The Back Page: Phibsborough Road

Outside of a few punts on The Grand National and Cheltenham, I think that it would be a fair assessment of myself to say that I’m not that much of a gambling man. But with that said, I’m here to tell you today that I would happily bet pounds to the pence that former Ireland and Leeds footballer – Johnny Giles, when given the option of drinking somewhere other than The Back Page, would probably do just that.

So here’s the thing, it’s not that I have any inside knowledge on Gilesy’s drinking venues of choice or his inclinations toward craft beer or anything – it’s just that on either of the gable ends of The Back Page there is, in the guise of street art, two nods to Giles’ former colleagues. One is a direct Eamon Dunphy quote likening Christiano Ronaldo to a fish and the second happens to be a colourful caricature of the late Bill O’Herlihy, fully complete with his trademark catchphrase: Okey Doke.

I’m not for a moment suggesting that Johnny would have a problem with either of these two embellishments in their own right. It’s just that if I were him I’d probably be a bit annoyed about the proprietors of The Back Page not completing the troublesome trio and emblazoning me upon their facade too. But Gilesy I am not, so I suppose that I should state for the record that my initial visit to The Back Page was made with no such biases, hypothetical or otherwise.

If those two above-mentioned features haven’t convinced any of you football-mad readers out there, I must hasten to advise you to make no mistake about it, The Back Page is here to stake its claim as one of Dublin’s utmost soccer-centric bars. With national and club football flags and scarves looking down upon the countless images of moments from soccer history, this pubs grá for the beautiful game is something it wears proudly upon the sleeve of its vintage Italia ’90 jersey. I’m even sure that I wasn’t hallucinating when I saw wallpaper comprised entirely of FIFA PlayStation covers stretching back as far as the nineties on one of the walls.

The downstairs interior of the pub consists of three main sections, -the bar which is situated at the front of the building is the first of these. Tending to be dimly lit upon each of our visits – it’s a space wherein you’ll find a handful of high tables outside of a raised section with lower seating. A medium sized bar is placed to the right of the space, beside which sits a full-length bookcase housing a sizeable collection of board games.

The bar itself is well stocked and offers a wide range of craft alongside a couple of the old reliables. Guinness came in at the painfully high price of €5.60 a pop, and while objectively it wasn’t a pint which was overly poor on quality, it was most definitely one which felt like very poor value when compared to the price and standard in the pubs located within the immediate vicinity.

Beyond the main bar toward the back of the premises, there is a lengthy atrium which offers high seating at bar-tops which seemed as if they were protruding from the ledge along the wall in the manner in which they jutted out perpendicularly. Opting to sit at one of these we surveyed the rest of the space and found agreement in our dislike for what was essentially the kitchen from a pizza restaurant. This particular feature which sat partly obfuscated by the bar made us feel we were in a restaurant more so than a pub.

The third main space within the pub is found down a short corridor from the right side of the front of the pizza restaurant. Housed within here is a games room which boasted a veritable leisureplex worth of amenities such as pool tables, table tennis tables, and a crazy-golf course. Yes. Crazy Golf. In the pub.

if any of you currently reading this happen to be long time DublinByPub readers, you may have already twigged that this one wasn’t for us. I’m certain that there are people whose experience of going for a few pints can be enhanced with the addition of miniature golf and pizza, but those people are not us. And while I’m sure that our absence from this pub is no lamentable matter of fact for its proprietors, I can only offer our particular opinion. And our opinion saw something of a contrived and gimmicky affair.

But different folks will take to different strokes. Plenty will have no problem with a sports bar being readily built and decorated. Us, we prefer a more organic establishment of a boozer’s theme. We reckon it’s like reading a book – in order to have a meaningful understanding of the narrative you have to read through the entire text. You can’t just skip to the back page!

Jimmy Rabbitte’s: Camden St.

Lately, I’ve been finding myself lying awake at night pondering a big question. This question isn’t of an existential variety, no, no. I’m fine with reflection on the afterlife and the greater universe for the moment, the one question that’s currently interrupting my sleeping pattern is that which queries whether Jimmy Rabbitte’s, the pub on Camden Street, was named after Jimmy Senior, Jimmy Junior, or both. There’s also the frightening prospect that the pub might have been named after someone other than one of the two characters in Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown trilogy.

It might be reasonable to assume that Jimmy Junior is the man in question here, given that his band – The Commitments do in fact rehearse in the space sat above the pub during the movie adaptation of the of the book which bears the band’s name. But it can’t be that simple really. I mean, who wouldn’t want to name a pub after Jimmy Senior. Colm Meaney’s portrayal of the foul-mouthed, pint-drinking loveable family man is one that is beloved by the entire population of this country. Ah, alas – maybe some questions are just too big for this life.

A relatively new pub, Jimmy Rabbitte’s is an establishment which myself and Pintman №2 have darkened the door of no more than three times and no less than two. Upon our first attendance within the boozer, we found it sparsely populated with the exception of a table with what sounded to us to be an English lad. This particular lad, who wasn’t the worst looking chap to be fair to him, was a bit of a hit with the ladies who at the time, one and all, seemed to be making it their business to approach his table for a chat. Feeling a pinch of inadequacy from the whole situation, Pintman №2 and I reminded ourselves of our inner beauty and made for a table with two pints of plain.

