Recently, in thinking about what I was going to write about Gill’s pub on Russell Street, I had been conjuring up verses and choruses from The Rare Auld Times. Though Pete Saint John’s anthemic lament for old Dublin makes no mention of car rental offices, builders providers and decent Italian restaurants, you could argue that the sentiment of the song is one that very much applies to Russell Street in Dublin’s North inner city. Famously home to the Behan family before they made the leap out to Crumlin, or Siberia as Brendan would quip, Russel Street – by all accounts – was typical of the sort of street that the rare old times bemoans the demise of – tenement lined, industry adjacent, bustling and rebellious.

There are, however, still some tenuous remnants of the past to be found on this street. Croke Park, though a different beast these days, remains, as does the canal. A Celtic Tiger era block of apartments bears the name ‘Behan Square’. Arguably though, the strongest remaining tie to Russell Street of days gone by is the public house which sits on the easternmost side of its junction with the North Circular Road – James Gill’s.

Obviously, this piece is going to contain a lot of Behan references – and nobody needs me to tell them that there are a great many Brendan Behan quotes on the subject of drinking and drunkenness – but there’s one that I believe is most appropriate here. This is the one where Brendan remarked that “drunkenness was not regarded as a social dis­grace”, in the Dublin of his time and how “To get enough to eat was regarded as an achievement.” and “To get drunk was a victory.” And the reason I deem this one to be so appropriate is that when I finally managed to raise a glass to my lips within the walls of Gill’s, it did feel like a bit of a Victory.

Opening on a strict schedule of big match days, concert days and whenever the owner feels like it, James Gill’s public house is one that can be difficult to arrange around a busy drinking schedule. Hence the sentiment of victory! Yours truly managed to successfully board the bandwagon and get in for a pint on the occasion of the aftermath of a draw tie between Dublin and Kerry in the first of the two 2019 all Ireland finals.

Having found myself, initially, in the main bar, I was happy enough with the décor. Brendan Behan ephemera abounds. A considerable portrait of the man is painted to the wall on the Russell Street side of the pub, under this sits a physical bibliography of his works – each encased in its own frame. The rest of the featured imagery and trinketry is remembered as being fairly standard, as compared to temporary pubs. Though I should emphasize that my visit to Gill’s was at the tail end of a day which saw my thirst adequately quenched for quite some time.

With that said, I should move on and mention the pint, insofar as much as I can. I took no notes on price, and the fact that I don’t remember it as being in any way awful must mean that it was ok. If that makes sense. I did find myself surprised to receive a glass, glass and not plastic on the occasion though.

A raised section sits to the rear of the bar. Walking into it on my last visit, I found it to be harshly lit and resemblant of a comic book store – its walls being lined with hundreds, if not thousands of, colourful magazines which turned out to be various match day programmes from nearby Croker. The toilet is situated out beyond this back section of the pub and has the distinction of being one of the only pub toilets in Dublin where the sight of something shrouded in tinfoil is not to be automatically construed with illicit recreational opiates. Yes, should you find yourself the discoverer of tinfoil in a toilet cubicle in this pub, just as I once did, be assured that this, more than likely, is only indicative of a countryman who defied the best wishes of his mother and opted, instead, to obey the long-respected creed of ‘Eating is Cheating’, leaving poor Mammy’s hang sangwiches in the lurch.

I don’t think any Brendan Behan admirer, such as myself, would ever come to rate this pub too harshly. It’s infrequent opening hours are certainly a pain, but to finally get in and enjoy a pint is a real treat. The appearance of the pub doesn’t really seem too dissimilar from the way it appears in the excellent Brendan Behan’s Dublin, which is up on youtube. And in amongst all the mayhem of sweaty GAA jerseys, there are one or two locals to be found who will give you a story or two about the area. And what’s not to like there.

There’s one in every town and parish of Ireland. You can’t miss them as they cut a dash in shops, workplaces and public houses; going about their day to day mundanities. Nearly everything about them is as it should be – the attire is in keeping with what is to be expected, as is the accent and the mannerisms, there’s usually just the one thing that will stand out – the hair. Jet black and generally extending to flank the face with sideburns of varying sizes, this is the primary indicator of what I term a particular Irish character called ‘The Elvis Aulfella’.

Elvis Aulfellas, on average, tend to earn their keep as manual workers or as drivers. If there exists a job where one can sing or whistle freely, there is an Elvis Aulfella to fill it. Though manifested daily in their physical appearance, an Elvis Aulfella’s devotion to the king is not something that he may always be so outward about in general conversation. Should an Elvis Aulfella come to build your porch or pave your driveway, he’ll do just that – you shouldn’t expect yourself to be canvassed on the virtues of Presley in order to have the work done to an agreeable standard.

It’s at social gatherings where Elvis Aulfellas come into their own. DJs see them approach on the regular and cheap karaoke microphones are more than acquainted with their h-sound ladened warbling. They drink in normal pubs, local pubs – pubs like Bakers. In fact I’d go as far as to say that Bakers is the ideal Elvis Aulfella pub – and that’s not just because it was flush with Presley ephemera.

