The Foggy Dew, And Why Oliver Cromwell is Responsible for Dublin’s Best Sunday Gig

Packed into the pub corner, the sweaty milieu are assembled with little regard for personal space. In various mixes of pork pie hats, belts, braces, polo, checkered and gingham shirts – they shake the foundations with their Doc Marten stomps. They move in deference to the refrain of the brass and in rhythm to the short sharp strokes of the tinny telecaster. Momentarily, when the timing is right, they swill at sloppy pints whose dark body and white creamy heads fit their two-tone devotion. They have work in the morning. We all have work in the morning. It’s a Sunday evening in The Foggy Dew.

Though it ain’t what it used to be, according to ageing ska heads I overheard in a nearby pub one day, and though you’ll hear other genres on the makeshift stage, therein, The Foggy Dew is one of Dublin’s best-known venues for the regular consumption of the live performances of Ska. Ska, a music genre and subculture I’ll admit to knowing relatively little about, has its roots in the Caribbean nation of Jamaica, and for the life of me, in my more naïve youth, I could never quite get my brain to comprehend the actuality of this exotic foreign music having established its home in a pub that takes its name, verbatim, from a traditional song about 1916 The Easter Rising that was written by a priest.

It was after I had made sense of that quandary above, that I came to wonder just how on earth I might succinctly explain such a realisation to you, the reader. But I wouldn’t have to in the end because Sinéad O’Connor managed to do that for me. When watching Kathryn Ferguson’s excellent documentary – Nothing Compares, in the wake of Sinéad’s sad passing over the summer – I was struck by a clip where she’s walking through what she describes as her favourite place in the universe – St. Mark’s Place in New York City. And as she walks along the pathway, she says the following to camera:

“All the Rastas live there and all the Irish people live here, which is why I like it. Cause Rastas and Irish people should live together since they’re both the same”.

It’s true that we Irish are terrible bores when it comes to harping on about the impact Irish emigration has had in places like America, England and Australia – but you don’t tend to hear much about the impact of Irish immigration into Jamaica. Though he’d hardly have envisaged it at the time – that prick of pricks – Oliver Cromwell, would ultimately come to alter the makeup of the Jamaican populous in no small way when he transported thousands of indentured Irish servants to the Caribbean in the wake of his attempted conquest in the 1600s. Today it’s said that 25% of the entire population of Jamaica claim Irish heritage and it is supposed that there was cross-pollination between the accents of the transported, the effect of which is still heard in the modern Jamaican accent, today.

With all of this Irish influence, and given that we are a musical people, it can only be fair to assume that all of this transportation had to have had an effect on the musical landscape of Jamaica. A musical landscape which would come to shape modern Ska, And, taking a large dollop of artistic license, that is why, in a very convoluted way, The Foggy Dew is a perfectly acceptable Ska Venue and that Oliver Cromwell’s only good deed was his contribution to traditional Jamaican music.

The Foggy Dew, though a pub associated with music, doesn’t at first glance exhibit the hallmarks that other such hostelries might. Inhabiting a primarily L-shaped space, which does contain a gangway on its longer side, out toward Crow Street – The Foggy Dew appears as a traditional bar with a few rocker flourishes. Set on two levels divided by a short set of steps – the lower of which is on the shorter end of the L, on the Fownes Street side, the pub is heavy on medium-toned wood, tiled and mirrored surfaces. As normal a pub as can be seen in Dublin, really. That is until you begin to notice the gold and platinum records, the framed guitars and portraits of long-haired guitar gods which let even the most casual of observers know that this seemingly traditional pub has another side.

With regard to the pint, I’ve always found it of good quality here. By no means showstopper stuff – but plenty drinkable. Price is maybe another thing – the pub being situated in the environs of Temple Bar. A mid-year (pre the August 2023 Diageo price increase) visit clocked a price of €6.40 a jar, which is painful enough on the pocket. Though obviously not as much as some nearby tourist-geared hotspots. But if you’re in there on Sunday evening soaking in the atmosphere and the music, you’ll find it hard to be too worried about that.

Even though I’m sure the men I mentioned earlier in this piece weren’t being untrue when they said that The Foggy Dew ain’t what it used to be – I think we do need to recognise that it’s certainly a lot more like it used to be than other nearby pubs. The fact that it hasn’t gone over to that diddly-eye-ified, tourist-trap dark side that so many in Temple Bar have succumbed to (Eamon Dorans RIP) is absolutely to be celebrated and embraced. It’s still a great pub, and long may it continue to be.

Overheard at the King’s Inn: Creamy Pints and a Glimpse into the World of Petty Crime.

Upon the cobblestone streets built over basement dwellings which once made up the quarters of the lowest of the pauper class, Dubliners can still hear the clipping and the clopping of expensive leather as it makes its way up Henrietta Street.

In the past, it might have been an MP, fresh from his engagements in Grattan’s Parliament or a captain of industry arriving at his city townhouse. Nowadays it’s often a lawyer or a barrister, or one to be, at least. And usually, they’d be making their way towards the building which gives the pub we intend to write about here its name – that building (or set of buildings, even) is known as The Honourable Society of The Kings Inns – to give it its full title.

A prestigious institute that sits in a James Gandon (he of custom house fame) designed building; this place is the foremost centre for learning the law in all of Ireland. And aside from giving the pub at the end of the street its name, it also affords it a few customers from time to time, as we’d found out one Christmas time. But let us come back to that.

The King’s Inn Pub is sat at the corner of Henrietta and Bolton Street – it was reopened under new ownership in 2018 after a spell of closure and has been well decorated on the outside and the inside. The inside of the pub, itself, is one entire space – there’s no separation of lounge and bar – but with that said, there are two distinctive sections, a main section with wooden flooring and then a raised section toward the back – resplendent with regal carpeting and, at the very back, sits the saviour of any cold or bitter day – an open fire.

Overall, the pub’s design spec does have a medieval, castle sort of vibe to it. This is helped in no small part by dark beams crossing the ceiling above. The ceiling, itself is painted in a contrasting brilliant white and much of this is overlayed with Book of Kells-style Celtic insignias. The odd suit of armour and church pew thrown in for good measure, complete the look.