Pint-wise we recall the standard as being nothing too above average but of an acceptable level all the same. The last note of price we took put the pint of plain at an even fiver. But we’d expect that to have risen by now given the time elapsed since then. Aside from stout, the range of gargle was pretty plentiful and seemed to have something to appeal to a wide range of the drinking public, particularly those who fancy a gin from time to time.

The appearance of the pub is what we might describe as modern-retro. It might seem hypocritical of us to say that we liked the place given our thoughts on its nearby neighbour – Devitt’s. But as the installation of this boozer did not require the tearing out of an old gem we’re happy enough to figure that this is one of the few times that we’re not contradicting ourselves. With its solid wooden flooring underfoot, wood panelling on the walls and exposed wooden rafters overhead – the pub keeps a certain rustic charm. For decoration – there is any number of quirky surreal scenes framed upon the wall-space while enough postcards to stock a souvenir shop sit affixed to the rafters. Snug lovers can rejoice in the knowledge that this pub boasts one of the capital’s newest snugs, the modest-sized compartment sits toward the front of the pub. Not stopping there with older conveniences, the underside of the bar offers the option of hooks for jackets and bags. Interesting too beneath the bar sits a definite sign of the times in the form of USB ports. The modern hook perhaps?

I suppose we could put a bit more of an effort in and actually figure out specifically whom this boozer is really named after. But maybe the mystery is half the craic. Oh, and we eventually found out who that English fella was when the women in our lives put two and two together. They wasted no time in berating us, angrily asking “how on earth” we didn’t recognise Jude Law “sitting right in front of yis!!??” – a question we each could only possibly answer one way…

… I’m fucked if I know, Terry!

Doyle’s Corner: Phibsborough Road

“Once you have palm trees in a pub you may as well just forget about it”

… so were the choice of words deemed appropriate by Pintman №2 after he’d finished surveying his surroundings. We’d just sat down to our inaugural pint in the relatively recently refurbished Doyle’s Corner in Phibsborough and as I informed Pintman №2 that I was intending to utilise his opinions on the pub’s horticultural inclinations by way of a direct quote he found himself impeded in his response by Pintman №3 who, himself, threw his tuppence in by suggesting that I make sure to mention them “Eddie Rocket chairs there as well”. “Hold on and I have a look meself”, says I.

First things first, the lounge in Doyles Corner is a plush affair. With its goldened lettered signage, its Gatsby-esque bar and its chandelier lighting, there can be no denying that it is an aesthetically pleasing space. But a drinking experience, fancy surroundings do not make. Having spent all of about five minutes in these opulent surroundings I found that I’d invoked a deep-set fear in myself – the type of fear that your granny might have instilled in you when you were under the age of five and dared touch some ornament or another on a shelf in her ‘good room’. It’s that same fear that might stop you from touching museum exhibits or that keeps you quiet at funerals, which is all good and well in its own place – except for the fact that it’s not exactly a state of mind that’s conducive to comfort. And as we sat on high stools in the lounge of this boozer battling the aroma of chicken wings in an attempt to quantify the quality of our pints – comfort was not a quality that was coming to mind.

It was just when I’d about made up my mind on the place when Pintman №2 and №3 came to suggest that we relocate to the bar. ‘There’s a bar?, I wondered before being reliably informed by my companions that indeed there was and that the entrance to such was located just behind the abovementioned offending palm tree. So, feeling like three early Amazonian explorers, minus the machetes, we passed through the impeding tropical flora where we emerged from the overgrowth to find surroundings far more tempered to our expectations, a proverbial oasis of calm.

Looking like something that we can only imagine some worn-in boozers around the city might have looked like at their outset – The bar in Doyle’s Corner hits the eye with a degree of freshness. Characterised by the light-toned wooden seats and walls, the bar’s use of alcoves add a good degree of comfort – while their separation with glass aids not to compress the perceived size of the space. Walls are mainly decorated with glass-cased taxidermy such as birds and fish and the odd framed graphic here and there too. A fireplace which houses an iron woodburner sits toward the front of the room, the functionality of which we never established as it was lamentably left off the time of our visit. Overall though, we found the bar to be a nice space and would have to tip our hat to the designer for having bucked the trend and avoided installing that pre-worn “old-pub” effect so commonly seen in new premises these days.

Pint-wise, the pub fared relatively well for somewhere next door to the likes of The Hut. At an even fiver, it was drunk with no complaint made regarding its quality.

It’s funny though, if this had been our local which had made way for such a fit-out, this blurb may well have been of an entirely different tone. Unfortunately, none of us ever darkened the door of this pub in any of its former guises so we can only report on what we know. And that is that if you’re in the market for a chicken-wing joint with instgrammable decor, the lounge in Doyle’s Corner may just be for you. But, if like us, you just want to gather a few friends into an alcove, sup on a few pints and have a chat, you’d better move on through the jungle and head into the bar.