Bakers had a sort of a warm charm to it – a real down to earth shop. The walls were covered in all sorts of things pertaining to the tastes of the working class ageing Dublin gentleman. The sort of things they’d hang in a room of their own at home – if they had one. But the sizes of Liberties abodes being what they are, Bakers stepped in to provide a sort of communal man-cave for its customers. This, in turn, provided a real treasure trove for eejits, such as myself, who find interest in the modern social history of The Liberties in the face of all the gentrification ongoing, there.

Whenever we drank in Bakers, we’d opt for the bar and, subconsciously, try to sit as close to the collage of John Wayne pictures as we could. There’s something calming about John Wayne. It’s probably his standing as the most beloved figure of our grandfathers’ generation, but images of the man they nicknamed Duke tend to elicit comfortable feelings of clandestine donations of shiny pound coins and a seemingly unending supply of hard toffee sweets for me and my ilk. Once happily sat in the environs of this collage we would set about tucking into a few pints, which were always anticipated with no fear for their quality. What was always surprising, however, was the price – last noted in the late summer of 2019 as being €4.40 – far lower than some immediate neighbors.

At this point you might be wondering – why the use of the past tense in most of what was written above? Well, as unfortunate circumstance would have it, this piece is more of a Eulogy than anything else.

It’s another sad reality in this pox of a year that Bakers is set to be one of the pubs which will not return to trade whenever this all-encompassing pandemic has sang its last encore and made for the stage exit.

And that really is a terrible shame. Not just for all the Leeds United plaques and fake Elvis Presley gold discs that will be condemned to landfill – not even for the collection of John Wayne imagery, but for the old stock locals, Elvis Aulfellas included, that will have to find a new third space. It’s true that The Clock and Kennedy’s in nearby proximity are a similar sort of pub; but the truth is that pubs like these are getting fewer and fewer in the heart of town, and, sparkly and intriguing as they may be at first, no amount of donut shops, aparthotels and for-profit rural hardware simulacra will ever provide the cultural sustenance that the likes of Bakers did. I’m just glad I took the chance to darken it’s door when I had it.

Back there in March at the outset of the end of the world, when everyone was elbow deep in everyone else – fighting for jaxx roll and self-raising flour, you might have seen me up on the quays, at the mouth of Parliament Street, sketch book in hand, scribbling away. You see, like a sizeable part of my commonly crowd-shy countrymen and women, I had found myself diluting and rationing the last of my quickly dwindling supply of soap. After the deluge of panickers had subsided, me and my ilk would be left to find shelves, which would normally replenish our supplies of soap, utterly barren.

It was then that I thought of the Sunlight Chambers – a building which sits on the westernmost corner of the Liffey end of Parliament Street. The building is characterised by glazed ceramic friezes which run above the ground and first floors along the length of the building’s façade. Running in a sort of storyboard arrangement, the friezes are said to depict the process of making soap – a sort of early 1900s YouTube tutorial, if you will.

As you might imagine, I wasn’t really able to extrapolate any of the required information on how to get the DublinByPub luxury soap product line up and running, so instead I opted to take a ramble up Parliament Street. If you’re not too familiar with the street, I can only urge you to take a stroll up there some afternoon – it’s laden with historical significance to the city of Dublin: It leads up to City Hall, it contains Thomas Read’s – Dublin’s oldest shop and it’s also home to The Turk’s Head. A pub whose name dates back quite some time.

Those of you who have very graciously been following us along over the last few years might recall the piece we wrote on The Deer’s Head of Parnell Street. In it, we referred to a group of Dublin pubs as the ‘headed’ pubs – those being the ones with the word head in their title – we then wrote a little bit about the genesis of such names. The Turk’s Head, as it turns out, is a fairly common pub name over in the UK and it sort of comes hand in hand with another common pub name across the water – The Saracen’s Head. These come as a couple due to the fact that they are both said to relate to The Crusades, or heraldic symbols derived from The Crusades.

We did a bit of research on the Dublin incarnation of the pub named as such and found it to be dated back as far as the 1700s. However, in the course of this research, we found another possible genesis for the name – it being that it may have been derived from a type of sailor’s knot. It is suggested that the knot, known as a Turk’s Head due to the resemblance it bore to the style of Turban worn by Turkish natives at the time, would be used as a symbol to lure illiterate sailors into pubs close to bodies of water.

We mightn’t ever come to know which of the origins apply to this pub when it was originally bestowed with its name, but the fact that it still retains it is certainly a bit of a buzz. As is its placement, with the name Turk’s Head, so close to one of Dublin’s more beloved Kebab shops – Zaytoon.

I think it’s a fair assessment of the place to say that The Turk’s head looks like no other licensed premises in Dublin. Taking its aesthetic from the prominent reflective mosaic work, which spills from the centre of the bar across to other pillars in the room. Drinkers might find themselves, after one or two too many, gazing lovingly into one of the faces which are set into the shimmering miscellany of broken tile.