One of the things that we enjoy most about the pub is the variety of drink on offer. You’ll get your usual mix of what would be expected in most traditional pubs, but you’ll also get some decent craft offerings too -Trouble Brewing’s Ambush, a personal favourite, being a constant offering! The Guinness is upper tier; always excellent and as of our last visit in Feb 2023, was a mere €5.20 a go!

Regarding the customer base here, and getting back to our Christmastime experience, mentioned at the outset of this piece – we’ve tended to encounter a wide variance of people here. There usually is, what appears to be, a core set of locals, presumably from the surrounding areas. There can, on occasion, be GAA sportswear-clad younger lads with accents from beyond the pale – possibly students from Bolton Street DIT (It’s not called DIT anymore, but I refuse to learn the new name just like me da who still calls FAS – which isn’t actually called FAS anymore, either – by the name it was in his day – AnCo).

But most interestingly for us, was not necessarily persons from the pub’s nearby namesake, but some of their prospective customers – who had arranged their Christmas drinks around a meeting one of them had attended with his legal representative beforehand. As usual, I was the first to arrive to the pub and settled in with a paper or a book over a pint while I awaited the arrival of some friends. A handful of men were sat in the section nearest to me and I had seen them and assumed them to maybe be a couple of work friends – perhaps drivers or tradesmen or factory workers out for a few Christmas jars – in the way people who are not employed in the sort of place that would have a formal Christmas party for all of its employees do. And I was kind of right.

I came to find it very difficult to concentrate on whatever it was that I was reading when I began to overhear one of these men explaining that he “has one rule on a job – get in and get out and I don’t care about anyone else. I do what I have to do.”

It wasn’t long before I realised that this was an office party for a troupe of petty criminals. Some of the things they said were in equal parts, hilarious and fascinating. I’ve included a selection of them below:

The cheapest shops are the hardest to rob from; you’d be out of Brown Thomas much handier than you’d be out of Penney’s.
• My nieces and nephews are the biggest shoplifters in this town. I taught them everything they know.
• Y’know Jane Doe? You know their ma? She’s 85! She used to be the best shoplifter in Dublin. The second she steps onto Talbot Street; she gets radioed all through town by the security.
• Smyth’s is getting ripped asunder now before Christmas.
• I have a friend in the Department of Social Protection, so I get free travel. I haven’t paid for a bus in ten years.

Beyond these nuggets, I was struck by how mannerly the lads were to their fellow customers and to those that were serving them – especially compared to a far rowdier group of law students, nearby. It was definitely interesting to have these two groups all together under one roof and that roof not being one belonging to a courthouse. It really affirmed our belief that the pub is the great egalitarian space in Irish culture where all different streams of society freely mix.

Anyway, The Kings Inn is a fantastic place: Traditional feeling, with all the right modern tarnishes – in the landscape of pubs in Dublin, we’d consider it a must!

Kenny’s Pub and why Ireland’s First Taoiseach Probably Liked Elvis

Standing and sitting all around him, they gaze ahead, unemotionally, and in glib expectation of a continuance of the mediocrity that has so far graced the stage on this cold winter’s night. He has no light show, no backing band, and no bejewelled jumpsuit for to dazzle them with – he’s garbed in a nondescript t-shirt and the pair of brown cords that we always slag him about wearing. He’s singing into a budget microphone, over a synthesizer-heavy, cheap-sounding backing track. Though it’s all eyes rolling and lips pursing as they recognise his song choice, his timely deployment of a few hip swivels and arm rotations has them softened before the first chorus comes in.

By the time he’s dropped to his knees for the middle-eighth and pleaded with the nearest pensioner to “wipe the tears from your eyes” and “not let a good thing die”, he has them fully onside for the home stretch. Finishing the song, he takes his applause and joins us where we’d been laughing at him in the crowd, throughout. After enquiring with us as to where he’d left his pint, we all returned to our seats in the bar and rejoined the remainder of our friends and the prostitute who had since joined us at the table.

Numerous people within the population may disagree with sex work and more again may be anti-karaoke. But one could only surmise that only the smallest of subsets of even those people would argue that neither karaoke nor sex workers are entirely out of place in a public house. But what if we told you that this is no ordinary public house?

When those shots, arguably the most impactful ever fired in Irish history, had long finished echoing through the Cork countryside and Michael Collins had been put in the ground in Glasnevin; the task of governing the Free State was placed upon the head of a Mr William Thomas Cosgrave. Known to most of us as WT Cosgrave, he was obviously a man who didn’t fancy much of a commute to his work given that when he fought in the Rising under Eamonn Ceannt – he did so in the South Dublin Union – a then-workhouse, which now forms part of the St. James Hospital complex. And handily enough for WT – the South Dublin Union happened to be across the road from Burke’s pub – where he was born, lived, and also put the odd shift in. This pub, as observers of the plaque outside it will know – is now Kenny’s.

The reason we felt it important to emphasize, as we did above, about this being no ordinary pub is that our own impression of it was just that. There’s a relatively narrow bar on the left side of the building and, at the time we visited, the pub was ticking over with customers who all seemed to be local enough and enjoying themselves. Kenny’s is a good-looking traditional pub. One where the pint is fairly priced (€5 as of late 2022) and is well crafted by the bartenders who, on our collective visit, are full of chat and banter as they go about their duties.

Other than that inconspicuous plaque, there’s no blatant or obvious reason for someone who wanders into this pub from the street outside to know that it’s the birthplace of the State’s first de facto Taoiseach. Who, himself, fathered another Taoiseach. There’s no indication in the place that it was once raided during the Civil War and that the uncle of the State’s first de facto Taoiseach was shot and killed here. Passing from the bar of the pub into its expansive lounge and sitting amongst all the spectators of the karaoke, therein, you could never imagine that this building did bear witness to such historical events.

