sooner than he has wondered aloud as to what he should play next that I can hear Pintman № 5’s sharp intake of breath followed by his booming voice bellowing out the familiar request of ‘ÓRÓ SÉ DO BHEATHA ‘BHAILE!’. Unfamiliar though, was the response this time around. Without missing a literal beat, Seamus Begley turns on his heels and begins a rousing rendition of the song, the chorus of which, is fervently sang by the attentive and talented audience. I’ve never seen Pintman №5 so elated. Before and since. And even better again, we’ve never heard a request for Óró Sé do Bheatha ‘Bhaile since.

It’s always bad when a boozer shuts up shop, and we’re most certainly sad to see this one call last orders. Hopefully there’ll be more to come from No. 104 Leeson St. Lwr in the months or years to come.