The bar, too, is a unique one when compared to the more run of the mill structures your average Dublin drinker would be accustomed to. Sitting in the centre of the room in a misshapen rectangular arrangement and topped in marble, it offers the usual array of macro beers seen in most pubs around Dublin.

This pub, to our estimation, isn’t what we’d consider a pub in the truest sense of the word. You certainly wouldn’t be landing in at 11.30 of a Tuesday morning after your granny’s funeral for a few sambos and a verse or two of The Parting Glass. We’d categorise the Turk’s Head as more of a late-night venue, than a pub. And to that end, we can’t really offer too detailed of a guidance on the place, certainly not in terms of the pint, anyway. Having collectively spoken on how we remember our respective last pints in The Turk’s head, we’re in agreement that pricey and not-great are two key attributes. But that may no longer be the case. We’ll defer to more up to date knowledge, should we receive it.

I don’t think we were ever going to laud Turk’s Head when we came to write about it. And that’s all grand – it’s definitely a case of horses for courses. We’ve had some good nights in here but not the type of nights that you envision when you think of the word pub in its traditional sense. Either way, we’re just delighted that the 18th century name remains.

You might note, as you take your travels around this city and find yourself, over a pint, sneaking a listen to a group with a good variance of age, that there may occur a moment where two people at opposing ends of the chronological spectrum will be speaking about what they both believe to be the same Dublin pub. And you might notice that when one of the two makes a description of the pub, that it doesn’t exactly conform to the description made by the other. And if you’re just that inquisitive, you might think to yourself that these two people are speaking about two entirely different places. And you’d probably be right.

Where the pubs of Dublin are concerned, convolution is often the order of the day. There are dozens of cases of pubs in Dublin bearing a name which once adorned entirely different premises. And as you might have imagined, Nancy Hands falls under that remit too. Having been previously named as The Deer Park, the pub takes its current name from a pub in the Phoenix Park, The Hole in The Wall, which used to be called – you guessed it: Nancy Hands.

The name Nancy Hand’s, as it turns out, is no stranger to convolution when you consider that its biggest claim, arguably, is the references made to it in Joyce’s ‘Finnegan’s Wake’, what this author believes to be the most convoluted piece of writing ever produced.

The pub is traditional in its appearance, red brick and wood abound to create a beautiful interior. The most famous feature of the pub is perhaps one of its staircases, which was taken from Trinity College, where it featured in the film ‘Educating Rita’. But this certainly isn’t the only talking point of the pub which is awash with curios and bric-a-brac. We’ve read that some of the seating comes from a church in Yorkshire and that the decorative copper frontage was salvaged from a butcher in Wales.

We’ve visited a few times down through the last couple of years but a more memorable visit was on a solo run I made into the pub having found myself in the need of shelter from the cold, one early Sunday afternoon of a February. Having plonked myself at the bar and ordered a pint I began to take notice of a couple of aul lads at the end of the bar. I was witness to what was a fairly ordinary scene – four or five men gathered neatly at the end of a bar, attentive to a horse racing meeting which was been broadcast on a small TV. There was only one minor detail in this whole scenario that differentiated it from an entirely unremarkable one and that was that the fact that the horses on the television were not racing on turf or sand, but on a blanket of snow.

As you can imagine, this was high on the agenda for topics of conversation being considered by the locals. First there was a general round-table discussion on where everyone thought it might be. The Nordics took an immediate lead just after one of the men was ridiculed for suggesting that the meeting might be in France. And just as ‘up around Scandinavia and tha’ was about to surmount an impassible lead, the loudest of the group made an impassioned recital on why he believed that the racing had to be coming from North America and empty vessel or not, this lad was not without his backers. With that a consensus had been formed and most had agreed that these were north American horses that were being televised to this comfy corner of Dublin.

With this agreed, the troupe then began in their attempt to establish whether the pattern followed by American racehorses was the same as that in this part of the world. Horses race clockwise here, there was no disagreement there – but as far as making any semblance of a call on the direction followed by the gee-gees, stateside, was concerned, not one of the men dared put there neck on the chopping block for that one.

A relatively protracted period of silence followed only to be broken by the smallest of the men who then chirpily enquired as to whether “it’d be anything like the jaxxes over der?”. His perplexed audience reacted as such, affording him the opportunity to elaborate: “ye-no, de direction of the water, like. It goes the opposite way over there doesn’t it?”

There followed a short lesson on the hemispheres of the world as I bit my tongue and refrained from interjecting with a Simpsons reference. The next race started, and it was determined that these horses were in fact racing anti-clockwise and all were then in agreement that this had to be an American race meet that we were watching. “So, would them horses be right-hand drive, then?” enquired another of the lads to the gaiety of the others.

As if all this wasn’t entertainment enough, it was the last race which abides in memory the most. Not content enough with the distinctiveness of being an anti-clockwise, snow covered track; this meet had one last trick up it’s sleeve. As the camera began to concentrate on the jockeys readying themselves, the bar began falling into silence. The reason for this was almost certainly the fact that none of the jockeys had mounted their horses and were all busy attaching skis to their feet.