The funny thing is though, that places of such historical significance tend to be more solemn and reflective places. You’d hardly have your Aunty Margret up doing her best Proud Mary down at Arbor Hill, or Uncle Tommy giving My Way a good blast in the yard in Kilmainham Jail, now, would you? So, with that in mind, you can’t help but question the appropriateness of Pintman №3 crooning out his best Suspicious Minds in here, though, can you?

But, rest assured, the more and more we’ve thought about it, the more suitable we’ve come to believe that it is. What you need to do to achieve such a state is to look at the lyrics of the song – not from the perspective of a paranoid lover – but from that of a combatant in a civil war. Cosgrave is the man who had to make the big decisions to steer Ireland out of the Civil War, post-Collins. It could be argued that it is he who is the quintessential civil war figure in Irish history. And given the alternatives available to him at the time, you could say that he was caught in a trap.

When you consider the threat of awful and terrible violence from the British war machine that hung like a Damocles sword over the head of the State’s first government, were they to not have settled the civil war, you come to realise that Cosgrave could not walk out during that violent time in Irish history where most of the cabinet and their families barely ever left government buildings for fear of execution. And all this because he loved you (i.e. the path to achieving a real republic) too much baby.

So, to us, there’s no reason why the performing of Elvis can be considered as a disrespectful act, on such sacred turf. It is also worth noting that, though they seem worlds apart, Cosgrave didn’t die until 1965 – at which point Elvis was already established as a global superstar. And who’s to say that the founder of Cumann na nGaedheal, anti-royalist as he was, didn’t have a soft spot for this particular King, were he to be played on Radio Éireann back when rock and roll was taking over the world?

As for the woman who had joined us, that – to us – was an unusual encounter in a Dublin pub. We had clocked her mostly-unreciprocated overfamiliarity with all of the men who were arriving into the pub as we were there, and we’d privately made a few guesses as to her profession being that which ranked as the oldest in the world on this basis.

When she did join us for a drink, and confirm our guesses to be correct, she didn’t opt to stay around for long when it was established that we were not prospective customers.

We definitely do stand over the case we’ve made for WT being likely to let a bit of Elvis slide on such hallowed, historical ground, but we can’t say with any degree of certainty that, given his endorsement of the closure of Dublin’s notorious red-light district: The Monto, the case can be made for Mr Cosgrave looking so fondly upon the solicitation of sex on the premises.

So, if you’re a blueshirt, a karaoke fan, a member of the vice squad, or all of the above – or if you’re just looking for a few decent pints, get yourself down to Kenny’s of James’ Street for one of the best nights you could hope for.

Epilogue: We do just want to make sure it’s clear that we are not suggesting that the management/proprietors/operators of this pub are involved in the provision of sex for sale. The sex worker we met in this pub was not affiliated with it or its staff. As alluded to above, this was a fairly unusual encounter – not only in Kenny’s (which we’ve separately and collectively been to a handful of times and not experienced) but in Dublin pubs in general.

Operation Barnstorm and Why We Need to Hide The Barn House Pub from The USA.

When the war finally came and the sands around the city were raised by hellfire from above, Amani could hardly believe the calm that had washed over her. All through the previous weeks, nervous energy had clung to every street in the city like a foul smell from which there was no escape – she felt it intensely, thinking of little else as the men in suits on the other side of the world pondered her and her country’s fate. So, when the first troops arrived and the noise of the city’s traffic and its hurried inhabitants had given way to interludes of intense quiet which padded the thunderous cacophony of war, she couldn’t help but feel a conflicting sense of relief. Relief that, even though all had changed utterly, at least, for now, the waiting and the tension were over. 

As the invasion advanced and Amani’s calm subsided, and she expected that it would soon become enveloped by fear. But as she watched and heard of events that unfolded, she instead had become stricken with anger. And not the prevailing shade of anger familiar to all, across the city, who heard it shrieked from the political leaders and the radical Imams, but an anger for those who had no regard for the sanctity of the artefacts of the past. She found herself incandescent with fury upon hearing of the looters. The selfish and the greedy – who took it upon themselves to pillage priceless relics from the nearby National Museum, while the city was on its knees. Equal, too, was her ire for those who just stood by and allowed them to do it.  

At that time and after it was apparent that forces belonging to her country and its invaders, did not share her views on the sanctity of the relics. Protection for millennia-old Mesopotamian remains or for pre-Islamic art was not evident. What was evident, however, was the interest that the invading forces had in protecting infrastructure and resources pertaining to the country’s oil industry. 

The above is a fictionalised account of an eyewitness report I read from someone who described their experience of the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003. And even though it was definitely a bit indulgent of me to open an article about a pub in Dublin with that, I’m happy enough that it’s at least a bit relevant. If even just tenuously so. For the second time, The Barn House, the last pub before The Grand Canal at Dolphin’s Barn, had me thinking about US Imperialism the other week. I had first tied the pub to the topic a year and a quarter or so ago upon the occasion of my first visit to the pub. 

You know the way they say that smell is the sense that most easily triggers our memories? Well, I can attest to that being true because the main abiding memory that I have of The Barn House is of the pungent smell of kerosene. It was early in the year and a crowd of us were crawling toward Rialto. We all agreed that we could smell it, diesel or petrol we thought. Pintman №11 and his qualification as a mechanic of many years allowed us to dismiss these guesses and collectively agree on kerosene. So potent was the smell at the time, that one of us joked that it was just as well the Yanks didn’t know about this place, or else they’d be in looking for WMDs and ready to liberate us from an authoritarian dictator. There was even a readymade, media-friendly name for the offensive; Operation Barnstorm would look great in the papers, we all agreed. 

That conversation, a mere footnote in the day, a throwaway joke at the time, would come to gain new importance in the year that followed. Not personally having thought of that canalside pub for quite a while, or the jokes we made, therein, you can imagine how quickly it all came flooding back when, as I doom-scrolled through Twitter, I came to happen upon a picture of Chief Yank in charge himself: President of the United States of America – Joe Biden. It was during the time that Joe was on his official visit to the island and here he was, happily rolling along through Dolphin’s Barn on his way up to the Áras, or wherever, in his bulletproof limo. And in the background, none other than that kerosene-rich hostelry: The Barn House. Just as well he’s looking out the other side and that that thing is hermetically sealed, I thought to myself.

