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. 

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

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. 

A Code Black (File Photo)

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.

Hunts for Auction

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.  

Harkin’s – The Harbour Bar: Grand Canal Place

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. 

048 The Harbour Lights, Echlin Street (1977)

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.  

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.

Noctor’s: Sheriff Street Lower

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.

Noctor's

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.

Verbose and all, as we’d like to be about every Dublin pub that we visit – sometimes there’s just no escaping the plain and the ordinary from our experiences. And not that we’d like to label Kavanagh’s of New Street as such, it just happens to be such a pub relative to all of our experiences there.

Kavanagh’s: New St.

Each time we’ve darkened the door of this particular hostelry, we must admit that it on the occasion of having left the big and the green, and admittedly enjoyable, bombast of its nearest competitor across the way, and we’d be naïve to think that this didn’t feed into our view of the place. So do take that as a disclaimer, if needed.

A medium-sized and well-maintained pub, it’s a rather bright space during the day and, as Pintman №2 would put it – a grand place to watch a match, though it must be disclosed that this is an attribute he affords to any space that has a visible television and a sky tv subscription.

A large bar sits to the left of the space as you walk in, and a stonework arch catches the eye at the back of the room. Leading out to the beer garden and the toilets – it was in the passageway beyond this arch that we found what we considered to be one of the more conversation-worthy features of the pub – a note that read “no drink to be brought out back after 7 pm, as neighbours are complaining”. Something we all agreed definitely threw a sort of passive-aggressive shade toward dwellers domiciled in the pub’s proximity.

Kavanagh's Sign

We had reason to recall the tone of this particular note during the pandemic when the pub hit the headlines for their defiance of Taoiseach – Micheál Martin’s pleas for pubs to refrain from selling takeaway pints, childishly referring to him as ‘Mehole’ their printed quote.

Thankfully, there wasn’t such juvenility evident in the pint pouring and pricing to be found when we visited. Pints were of acceptable standard and caused no considerable hurt for either wallet or the palate. There was no food about the place on the occasion of our well-dated visits, but even the quickest look at the pub’s social channels will tell you that this is something they’re really pushing lately. Suffice it to say that we don’t need to tell you how we feel about that.

But keeping pandemic-era politics and anti-carvery bias aside, we’d categorize this as a grand little pub. An unremarkable and inoffensive local shop. And God knows that they’re becoming a rarer and rarer gem these days.

In the waning weeks of 2020, before everything turns to shite again, I find myself upon a bench amid inexplicable red plastic protrusions shooting from the ground in a manner as confusing as the tax affairs of some nearby headquartered multinationals. I am hungover and am sat like some sort of 21st century Kavanagh – begrudging people on e-scooters and segways, as they whir by in twos and threes.

I make a phone call to distract myself from the cold and am eventually joined by my better half, who, in true depressing, 2020 style has just come from a funeral. We’re here, amongst the jauntily-angled architecture, for to tick off one of Dublin’s most recently built public houses.

Brewdog

Hastily, in the end-of-year cold, we make toward the furthermost end of the southern quays, remarking, as we go, on the newness of the buildings and the emptiness of the streets. In short time, we come to an uber-industrial, faded-red steel-beam framed building; in Caledonian blue the sign above the entranceway reads: Brewdog.

To those unfamiliar, Brewdog is a Scottish brewery and pub chain which has been one of the defining entities in Craft Beer’s international boom toward the mainstream in this part of the world over the last decade and a half, or so. Having exponentially grown from humble beginnings, the company quickly became one of the UK’s largest independent breweries. In its lifetime, they’ve become known for their provocative marketing techniques and have ended up doing things as uncool as suing somebody for using the word ‘punk’. Recently they were implicated in a whistle-blower’s report which accused them of fostering a toxic and fearful culture within the company.

When we arrive inside the building, we land at an empty reception desk and, once there, wait about five minutes for someone to approach. We rumble through the formalities of the dreaded ‘new normal’ – the Covid protocols of the day – and are sat at a table on the ground floor, not far from some sort of indoor fire pit. Our server then hands us some menus for our perusal and reminds us of time limits that apply (under said- Covid guidelines) before promptly disappearing for fifteen precious minutes of our meagre allowance of drinking time.