With that, they were all assembled at the starting line – each with a hold of a pair straps apiece, trailing from their respective horses . And before we could even gather our thoughts, they were under starters orders and were off – each being dragged, on skis, by a horse. Laughter erupted and it erupted in the truest sense of the word – violent, gregarious, unfiltered belly laughter filled the bar. Staff came bounding in from the lounge to find out what the noise was. Every person in the bar was laughing! Two tourists entered, went noticed by all of the laughing staff and left again.

The race ended. And wiping the tears of laughter from my cheeks I think I’d subconsciously become aware that the craic could never top that which had just happened. So i killed what was left of my pint and hit the road.

Slashing through the darkness in a manner photoluminescent, it sits affixed to cladding, casting all who pass by the pub in its unworldly scarlet hue. Cheekily hinting back to days when ladies of the night pounded this particular beat of Benburb Street, it feels entirely alien and un-Irish – its look, its feel and most of all: its wording. In standard sans-serif, capitalized font it spells the two words out plainly: P-H-A-T J-O-I-N-T.

Whether its youngones on the DART calling things that are not lights ‘lit’ or auld lads from Cavan on Facebook calling me a snowflake, there’s always just something about Irish people using Americanisms that just doesn’t hit my ears right. It was this that fed into my preconception – when I’d be passing by that sign. I had managed to conjure up an image of an entrepreneurial Stoneybatter hipster bragging to his pals about how he was going to open, not a deadly pub, but a phat joint. I wasn’t mad about him, to be entirely honest. I’d developed not only a distaste for him, but also for his pub – a pub whose threshold I had never even stepped beyond in my life. This disaste would not abide.

Running longer than it is deep – The Dice Bar, much like its Queen Street neighbour, is a bar whose hipster credentials are more naturally evolved than its contrived counterparts scattered about town. With tones of black, nearly black and red being those most dominant, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was just another run of the mill traditional Dublin Pub when the lights are off. But visit at night and observe the abundance of neon which provides one of the primary sources of artificial luminance in the room, you’ll find that it’s transformed to one that’s more post underground gig pints than it is aunty Margaret’s 60th.

Offering bar-proximate high stools and combinations of couches and low stools to its habitués, The Dice Bar is one in which you could comfortably spend a few hours drinking in, or go on the batter in, to phrase it with the expression derived from the locale. Options to do so are plentiful, with the bar offering up pints of a house red ale which tends to sell well on the premises. Regarding the Guinness, I’ll have to put my cards on the table here. Neither Pintman №2, №3 or I have been in the pub in a good few years, so we haven’t been able to make a conclusive call.

Normally, the MO here would be to just visit again and rate the pint, but with global pandemics being what they are, we’ve opted to go another route here and contact Pintman №8. A former Smithfield resident and a capable man where pints of stout are concerned, Pintman №8 is a man well able to gauge the quality of a jar. His qualified assessment of Dice Bar Guinness amounted to a belief that the pint was of an acceptable standard albeit that the delivery of same wouldn’t have been up to the standard of other neighbouring shops.

So if ever you do situate yourself in this pub with a decent pint in hand and you still find that you’re embittered at the thought of someone diluting the Hiberno-English lexicon with New Yorkisms, rest assured that your fears are unfounded. It didn’t take me a whole lot of digging to discover that Hughie from the Fun Lovin Criminals once part-owned this pub. And I don’t think it’s too much of a leap of faith to imagine that he, a man well qualified to verbalise utterances such as Phat Joint and other assorted phrases from the USA, may just have been the one behind those red neon words mentioned at the outset of this piece. And when you consider that Hughie and Co. also brought the iconic DiFontaines to our shore, you’ll quickly realise that there’s plenty of room to embrace the Liffey being diluted with just a little bit of the Hudson now and again.


UPDATE: During of May 2020, the proprietor of The Dice Bar took to their Facebook page after apparently suckin’ back on a good feed of grandpa’s ol’ cough medicine. There, they proceeded to make comparisons between the so-called ‘lockdown measures’ imposed by the Irish Government in order to stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus and the transportation of Jewish prisoners to concentration camps at the hands of Nazi Germany. Naturally enough the owner was excoriated by the bemused readers of their statement. They apologized, well sort of… I think. Nonetheless, it would be remiss of us not to mention it. Anyhow, the choice is yours and yours alone when it comes to where you drink, Frank Ryan’s & McGettigan’s across the road are both grand pubs.

Alike all the great cities in the world, dear Dublin of ours is one that is often defined by its most famed thoroughfares. We may not have avenues that garner attention on par with that afforded to the Champs-Élysées or Broadway, but there can be little doubt that our little metropolis is oft-characterized by the expanse of O’Connell Street darkened in the rebellious shade of the GPOs grandeur, or by the hustle and bustle of the Grafton streetscape vignetted in sound by the various buskers of the given day.