Thankfully Joe didn’t take any notice of The Barn House on this occasion, so he’d be no use to anyone who’s reading this to find out what the pub is like. So I suppose that’s where we step in. I’d be lying if I were to say that we got a great sense of the place during that first and only visit. Other than the smell of home heating fuel, there weren’t too many features that stood out. TVs aplenty and a few betting machines were noted. Dark carpet added to the overall dimness of the place.

We agreed that it was a local’s local. and it had plenty of youngfellas who were comfortable enough there to roar the house down as they watched Man Utd playing some inconsequential league tie.The staff were very accommodating and the pint was more than acceptable too (€5, early 2022).  But we would be lying if we said we didn’t enjoy Lowe’s before, and The Bird Flanagan after, more than we did the Barn. 

My thanks to all of you who’ve stayed with us to the end of this and my apologies to anyone who waded through all of it just to get some sparse information on The Barn House. And if you’re ever in the environs of Dolphin’s Barn and see the Chinooks and Black Hawk Helicopters coming across the horizon – you know the score! Grab your go-bag and head for your bugout shelter.  

Smells, Slang & Stout; Why The Malt House is a Working Class Davy Byrne’s

Each and every June, they don their straw boaters and bedeck themselves in their finest Edwardian splendour. By foot, bicycle, and horse-drawn cart, they can be seen as they to and fro around that familiar circuit. They’ll be spotted alongside the fortifications of Sandycove, and they’ll be seen at the mouth of Westland Row. They’ll be seen on Stephen’s Green and in Merrion Square. You’ll undoubtedly see them out on the pavement of Duke Street as they quaff overpriced burgundy for to dull the sharp sting of the similarly overpriced gorgonzola that has just passed their lips. But one place you will almost certainly not see them is at Number 27 James’ Street. And for the life of me, I cannot begin to fathom why. 

I’m not sure if it’s just me. Still, every time that Bloomsday – a day I’ve heard referred to as Paddy’s Day for arseholes on more than one occasion – rolls around, I find myself a bit annoyed that all of the reportage from that day invariably centres around those familiar and picturesque vistas mentioned above.

I’m not trying to sound bitter, but having, as Joyce did too, a bit of a persecution complex, I’m always a bit annoyed that we rarely see images from the more working-class areas featured in Joyce’s writing. Areas like James’ Street and pubs like The Malt. 

It’s unlikely you’ll find it mentioned in the literature that litters the lobbies of hotels around the country – but The Malt is a pub that features in that novel which has been called the most prominent landmark in modernist literature – Ulysses. Specifically, it appears in the Wandering Rocks episode where the reader follows Tom Kernan, a tea merchant, as he passes Crimmins’ Wine and Spirit Merchants at numbers 27 and 28 James’s Street – The Malt is the business that now occupies number 27. 

From the sundial towards James’s gate walked Mr Kernan, pleased with the order he had booked for Pulbrook Robertson, boldly along James’s street, past Shackleton’s offices. Got round him all right. How do you do, Mr Crimmins? First rate, sir. I was afraid you might be up in your other establishment in Pimlico. How are things going? Just keeping alive. Lovely weather we’re having. Yes, indeed. Good for the country. Those farmers are always grumbling. I’ll just take a thimbleful of your best gin, Mr Crimmins. A small gin, sir. Yes, sir. 

James Joyce, Ulysses

Long-time readers of the blog might be aware that our framing of a pub, relative to its minor inclusion in the works of Joyce has almost become a bit of a DublinBuPub trope at this stage. Knowing this, I initially sought to write this one without any such mention. But the more I tried, the harder it seemed to become. I just couldn’t escape the thought that a place like The Malt House – it being so brimming with working-class Dubliners, all at ease with themselves and others, in full flow of their peculiar Hiberno-English is precisely the sort of space that Joyce himself would have feasted upon for his own particular literary peculiarities. 

We would ask all readers of this piece, who seek to gain a rounded view of this pub to first allow our presence in four pubs immediately before the visit we are going to speak about here, to act as the disclaimer that it should. We will note that the pub had, during the course of that afternoon, come to be highly recommended when Pintman №9, an employee of a nearby manufacturing concern, the one that actually possesses a literal malt house, had set our jowls watering in anticipation when he spoke of the quality of the local brew that he had enjoyed there some months previous.

For fear that we’re going to lean toward another of our tropes, we won’t comment on what we really think about this. But, the first thing you should note about The Malt House is the fact that food is served. If the management in The Malt House wants to impress upon you: the customer, or you: the passerby, or you: the general member of the public – it is that they serve food.

The Sundial Mentioned in the quote above

And just like the commercial malt houses in the nearby expansive brewery, whose roasting of barley regularly engages the olfaction of the wider Dublin 8 postcode, en-masse, this particular malt house also happens to do so as well. Not with barley though, but with that aforementioned food offering. The patrons of this malt house are free to inhale the fragrance of their fellow customer’s dinners, as they emanate from the kitchen in the pub’s rear. And given that any Joycean worth their salt will waste no time quoting about sweet lemony wax, tang of faintly scented urine and, eh, Nora Barnacle’s… essence –  we’d have to make, once again, an argument for its inclusion as a Joycean touchstone. 

In the short time that we do spend in The Malt House, we find ourselves in conversation with two welcoming lads who waste no time in rearranging their table to make room for the heft us that have arrived and opted to sit at the table next to them. In the same spirit of nearby hostelries, they waste no time throwing a bit of slagging our way when they realise that we’re from the far side of the city. One of them is quick enough to enquire with regard to our League of Ireland allegiances – “Yis aren’t bleedin’ Bohs fans now are yis?” We manage to assuage any tension with a tenuous allegiance to St Pat’s by qualification of one of us having Inchicore parentage. 