In these fifteen minutes, we peer about the vast space like a couple of curious meerkats, only to be somewhat frustrated by the otherwise unoccupied staff who seem in no rush to take our order. As we observe one of them doing a literal dance for another, we decide that our efforts are in vain and decide to try and suss out the locals – a more difficult task than first imagined. We discern no obvious customer base at this time – the décor seems to request a young and trendy clientele, but instead, on this occasion, has pulled in a lot of middle-aged professional men and their laptops, a former Fine Gael TD amongst them, single-handedly robbing the place of any pretensions toward cool or hip it may have held, heretofore.

Eventually, we do get to order, and we order plenty. The beer, of course, is phenomenal. Having been to a Brewdog bar or two across the way – I’m happy to admit that the beer is always outstanding – in its quality, its variety, and its presentation. Dublin, thankfully, is no exception- there is even a pilot brew kit contained within the premises and, indeed some beer brewed in that very same set of equipment is to be found for sale in the pub. And while the quality of the fare is not up for comment, the price certainly is. This is a very, very expensive place to drink. A pint of their flagship beer – Punk IPA, comes in at a walletclenching €7.20 (Circa Late 2020). We theorise whether the pricing is just set to be in line with the salary of the nearby residents’ or an end to a means concerning the maintenance of such large premises. We settle on both, probably.

Concerning the building, the first thing to note is the size of it – it’s huge. Set out on two vast floors, it encompasses all sorts of different types of seating. Downstairs is afforded an abundance of light from its large open windows, while upstairs has porthole windows aplenty to look out as you play whatever game it is that is played on a glossy-polished table so long that it would put Vladimir Putin to shame. If you find that you’re not in a sporting sort of humour, and the weather is ok, you can head out to the considerable balcony/roof garden space, which enjoys views of the very last, or the very first of the waters of The Grand Canal.

Brewdog – Grand Canal

The design spec of the building is what you might call late-stage hipster industrial-chic. Unaffected concrete abounds with the requisite complement of exposed beam, cable tray and air duct. Curated street-art style murals are plentiful and instagramable neon signs are, of course, to be found. And I suppose plenty would call it an impressive looking sort of space, but when I walk around it, I can’t help but thinking to myself that such a large and faux-industrial space trying to convey its indie and punk vibe is oxymoronic in every sense. It’s the antithesis of indie and punk – it’s what Carroll’s Gift shop is to the 1798 Rebellion. It’s not punk, it’s aggressive capitalism wearing one of those cheap Ramones t-shirts that was almost certainly sewed together by an impoverished wage slave in deplorable working conditions, far, far away.

As someone who has drank in and enjoyed drinking in Brewdog bars abroad in the past, I really wanted to like this place. But I guess the reality of it on your doorstep just proved too much to handle. If it were more central to the city, I’d probably concede that I’d have ended up returning at some stage. But it’s so out of the way down there in silicon, low tax land that It’s unlikely I’ll be heading back to spend so much money anytime soon.

So, if you want good and expensive beer served in expansive ironically threadbare surroundings amidst tech bros, property developers and Fine Gaelers, by all means – head on down to Grand Canal Dock and fill your diamond-encrusted boots. But in the case that you’re looking for the real deal, The Thomas House is located at 86 Thomas Street.

Once upon a springtime’s evening, myself, Pintman №2 and a handful of other drinkers had found ourselves wandering merry through the streets of the capital. We were undertaking that grandest of Irish Sunday traditions – bouncing from pub to pub in the late spring sunshine attempting to assuage that impending doom of Monday morning with craic and pints.

We had started in The Liberties and had found ourselves up that long and boozy boulevard which contains streets Wexford, Camden, George’s and Aungier. Our intention was to make slow headway back to The Northside when we came to The Lucky Duck – one of Dublin’s newest pubs at the time. It looked decent, and in a time when we hadn’t any notion of who PressUp were – it offered no preconceptions, either. So, we decided to drop in and check it out.