Of course, there is little wrong with these scenes, they are what they are by no accident, but, as all keen and unkeen travellers alike will tell you – the real heart of any city is, more times than not, found off the beaten path. Hidden off in small side streets, where industry and old habits clamour against nightlife and gentrification, is the concentrated distillate of a city’s very essence.

Harbouring about as great a variance of energy as the underground pipes knocking about over on the continent around CERN, Capel Street is one of Dublin’s better examples of the streets described above. Serving as a main, yet narrow artery from Dorset Street as far as Grattan Bridge, it’s a street that pulls far more traffic than was ever intended. Acting as something of a demarcation between the end of the Henry Street shopping district and the beginning of the more residential setting that lies close to The Four Courts, it is a street that we would wager gets its unique energy from the variety of businesses that are to be found along its length. These contain, though are not limited to:

• Pubs
• Restaurants – both Dine-In and Take Away
• Charity Shops
• Barbers
• Sex Shops
• Antique Shops
• Electronic Repair Shops
• Music Shops
• A Hardware
• A Tool Shop
• Bookmakers
• A Pet Shop
• A Tattoo Parlour
• A Jewellers
• A Comic Book Store
• A Tailors
• A Workwear Shop
• A Model Shop
• A Hemp Shop

Slattery’s in 1975 (credit: Dublin City Council Photographic Collection)

Sitting somewhere roughly around the middle of all of this is Slattery’s. Along the corner that facilitates the meeting of Mary Street Little and Capel Street, it strikes a more curved appearance than any other on the street. Complete with its Romanesque windows and striking façade, you could argue it to be the most unique-looking on the street.

Operating as a licenced premises since the 1800s, the pub boasts as having obtained the authority to operate as an early house in 1892 in order to cater to the once-bustling nearby market trade. Though trading through the Rising, The War of Independence and The Emergency, we would argue that the pub’s most notable contribution to Dublin and Irish history is its use as a music venue in the latter half of the 20th Century.

One doesn’t have to exhaust to much clicking power in their research of this pub to find that it happened to become a bit of a muso’s paradise from the 1960s onward. Catering for genres aplenty, it was the go-to venue for rockers, bluesmen, pipers, singers, and listeners galore. There are accounts of all sorts of different musical nights on the various floors of the pub: an acoustic night, a blues night and a number of different trad nights – a long-running one called The Tradition Club and another, The Mug’s Gig, organised by Donal Lunny and Andy Irvine – so-called as it took place on a Monday night.

The trad nights in the pub, by all account were legendary, a recording of a night at The Tradition Club survives and is available here. Cream of the crop participation wasn’t unusual with some of the evenings pulling in anyone from Seamus Ennis to Ronnie Drew up to Andy and Donal, and their pal, Christy Moore. Christy even namechecked the publican, Paddy Slattery in his song “Me And The Rose”.

A Tracklist from a recording of a night in The Tradition Club (via JoeHeaney.org)

Phil Lynott is also said to have frequented the pub too, an account of him reciting some of his spoken word poetry at an acoustic night there is given by a pal of his, Ivan Pawle, in Graeme Thomson’s biography of Phillip. It would even seem that the pub’s ability to pull in the stars of stage and screen hasn’t waned too much given that it was the venue of choice for Anthony Bourdain when he wanted to make use of the early license for the cure and a fry in the Dublin edition of his TV show, The Layover.

Slattery’s is a good-looking pub, there’s little denying that. With its rectangular bar sat in the middle of the pub, it offers up plenty of choice in the ‘ol nook and cranny department. The matte-tiled floor, colourful in comparison to the rest of the pub’s dark wooden interior, contrasts well. And there’s a sort of museum redbrick wall adorned with ephemera relating to the 1916 Rising which flanks the stairs down to the toilet.

Whether as a result of the Bourdain visit or not, the pub would seem to be geared more so toward a tourist market these days. We found this to be evidenced, firstly, by a substantial collection of literature and leaflets about day trips and visitor experiences beside the entrance, and secondly, by the over-enthusiastic floor staff who tended to pester us with food menus and premature glass collection while we were there last.

A Membership Card for The Listener’s Club in Slattery’s.

Thirdly, and perhaps most conclusively, was our winding up on a crawl with a few Norwegians during this visit. Through a mouthful of snuss, one of these lads told us that they arrange a trip to Dublin every few years to satisfy their relish toward decent Guinness: fair play to them. Speaking of Guinness, Slatterys pours a decent one which warrants no negative commentary regarding taste. Financially, though, we found it less agreeable, it being relatively high to some of the neighbours (€5.60, as of May 2019). Though when or pals from Norway told us about the fifteen quid price tag, apiece, on their pints back home, admittedly, it didn’t feel so bad.

So be ye celebrity chef, ballad singer extraordinaire or stout-thirsty Scandinavian, we can only offer you the same advice we’ve been doling out to one and all for many’s the year. Namely that Capel Street is one of Dublin’s greater drinking streets, due in no small part to the fact that it has no bad pubs, and Slattery’s is most certainly no exception to that.