The Hut: Phibsborough Road.

It’s probably fair enough on our part to assume that the word ‘hut’, when considered by all those included in the English-speaking world, will elicit images of rudimentary structures of mud, straw and/or bamboo in the mind’s eye of most. But today, ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to tell you about a tiny subset of that aforementioned lingual population who, upon hearing the word ‘hut’, will come to think not of favelas or muddy of Maasai camps but will instead conjure up the thought of craic and creamy pints amidst perfectly retained Victorian grandeur. Yes, that’s right – ask anybody of a certain vintage upon the streets of Phibsborough what the word ‘hut’ means to them and they will almost certainly set out immediately to put you in the know about Phibsborough’s most beloved pub – The Hut.

Having spent a worthwhile thirty-five minutes devouring all information that Google will provide us with on this pub it seems only appropriate that we follow suit from those who have penned their own thoughts on The Hut before us by first mentioning the name. Some say that it’s derived from hut-like structures which once provided shelter for the inhabitants of Phibsborough. Others (namely those allied to the local LOI team – Bohemians) say the name is taken from hut-like dressing rooms which used to be in situ in nearby ground, Dalymount Park. Us, we happen to think the name could be rooted in Latin given that the word ‘tavern’ is derived from the Latin word ‘taberna’ which translates to, yep you guessed it, ‘hut’.

Regardless of the provenance of the pub’s name, there is certainly no ambiguity to be encountered when it comes to its standing as one of the remaining authentic Victorian Dublin Pubs. A longer room than its well-kept façade might suggest, it ticks all the boxes regarding features of such pubs from that period – wooden dividers and partitions, stone and wooden bar-tops, gas lamps, grocer’s drawers, and my personal favourite – cask-heads incorporated into the structure of the bar – all of them well-kept and authentic; affording the pub ample parity with any of the more central and well-known Victorian watering holes dotted around the capital.

We managed to collectively get up to Phibsborough for a pint over the last few months with the full DublinByPub contingent in tow. Arriving into The Hut a few hours following nightfall (and with about 4 or 5 pints sunk too) we, or should I say our dark-adjusted and somewhat intemperate eyes, immediately found our one and only complaint with the place – the brightness. It’s needlessly bright in the evening. We wondered if it was a safety feature – one to give the cohort of Mountjoy screws, who supposedly drink in the pub, every opportunity to spot a potential aggrieved former inmate.

Seeking refuge in the more softly illuminated environs of the snug we sat down to three pints of plain and remarked on how expansive the carpeted room was. Possibly the largest snug in Dublin, we wondered? The pint itself I remember as being the best of the immediate locality – well poured and served through the hatch of the snug it was enjoyed by all around the table with no complaint about taste or about price, coming in south of a fiver. Happy drinkers all around.

We might, if we could, go back to those thirty-five minutes of research we mentioned earlier. It was in an Irish Times article written on the subject of The Hut some years back that we happened upon an interesting quote from one of the pub’s owners – Joe Mohan. In it, he describes his position as owner of the pub, as being one which makes him responsible to ‘just mind the place’. This quote resonated with us for a few reasons, but mainly due to the fact that it was reminiscent of a sort of caretaker sentiment that we’d heard over and over again from various barmen and pub owners alike. These are people who are at the helm of the likes of The Gravedigger’s, The Swan, Fallon’s, The Long Hall… we could go on. Do you reckon that it may just be coincidence that all of these pubs just so happen to be up there with the most renowned and regarded in all of Dublin? Because we certainly don’t!

If you happen to wind up upon the streets of Phibsborough and you find that that persistent thirst just won’t relent, we can only suggest that you drop into John and see how good a job he’s doing of minding The Hut. Maybe even ask him to dim the lights a bit for us too, will ye?

Nice one!

The Long Stone: Townsend St.

The Long Stone we hardly knew ye.

You stood proudly on Townsend Street for over 200 years and now they’ve decided to knock you down. We never even took our chance to photograph you while you were open and now it’s too late. Soon you’ll follow your neighbour – Ned into the dusty abyss and take your rightful place in Valhalla, and all we can do to console ourselves is to think of cliches – you really don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

We went to visit you on your last day and came to realise what fools we have been not to have spent more time drinking within your confines. We were like flies scutting along the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel – ignorant of the beauty upon which we were standing.

It’s true that I’ve said things in the past that you mightn’t have liked. I was no fan of the hot nut machine that sat atop your front bar and bathed all around it in an uncomfortable fiery hue. I certainly bemoaned the price of your drink on more than one occasion, but none of that matters now.

How we wish you were still open. How we wish we could saunter into the back bar and sit at the mouth of a 10ft sculpture of Odin’s head and gaze upon your bespoke wooden features, your slate flooring, your ancient hanging banners.

But we can’t visit you anymore. The newspapers say that a wrecking ball is due on-site in January, They’ll probably build a hotel on the ground upon which you currently stand. Tourists might come to stay and they’ll ask if there are any good pubs around. No, we’ll respond… Just hotels.

Rest in peace, The Long Stone. We’ll miss you.