And that is about all we can really report from our maiden voyage to The Malt House. It’s a straightforward pub. A St. Pat’s Pub. A Dublin GAA Pub. A pub with plenty of friendly and welcoming patrons. A pub with a great pint (€5 as of Late 2022). It’s a pub that this blog might, had it been writing about it just three of four years previously, have described as being typical of the area. But with the demise of Bakers, The Clock and Agnes Browne’s, The Malt House has lived to see itself start to become the exception, rather than the rule. So, regardless of whether this pub is just a common or garden local or a Joycean relic, or both, for all that is good and holy, be sure to get in and experience a good honest Liberties local while you still can.  

Two Pints and a Short Back and Sides: Trying to Define The Bottle Boy

When boyhood’s fire was in my blood, you’d often find me – huddled with the rest outside the hall. Them all with their extra bags and tracksuit bottoms; and me, with no such additional accoutrements other than a note which had been begged from one of my reluctant parents the night prior. A note that would exclude me from the next double class of physical education.

For back then, I was part of that underappreciated and misunderstood troupe of schoolchildren who resisted our school’s insistence that we go run and jump for up to 60 minutes at a time. Our reasons for such resistance were many and varied – but one of mine related to a particular disdain I had toward a particular type of exercise – arguably the most archetypal exercise of all: the press-up. Be it red-faced, so-called educators shouting for five more, or factions of classmates performatively executing them in a furore of hormone-fuelled competitiveness, press-ups always seemed to activate some sort of deep-set, multi-generational terror in me. And I was want to avoid them at all costs. 
Thankfully, though, nothing in this world lasts forever. And eventually, The Leaving Cert was sat and Ewan McColl’s words about schooldays were ringing true – and with no plans for a career in the defence forces or the fitness industry, I could be reasonably satisfied that the days in which I could be threatened by press-ups were well and truly over. Right? Well… no! Decades have passed since your humble narrator was dodging PE classes and all these years later, he has found himself battling, once again, against press-ups. But not as we had known them. 
It was in the fallout period from the global recession at the outset of the 21st century, that Dubliners began to notice things and to ask questions about places they were drinking, eating, or staying in. Questions like – Have I been to this pub before? Did I not have this exact same breakfast in the other place we were in? Is this not very similar to that other hotel I was in? And then eventually, the dots would have been joined and someone would say those two words. Those two doom-laden words… Press. Up. 
Yes. No longer associated with masochistic physical educators, the words press and up now have entirely different but equally terrifying connotations for the Irish pub-going public. Describing themselves as an Entertainment Company, Press Up is a chain of hospitality businesses. Having grown substantially over the last decade, PressUp now boasts a considerable and ever-growing portfolio of identikit pubs, hotels, and restaurants and, as you might have guessed – The Bottle Boy is yet another jewel upon the ever-shinier PressUp crown. 
It might have been entirely appropriate that I should call back to school-going times at the start of this piece because The Bottle Boy is a bit like you might have been back in school – devoid of any clue about what you were actually going to do in the world. Is it a restaurant? A local pub? A hotel bar? A cocktail joint? A Barbers? Why, it’s all these things and more. Previously Valence & McGraths, The Bottle Boy boast the honour of being the last public house on the eastern end of the north quays. The pub forms part of the newly developed Mayson Hotel, which towers above it. 
Entering from the street, the pub is pleasing to the eye. Timber-heavy and somewhat threadbare – it uses worn and undertreated wood as a dominant feature. The bar, itself, which runs along the right is somewhat Victorian in style, containing three large mirrors. Generic old-timey pub bric-a-brac and curios fill idle shelve space where needed. A snug-like section sits attached to the street-side end of the bar but owing to it having only the timber shell of a would-be partition and no door, it could be argued that it’s not a real snug, in the truest sense of the word.

It was all a bit sensory overload when first we visited the pub. It had an after-work crew, nestled into a corner, skulling pints and generally having a laugh. It had a couple of girlies who were glammed up to the nines and waiting for a few cocktails to come their way. It also had a few couples having three-course dinners. The barman, much to my disapproval at that time, would stop pouring drinks just so that he could greet people coming through the door in the way a Maître d’ in an American restaurant might – noisy and fake. It was hard to figure out exactly what this pub wanted to be. And that was before we even found out what was down the back of the place.  
Toward the back of the bar, there is a fire replete with cushioned surround giving congruence to the aesthetic set out in the previous parts of the pub. But, take a few steps more from here and all harmony begins to dissipate. It’s here that you’ll come to be in a larger expanse that opens to a courtyard. Where everything begins to feel more hotel than pub. To the right, beyond these few steps, there is a full barber shop behind a large viewing window – so that all your buddies have ample space to videotape you, as you pay a stranger €25 to give you a mullet, having drank eight to thirteen pints. And just as we mention pints, the Guinness here was in keeping with the standard usually experienced in the various PressUp pubs – more than acceptable, though not outstanding.

We’re forever ending the pieces we write on PressUp pubs on these philosophical open-ended, rhetorical questions – but they are always where we wind up when we speak about PressUp. Why can’t we speak about The Bottle Boy in the same positive fashion that we might regard the likes of The Ferryman with? After all, it’s not a bad pub. It’s definitely better to have it there than it is to have the derelict shell it was there instead.  
Is it a thing that our doe-eyed view of the past, when more pubs were family-run operations and our pining for such is just naïve? Are PressUp not just a modern incarnation of the Mooneys, and are we not just being cynical to be so dismissive of them? We attended a wedding in the hotel since our initial visits, and as a result of that we spent a good chunk of a day in that pub – we think of it fondly since then. And it was far better spending a day in there than it was in some plush ballroom out in County Meath. So maybe we’re just nitpicking. Maybe we should be glad that it’s an Irish outfit breathing new leases of life into these old derelict pubs and not the other shower from across the water? 

But I just don’t know. Ironically, in the way that some the very great pubs of this city seem to have some unknown quantity that makes them so, these pubs seem to also have an unknown quantity in the inverse. One that prevents them from being so. And with PressUp most recently having jettisoned Dollard & Co. – their go at a Fallon & Byrne style offering on Wellington Quay – opting to kit it out as a pub and rename it The Giddy Dolphin, it seems to us that the great PressUp debate is only really beginning. 