We used to live like lords. We’d roam freely from bar to bar, marching to the beat of the filthy change that jingled about in our arse pockets. We’d wade through packed pub gangways searching for seats that weren’t available. We’d cling to the bar and press the flesh with any hand, outstretched in our general direction. Sweaty in summer and sniffly in winter, we’d embrace friends and strangers with equal disregard for personal space. We’d breathe each other’s air, taste each other’s drinks and smoke each other’s smokes. We never booked ahead and we’d eat, only when we’d had our fill. Sometimes we wouldn’t eat at all.

We used to live like lords.

If you could possibly indulge me, I’d like to continue with a cliché. And this one has been uttered aplenty in various forms of expression, both artistic and not: But! You really just don’t know what you’ve got until you lose it. And us: we lost it all. I’m sat here a mere couple of days before some of our city’s pubs will reopen their doors and allow customers upon their premises for the first time in over three months. But now all is changed, changed utterly. Not only is a terrible beauty born, it’s also walking, talking and getting ready to go to pre-school.

We’re told that there’ll be plexiglass – walls of the stuff. There’ll also be time limits, mandatory food orders, table service, queues and all sorts of other measures, the sum of which are required in order to allow pubs open once again. It seems that spontaneity, the very essence of the magic that is the Dublin pub experience, is the one which is the most helpful to the spread of COVID-19.

We’ve chosen to use our piece on The Bankers as that which will include a bit of a COVID-19 spiel for a few reasons. Mainly because the pub has been in the media over the last few weeks – showing off the modifications, newly installed within, to deal with a socially distant customer base. It’s also the second to last pub that I happened to imbibe in before the great shutdown in March. And with all that’s gone on, I have to admit that I’m left with something of a newfound fondness and gratefulness for the place.

I think it’s a fair thing to say that one can have little doubt in their mind when they state that, at some point in history, a banker was a person whom one could aspire to – a pillar of the community, even. But another thing that requires little doubt is the fact that whichever particular moment in time that this was, it is certainly now dead and gone. Ask anyone of my ilk, who had the delight of trying to begin their professional life back when Brian Lenihan was popping cloves of garlic like panadol in celebrity economists’ kitchens, what their estimation of Bankers are and I could almost promise you a response that will be as critical as it will be laden with profanity. So you might say, the name above the door of this particular pub isn’t one that has really ever had much appeal to my generation and me.

But what’s in a name? I hear you and Juliet ask. If a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, well then a pub by any other name must surely be just as much craic. And yourself and Juliet would be correct, this pub’s name is inconsequential to its actual appeal. Once you’ve stepped inside the cosy confines of The Bankers, you’ll find that any thoughts you previously held of bludgeoning bondholders will find themselves calmly assuaged by the charm of this pokey little boozer.

Jutting, angularly, out onto Trinity street to give way to Dame Lane, The Bankers is a pub that has no shortage of footfall outside – an attribute which affords the pub one of its finest features – its people-watching real estate. Dublin has several excellent pint-proximate people-watching spots and the front of The Bankers is undoubtedly on par with the likes the front window in The Long Hall.

The Bankers would easily be categorised as a small pub, relative to those about town. It’s comprised of two main sections – a low seating area toward the back and a high seating area at the front, this being the one that houses the bar. The bar, though compact, seemed to offer a good degree of choice the last time we were in. Covered in all sorts of denominations of foreign bills, a craft-thirsty Pintman №7 was happy to retrieve a pint of Wicklow Wolf from it.

Pintman №2 and I stuck to the usual pint of plain on that occasion back in March, which rang in at a price of €5.50. And a grand pour it was too.

The streetlamp style signs we like, as seen in Fallon’s

The pub itself is a dark enough space, mainly down to the stone tiled floor and the dark wood throughout. Thankfully though, the artificial lighting used to countenance such darkness tends to be at a good level. The interior is decorated with the usual trinkets and ephemera you’d see around the pubs in town and was noted to be the better of the few cabinets around the place, all of which were full with illuminated whiskey bottles. We also noted that they have those streetlamp style signs that advertise both Guinness and Smithwicks, the same as can be seen in Fallon’s, we like them. The back section of the bar struck a bit of a different look, it being adorned with a large scale mural featuring a myriad of famous Irish faces and quotes inscribed alongside.

The pub offers a full food menu, too, and with being so central it certainly has an eye on the tourist trade. Alike others that do, we noted that the lounge staff could tend to be a bit over-exuberant when it came to glass collection and their insistence on us making use of table service, though this will probably stand to them now.

While The Bankers is a fine little pub, I’m not going to pretend that it was always one that I held any sort of a grá for. But we live in strange times. I was talking to a few friends a while back about what the last pubs we visited before lockdown were and how, through one terrible way or another, they could be the last that we would ever visit. And when I listed and thought of the last three I visited on the final day I was on the pints, pre-lockdown – The Palace, The Bankers and Lannigan’s – I thought to myself, in a sort of pub life flashing before your eyes sort of way, that I’ve no regrets here. I didn’t waste my last ones. Time well spent.

Anyhow, we’re definitely prone to a bit of hyperbole here, so you might forgive our sorrowful tone about the new normal at the start of this piece. The video of The Bankers’ new setup looks grand. Look them up and check it out. We’re definitely gonna book a table.

Consider, if you will, the following couplet.

“There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in”

Taken from Canadian crooner, Leonard Cohen’s back catalogue – these much quoted and poignant lines have many different meanings to many different people. Some think redemption, and some reckon resurrection are the abiding themes to which Laughing Lenny’s words refer. But us, we have our own interpretation, namely that Leonard Cohen is obviously a man who’s never been to Frank Ryan’s.

Presumably named after the republican veteran of Irish and Spanish conflicts – we’d be comfortable enough in labelling Frank Ryan’s as the darkest pub in the city of Dublin, perhaps even the entire country. And as you find yourself rubbing ointment into your bloodied shins of a morning after being there, you will surely agree that there’s neither crack nor light to be found in this Smithfield bar. Sorry Len!

A seemingly traditional pub beneath all the darkness, it makes use of wood as its primary material and is relatively narrow upon entrance. Becoming partially divided twice along its length, it eventually steps down a foot or two at the back opening somewhat to reveal a pool table. Feeble light that is afforded to patrons of the pub tends to be by means of tea and fairy light, mostly hued in shades of red. Along the walls and hung from the ceiling, should you manage catch a glimpse, you’ll find any amount of paraphernalia scattered around – the overarching theme of which seems to lean mostly toward music. But, that said, there’s plenty of drink themed bric-a-brac and license plates filling in the gaps between.

I suppose you might call Frank Ryan’s the original hipster pub – it espouses all the principles the newer incarnations are at pains to remind us about. It has the craft beer, it’ll let you bring the madra in, I think it does pizza somewhere out the back too. But because it doesn’t roar this from the rooftop, and probably because the Guinness is pretty decent too, it manages to retain the charm of a proper Dublin boozer.

Whatever about cracks, there are thankfully no shortcomings in the craic in here. Generally, the place keeps a nice relaxed vibe and is the perfect venue for a night of pints and chats. Though, be warned: you’ll want to try somewhere else if you find yourself oscillating at a higher frequency. We decamped into the pub last year, hyper and half-drunk, only to find ourselves subject to the sort of fascism that Frank himself sailed to Spain to fight against. They cut us off! The Bastards!

The morning, nay, afternoon that followed this sorry incident was, as you might imagine, a rough one. Waking to several texts countenancing my proposed cancellation of Frank Ryan’s, the fear set in like a sledgehammer of doom. Such was, and is the abiding memory, of this anxiety that I’ve yet to, ahem, darken the door of the pub since. And to this day the fear that I might have been barred persists. So with that in mind, allow me to finish just as I started, with the wise words of Leonard Cohen. And please, allow me to directly aim them toward the Gatekeepers of the pub which bears the great Frank Ryan’s name:

” If I have been unkind

I hope that you can just let it go by

If I, if I have been untrue

I hope you know it was never to you ”

Though there’s no smoky haze or abundance of black faces, and still without the bourbon stink or distant cricket hiss you can still close your eyes and immerse into the hollering and the bawling of man and instrument. And in the rhythm of that juke joint rattle you can cast the Liffey as your Mississippi, and Martin Dunleavy as Blind Willie McTell and just, nearly, almost reach a state of transcendence.

The Facade of The Ha’penny Bridge Inn, it’s currently missing its ‘y’.

But then it all shatters with a sharp tug on your coatsleeve and the piercing screech from the reddened face barking violently and abrupt toward you… ‘DRINK! DRINK!’ he screams it into my baffled face as I struggle to muster a response. “DRINK!” he screams louder again. And just as I begin to utter a response, he clarifies the matter – ‘Buy a drink! This music isn’t free”. He’s a manager… or the owner. I’ve been in the pub for no more than 40 seconds.

You could say that my first adult experience of the Ha’Penny Bridge Inn was a bit unusual, well that was what I had assumed until I’d come to realise that finding yourself at the receiving end of the ire of this particular barman was not an unusual occurrence. Dozens of people have too relayed to me, their stories of being howled at in this particular pub. I even seem to remember hearing Lankum recounting a similar tale onstage to a sell-out audience in Vicar St one night, and again in an interview.

I’m not for one moment going to suggest that it’s okay for a grown man to shout at people like this, but you might forgive me on this occasion for endorsing this man’s penchant toward tirade. Allow me to frame it in terms of Bang-Bang. Bang- Bang, Thomas Dudley to his mother, was a Dublin character of old and is rightly revered for the break from mundanity he provided to ordinary Dubliners of his era. But, an inescapable fact of the matter is that there were almost certainly persons who departed from an encounter with him in a less than a positive mood solely for the reason that he didn’t conform to the status quo. For better or for worse, this shouty barman is a character, and you’ll certainly leave the pub with a good story if you happen to trigger his vocal cords, which is eternally better than leaving with no story at all.