A Tale of Two Visits: Discovering Leonard’s Corner under Abnormal Circumstances

Looking back on it now, with the gift of hindsight, and decent software that chronologically catalogued all the photos from the year, I can see that we were fitting a lot into that summer.  

Big weekends like the one in question weren’t as abnormal as they’ve admittedly become. The body and the circumstances were better equipped for an action-packed Thursday to Sunday extravaganza with a full itinerary of very late finishes. It was at the tail end of one of these glorious weekends that I would first cross the threshold of Leonard’s Corner.   

It was a Sunday, nay – it was the Sunday. World Cup Final Sunday, and we were away to deepest darkest South Dublin to watch the fixture in a friend’s house. Yours truly was barely upright and still contending with the Charlie’s that had been consumed when the sun had already started to come up, a mere couple of hours prior.   

Having marginally survived the journey across the city, I located the nearest licensed outlet and immediately realized that, alike the 11 Croatians that were to be shortly lining out against France in Moscow, I was going to have to play this one tactically. 

Cans of stout would not be on the bill of fare for that afternoon. Nor was lager or any other such widely available beer that was for sale in the supermarket I’d found myself in. I had almost settled on cider, when, for some reason at that particular moment, it was obvious that several different variants of cheap sparkling wine were the necessary tonic required for reviving my ailing soul.  

A couple of hours later and things had improved exponentially. Now cured about three times over and with a few quid of French Sweepstakes money in the back pocket, I found myself in tow with some friends as we crawled our way out of Harold’s Cross and towards Clanbrassil Street. Naturally, it wasn’t long before we arrive at Leonard’s Corner.  

Leonard’s Corner, situated on… Leonard’s Corner is one of a unique set of intersections in Dublin that derive their name from a business that was once (or may still be) situated there. Though its name is in harmony with the name of the intersection now, the pub did go through a few different names in its past, previously bearing the name Carrs.

It seems that the original Leonard was a Mr Francis Leonard, who owned the building in the latter half of the 19th Century. And even though this 1894 edition of The Belfast Newsletter shows that he put it up for sale in that same year, the intersection still bears his name more than a century later.

Leonard’s Corner, the pub that is, is a traditional looking pub; L-shaped, due to the placement of the bar and its being on a corner, we found it somewhat dimly lit to an agreeable level on this first visit. On that occasion, having ordered a round and happily sat down at one of the low tables, we – being a bit boisterous with the day that was in it- found ourselves on the bad side of one of the barmen.  

Were we merry from the day? Yes.  

Were we of any harm to others? Absolutely not.  

Were we too loud? Almost definitely.

By pint number two, that barman had asked us to quieten down a few times. And in lieu of pint number three, we decided that we probably were ruining the ambience and opted to leave. 

When I next set foot in Leonard’s Corner, it was on the occasion of wanting a few pints prior to a Mary Wallopers show in the nearby National Stadium. To those unaware, The Mary Wallopers are what I would term a sort of nouveau Clancy Brothers – rollicking balladeers from Dundalk who have a fanbase as thirsty as their repertoire of liquor-laden folksongs. Unfortunately, for our friends in Leonard’s Corner, they were aware of none of this – the Mary Wallopers, their fans, or their concert didn’t exist as far as they were concerned. That is until they did. 

I’m sorry to say that I’m capable of being a petty, petty man. And I know this because of the sense of satisfaction I found in watching that same said barman – the one that had been so vexed with us those four years prior – as he battled against the unexpected hordes, five deep – on the far side of the bar that he tended. I’m sorry to tell you, reader, that I couldn’t shift that feeling of cosmic equilibrium as I gazed into the eyes of that man and saw that he was like a fox in the headlights, timidly asking another customer – ‘what time do them doors open up there’.  

I keep telling people to enjoy bartenders like this while they last, though. The old-school career bartender is becoming a rarer thing in the modern world. This man and his colleagues excelled themselves on that particular night – professionalism defined. They got everyone served in good time and dealt with a swell that would have engulfed the less experienced. And of course, the man was right and proper to throw us a bit of ire on that Sunday in 2018, we’d expect no less from the bartenders in our own local, were a messy group of outsiders to descend upon it on a relaxing Sunday night.  

I suppose we’ve only proven, in writing about our only two visits to Leonard’s, that we’ve never actually been there under normal circumstances. So, we’re definitely not the best arbiters of what it’s actually really like on a day-to-day basis. Then again, maybe we are – those two visits told us everything we need to know about the place and that is that it’s in great hands. I definitely have a grá for the place as a result of those two visits – and I can’t wait to get back there again.  

The Clamper, The Angle Grinder and The Regular: A Visit to Lowe’s in Dolphin’s Barn

Our visit to Lowe’s in Dolphin’s Barn brings creamy pints and plenty of entertainment.

A clamper, a man with a battery-powered angle grinder and a recently clamped motorist all walk into a bar…  

Fear not, reader – this isn’t the first line of a poorly constructed joke – this is the scene which presented itself to me upon arrival at Lowe’s in Dolphin’s Barn on an afternoon, earlier in the year. But let me come back to that a little bit later on. 

Lowes, along with its neighbouring pubs, are ones that have evaded the clutches of DublinByPub for quite a spell. We certainly hadn’t been actively avoiding Cork Street and Dolphin’s Barn – this just wound up being a thoroughfare we never managed to make it past The Liberties to. But with the pubs open anew in the early part of this year we set a course to tackle the street once and for all. And of the three pubs along that particular stretch, Lowe’s is the best by a country mile.  

A one-room pub, narrowing at the back, Lowe’s has a traditional décor. With plain brown carpet underfoot, it contains all its low seating to the front of the pub in the guise of couches and low stools. Containing the pub’s medium-sized bar, the rear of the space contains the majority of the pub’s high stools. A side entrance to the pub brightens the pub decently during the day leaving us to deem the place to have been in good nick upon our first visit. 