So, a month or two back Pintman №3 and I, in the absence of any nearby uncharted pubs, decided to seek out this pugnacious publican and get to grips with a pub we haven’t paid much prior service to in the past.

Arriving in of a weekend evening we found the place as busy as expected – I set about grabbing the last remaining seat while Pintman №3 headed to the bar. Returning pintless shortly thereafter, Pintman №3 tossed a wrapped knife and fork onto the table leaving me to wonder aloud as to whether he’d ordered food. No, no he responded, throw them into me bag there will ye? Obliging him, I held off on a follow-up question when he immediately explained his rationale around the act – it’s €5.90 a pint, have to make that up somehow.

One of the more authentically traditional boozers of the Temple Bar district, the Ha’penny Bridge Inn is standard enough in its appearance, an L shaped sort of room with the bar on the larger side of the L, we’d categorize it as a small to medium pub. There’s no messing about with seating which is upholstered in a red pattern and comes just as good and cosy as it would in any standard suburban local. A mesh of tile and wood makes up the flooring and the most notable feature of the pub is probably the collection of fabric badges and crests which are affixed to the ceiling above the bar. We agreed that it had the makings of a good cosy shop but lost out on being classified as such due to the front doors to the street being permanently open. Oh, and that €5.90 pint was far more acceptable to all relevant sensory considerations than it was to those of a budgetary nature.

In the end, having discovered that our cacophonous friend wasn’t about, we headed on for somewhere a bit more familiar on this night. I hope he’s still putting in the odd shift now and again. The Ha’penny is certainly by no means a bad pub and is most definitely the pick of the bunch when you lump in its nearest neighbours. So, if you think €5.90, or 1,180 ha’pennies, is a fair price for a pint, by all means – have at it. Just leave the cutlery alone!

“This old pub standeth on sacred ground, surrounded by the high walls of the Royal Kilmainham Hospital, by the ancient cemetary of Bully’s Acre and the dungeons of Kilmainham Jail. The Patriot’s Inn has been closer to the pulse of Irish history than any other contemporary pub.”

So says the signage sitting at the entrance to the Patriots Inn pub in Kilmainham. Now far be it from us to stand here today and call this pub’s historical bona-fides into question, but can we just ask you whether you might agree with us that the sense of historical significance that may well be afforded to this pub just happens to get even a little bit diluted when you factor in the fact that that sitting just atop the pub is Dublin 8’s most authentic, lively Italian dining emporium – La Dolce Vita. I mean, pizze di Napoli, fettuccine alla carbonara and spaghetti al pomodoro, don’t exactly scream saoirse na hÉireann now do they? Maybe it qualifies under ‘our gallant allies in Europe’. I don’t know.

The Patriot's Inn Pub Kilmainham

It’s probably just me. But when I first pushed back the door of the bar in The Patriot’s Inn of a November evening, the first thing to grace the olfactory plains of my internal workings was the pungent bouquet of basil, garlic and tomato. All fine things in their own right and great in the appropriate time and place, but when a man has the desire for porter, he need not be enticed by certain aromas and these are certainly included with those. I, and others so discerning, have been known to leave pubs for less.

But this night, it would take more than the smell of decent Italian gnosh to move me and my companions as we were there to get this pub well and truly ticked from our list. Making our way to the bar we hastily retrieved a few pints and set about getting a table. Finding our way to a free table toward the back we listened a while to the music which emanated from the lounge before tucking into the pints before us. While the enjoyment of these was impacted by the smell of food, it was agreed that they were of an acceptable standard and a decent price too. (€4.80 in November 2018… we don’t often get the chance to get out to Kilmainham)

As we discussed Italian involvement in the course of Irish History and considered floating to the owners – the idea of changing to the restaurant to French cuisine for the 1798 tie-in, we came to notice two lads who had become uneasy about themselves and were up and down from their seats a lot. Deciding that they were probably looking for something we left them to it before they interjected and asked the entire enclave which we were sat in if they had seen a ring about the place. Having received entirely negative responses to their queries one of the men informed us of how it was the other’s wedding ring which had gone missing, the other having only been married a few short weeks and out on his first few pints, sans-missus, since the big day.

It was at this moment when a beautiful act of male telepathy occurred. We all knew that losing a wedding ring was bad. But losing one on the first few pints away from the wife – fatal. Every person harbouring a Y chromosome in that room knew that this fella’s entire drinking future was at stake. So with that, we all mobilized. Recruits seemed to appear from all angles. And after a solid ten or fifteen minutes of ransacking the back alcove of this bar, a tolkeinesque roar could be heard throughout the town of Kilmainham as this newlywed was reunited with his wedding band once more. And even better was the fact that after such upheaval, I’d no longer found myself bothered by the smell of Italian cooking. We sank a pint or two with the newlywed afterward to celebrate before heading down the road.

The Patriot isn’t a bad pub by any stretch of the imagination. But they could do with leaving the pasta upstairs.