On that first visit, I had mentioned to my fellow drinkers that Lowe’s had something of a unique trait, relative to the Dublin pub landscape. I had been saying that though there are many pubs in Dublin which boast the name of a historic pub which once was located elsewhere in the city – Lowe’s is one of few pubs which actually is a pub that was once located somewhere else in the city.  

Having a direct lineage from the Lowe’s, which once stood on Dean Street, and constituted one of the Four Corners of Hell before its demise in the late 80s, The Lowe’s name has adorned the façade of this Dolphin’s Barn premises since the early 90s and is one of that interesting subsection of Dublin pubs that have moved location and are operated under the same name and by the same owner, or at least the descendants of the same owner. 

Our visits to Lowe’s would suggest that it’s a well-run pub. We found ourselves greeted warmly on each visit and found the drink to be in very good order, too. Coming in at €5.20 (Mid-2022), there wasn’t too much moaning to be done about price either. 

But there was plenty of moaning to be done about price by a man who was evidently a regular after he arrived into the pub one evening. Not that of the pint, though. From what I gathered – this fella worked nearby and was after having his car clamped. Sitting up at the bar and relaying his woes to the barman and all within earshot, he’d come to discover that he was sat between a clamper and a builder who happened to have, in his possession – a battery-powered angle grinder. Having been fully briefed on the legal workarounds by the man in the know (“they won’t give a shite… unless you’re a repeat offender..A code black they call it – happens all the time”), he left with the angle grinder and returned smiling ear to ear. He stood his two advisors a few pints and drove off into the evening. 

Lowe’s is a fine pub and well worth a visit, just leave the car at home if you end up going there. 

DublinByPub does not condone or recommend the removal of clamps by any means other than those advised by the relevant authorities.

Edit: we were entirely incorrect in what we said about the pub moving location, above. While we’re still certain it is connected to the Lowe’s which once constituted the Four Corners of Hell, the Dolphin’s Barn outfit has stood there for far longer than we had thought – since the 60s it would seem. Meaning it would have run concurrently with its namesake down on Dean Street. Many thanks to the commenters who set us right here. Must stop taking stories told to me in pubs as fact. Prior to Lowe’s, the pub was previously called Hunt’s. Hunts went for auction in 62.

Harkin’s – The Harbour Bar: Grand Canal Place

I was thinking about canals the other week. Not just in general – I had Dublin’s two canals – The Royal on the Northside and the Grand on the Southside on my mind. Now I’m not here to delve into the wider history of them, today, but that’s well worth looking into if you’re so inclined. But the canals are often, relative to this blog, foremost in our thoughts. Like so many, we use them as boundaries – deeming them to denote where the city centre of Dublin starts and ends. But, as I sat down beside Patrick Kavanagh on my lunch break during the week – I was thinking too, how their initial purpose, to be used for trade and commerce, is virtually eradicated now.  

I was asking Paddy, whether he reckoned that his Canal Bank Walk poem might have been the thing that done it or at least heralded it. This change of the canal zeitgeist, as it were, to its modern form. The transformation of our consideration of this body of water to be a source of ecology, of nature and biodiversity and not solely a for-profit feat of engineering. 

Paddy, being a bronze statue, naturally did not respond to me. But I’ll post his poem here, which – as you’ll observe, makes no mention of industry or logistics. 

Canal Bank Walk 

Leafy-with-love banks and the green waters of the canal 

Pouring redemption for me, that I do 

The will of God, wallow in the habitual, the banal, 

Grow with nature again as before I grew. 

The bright stick trapped, the breeze adding a third 

Party to the couple kissing on an old seat, 

And a bird gathering materials for the nest for the Word 

Eloquently new and abandoned to its delirious beat. 

O unworn world enrapture me, encapture me in a web 

Of fabulous grass and eternal voices by a beech, 

Feed the gaping need of my senses, give me ad lib 

To pray unselfconsciously with overflowing speech 

For this soul needs to be honoured with a new dress woven 

From green and blue things and arguments that cannot be proven. 

Patrick Kavanagh

Now it’s probably bad enough to be reading this if you’re Brendan Behan – because after me just mentioning one of his most vocal adversaries, I’m now going to move on to speak about the pub he was in when he collapsed and ultimately died in 1964.  

Harkin’s, aka the Harbour Bar, is a pub situated on Grand Canal Place. And it could be argued that the pub and the street that it sits on are in direct defiance of the entire point that I made about the canals, above. Because, as one walks up Grand Canal Place, they might begin to notice that despite its name, there isn’t sight nor sound of the grand canal to be found anywhere. And if that leads you, as it did me, to curiosity – you won’t be long finding out that – just like outside The Lower Deck, there once was a Canal Harbour in situ near this pub. And this explains it retaining the name The Harbour Bar. And then you’ll look up at the grand vista of the Guinness Brewery and you’ll be very much reminded of the canal’s purpose as an artery of business and not a leafy lover-filled habitat. 

Harkin’s, being so close to the historic harbour, and being the last standing of such harbourside pubs in this environs, now finds itself with the distinction of being the pub closest to The Guinness Storehouse. On the smaller side of the city’s public houses, it’s a one-room pub which exudes an intimate, cosy sort of charm about it. Being so close to one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions, the staff have clearly had plenty of opportunities to work on their customer service given the warmth of the welcome we seem to always receive in the place. And it’s a good genuine warmth too, as opposed to the brand of Mid Atlantic faux-niceness you might get in other establishments.  

Crowd-wise, it’s no surprise to say that the pub is not shy of tourists, but it also has locals aplenty and retains the feel of a proper Liberties boozer. There’s good craic to be had in the place. When last we darkened its door, we were delighted to bump into Mark, a local historian, who had us more than entertained talking about the history of our locality and sharing some old photos of it that he had on his phone. The barmen, however, on hearing we were from the Northside of the city, wasted no time in giving us a bit of stick – all being ardent Southsiders, themselves. (Check out Mark’s pages here and here

Regarding the pint, you’d be imagining that the quality would be up to scratch – being so close to the mothership. And you’d be entirely correct in imagining as such. Pintman №2, №3, №9 and I, on the occasion of our last visit there, decided that the quality of the jar and its €4.90 pricetag (Late 2022) warranted us staying for two more pints than we had initially intended to.  

There isn’t not much to be said about the pub regarding décor, function trumps form here and we’re not looking at anything too ornate. Our abiding memory of all of the structural elements of the building was the relatively long corridor that runs down to the gents. I had remarked to Pintman №2 that it struck me as the type of thing you see before you emerge out to the crowd in the mid-nineties tv show, Stars in Their Eyes. He preferred to liken it to the tunnel in Anfield.  

As we alluded to earlier in the post, it’s a fact that this was the last Public House Brendan Behan ever took a drink in before his body succumbed to years of alcohol abuse. While not exactly a great omen – and morbid and all as it is to go there, I’d have to say that even though I’d have plenty of places further up in the queue for where I’d like to take my last pint, I wouldn’t be disappointed if it had to be Harkin’s in the end.  

Noctor’s: Sheriff Street Lower

Coming toward the latter end of 2021, we’d had it fully planned and spec’ed out for a good while. It had been a slack year for the cause with all concerned in the DublinByPub ranks – assorted big life changes and a worldwide pandemic had given time its relished advantage to get between us. So when the opportunity to get the band back together and collectively hit a few city-centre pubs presented itself to us, we knew we had to make it count. It had to be one of our most wanted. It had to be Noctor’s.

There was to be a half-day, a preferred route, and a plan b, we may have even discussed wardrobe at one stage. But in the end, pints, just like they always do, would make light work of all these well-honed plans, leaving a half-drunk troupe of us bundling up Sheriff Street under the cloak of darkness, a few weeks out from Christmas.

Now let us, at the very outset, state that we have no interest in perpetuating the rough and ready classification that we’ve often heard attributed to Sheriff St. But with that said, we’re not looking to paint this part of Dublin 1 as some sleepy, oak-lined friendly avenue, either. We are but mere impressionable suburbanites. Suburbanites who exist and communicate, more than many, in that pub-talk realm of lore and hyperbole – and it’s in these spheres, exclusively, where we hear mention of, and talk of Noctor’s. And when this particular public house is up for discussion, the sentiment is never positive. It’s always tales and warnings of how “you’d take your life in your hands going up there” and that “you’d do well to keep away from that mad kip”, and so on, and so forth.

So with these warnings and tales of woe, alongside other nuggets like the supposed fact that Jim Sheridan brought rapper, 50 Cent here one time, making our existing curiosity curiouser, it’s not long before we’re stepping through the adjoining financial district and making haste toward Sherriff Street. We may be, outwardly, acting like we’ve not heeded any of those cautions, but a spike of adrenaline, internally, is telling an altogether different tale.

When we shortly find ourselves turned onto the fabled street, the initial reaction is one of disappointment. An absence of a glowing façade, or assortment of smokers, all compounded by a closed set of shutters, leads us to initially believe that the pub is closed and that our journey has been a pointless one. Pintman №2, not being one to waste valuable drinking time, immediately sets course to return the way we came – only to look back and realise, just like in some terrible slasher-flick, that he’s completely alone on the dark street. Heading back towards the pub, he realises, just as we had, that, despite the unopened shutters, the pub is actually open. Immediately, he enters to find us standing at the bar on the receiving end of what can only be described as an interrogation at the hands of the barman and a few of the locals sitting around him. Questioning is carried out in the form of:

Where are yous from?

What are yis doing here?

Who told yous about here?

Insisting that we’re only here for a few pints, as the rest of us mumble incoherently in not-so-stoic agreement, Pintman №3’s retort is met with steely silence before the barman declares, in response, that he hasn’t decided if he’s going to serve us yet. At this point, things go sad-funeral quiet as the staff and the locals continue in their inspection of us. And just as we consider letting go of our last collective nerve and bailing, the bar erupts in laughter.

Yizzer alright lads!

What do yis want?

Sit down there and I’ll bring them over.

By the time we’re about to sit down, we’ve acquired the attention of a fair few of the locals, most of whom engage us in conversation. Pintman №3, in a manner befitting an affable 1950s Fianna Failer, makes no qualms about joining a sizeable table of habitués and chats away with them about one of the locals playing over the speakers – a Mr Luke Kelly. The rest of us, in turn, find a spot and chat across the divide with a woman who happens to be drinking a can of Tenants – an unusual sight in a Dublin Pub, we agree later.

As promised, pints are dispatched down to us in short enough time and we’re more than impressed with them. We note them as being of an incredibly high standard and the price to have been set at €4.50 a pour (Late 2021). A bargain, we agree, especially in the context of the comparatively inferior pints we had been drinking for 5.70 on Capel Street an hour prior.

Décor-wise, this is a pub where function certainly trumps form. That’s not to say that we haven’t drank in worse looking pubs (we have) but, suffice it to say that other licensed premises within the city might be more likely to end up in that Dublin 2023 calendar your Ma is going to get you for Christmas. The pub is, however, laid out well for its intended purpose – a dark wood, small to medium size bar stands on your right as you enter the pub. Banks of low seating take up the space on your left. And there’s a sizeable bank of floor space between the two. Curved arches at the far end of the seating space denote the leisure section of the pub wherein stands a pool table and a dartboard. The colour scheme, overall, is bright – walls are painted in a beige/cream sort of tone and the flooring is a varnished, yet somewhat weathered light wood. Some dark wood in the seats and the tables and shelves add a little contrast.

Earlier in this post, we said that we wouldn’t paint Sheriff Street as a sleepy, oak-lined friendly avenue, as if such a thing was what a street should aspire to. But, in all reality, why would anyone want to aspire to such boredom. Not that you need us to tell you this, but Sheriff Street is an infinitely more interesting place than some leafy, embassy-saturated thoroughfare in Ballsbridge. And, let alone the scores of well-known and beloved Irish people in music and the arts of both today and yesterday that have come from here, this is also thanks, in no small part, to somewhere like Noctor’s. Its clientele is friendly like very few other city pubs’ are and it’s yet another pub that has taught us to take little heed of supposed notoriety.

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