The Lucky Duck

Standing at the threshold of the pub, we were met with the one thing which singled it out from others – the addition of a bouncer on the door. A certain anomaly for a normal pub of a Sunday evening. Having been scrutinized by our craictoseintolerant friend, we just about made it into the pub and happily found ourselves, a pint or two later, acquainted with two middle-aged local women who took it upon themselves to enthral us – their willing audience, with tales of the pub in its former guise – The Aungier House, or The Danger House as it was known to them. We asked them whether that name was warranted back then, to which they replied – sometimes.


As mentioned prior, the pub is operated by the much-maligned PressUp group and was opened in 2018, ending a two-decade-old spell of dereliction. The opening of the pub also happened to render an algorithmically generated route which solved Leopold Bloom’s much-quoted puzzle (about crossing Dublin without passing a pub) null and void. Take that, computer nerds!


The interior of the pub is newly kitted in a similar Victorian style to some of its nearest competitors. It merges newly purpose-built elements alongside apparent repurposed ones and contains a medium-sized snug at its Aungier Street side. A copper-topped bar runs most of the length of the space completing the look. It’s a very good-looking bar, certainly the most attractive in the Pressup portfolio, in our opinion.


Another feature of the pub which you might notice as you walk down Upper Digges St. is the collection of Delft Houses, which adorn shelves in the window. Cian, over on EveryPubInDublin, has identified these as souvenirs which were distributed by Dutch airline – KLM. These are noteworthy, as they refer to the intended name of the pub – The Dutch Billy.


We’re not entirely sure why the pub is called The Lucky Duck. We toyed with the theory that it was probably a name that was chosen in keeping with the avian pond-dweller theme established by the nearby (and excellent) Swan pub. Or possibly that it could be connected to other Dublin hostelries containing the word Duck in their title – there being two: The Dalkey Duck and The Wild Duck. Neither of these theories would prove conclusive.


What we do know is that the pub was to be called The Dutch Billy under the assumption that the structure containing the pub was an original Dutch Billy (A Dutch Billy is a specific architectural style of house which was built in Ireland during the 17th and 18th centuries and was named after King William of Orange). Plans for this name were so far advanced that a web domain was registered and a sign painted. But given that the above assumption proved to be incorrect, the name was changed late in the game.


The pint, on this maiden occasion, was noted as being acceptable, though not exceptional. Price was not recorded at this time, though there was an outburst worthy of a warning from the bouncer when the price of the toasty was revealed to us. This price, while remembered as being somewhat outrageous at the time, was also not recorded. In the latter half of 2021, the Guinness is now recorded as having been well presented but leaving something to be desired and was priced at €5.80 per-pour – a far cry from the £1.70 previously charged in The Aungier House, as reported in The Evening Herald in 1995 which, further on in the edition, reports the price to be one of the lowest, if not the lowest, in the city.

aungier


I think we’d be happy to label this as our favourite of the pubs in PressUp’s arsenal. It would be easy to be cynical about The Lucky Duck, especially given its proximity to The Swan – one of the city’s most authentic versions of the sort of pub that The Lucky Duck seeks to emulate. But why would you want to be cynical – they’ve, admittedly, done a fantastic job with the space. They’ve replaced a dismal derelict shell with a beautiful pub. And yes, there is a bigger chat to be had around PressUp’s furthering monopolisation of the sector, but for now, how can any of us, especially in the context of contemporary dereliction discourse, argue with something as nice as The Lucky Duck?

Me uncle had wolfhound,

That never had to pee.

But Hairy Lemon snatched it

Down on Eden Quay

The words of Pete Saint John, as sung by the gravelly baritone of Ronnie Drew in John’s encyclopaedic ballad – The Mero. The song, whose title is derived from a Dublin cinema, is one which seems to chronicle every conceivable Dublin City character of the mid-20th century – Bang Bang, Alfie Burn, Dolly Fawcett, Con Martin, Johnny Fortycoats and as mentioned above – Hairy Lemon all make the cut.

The Hairy Lemon

According to Bobby Ahearn’s excellently titled book, which brilliantly catalogues Famous Dublin Characters – D’you Remember Your Man? – Hairy Lemon was “a formidable dog-catcher who patrolled the city around the time of World War II”. In the book, Ahearn outlines how Hairy Lemon – a jaundiced man with an oval-shaped head was frequently used as a deterrent for bold children, who’d be told to “behave, or Hairy Lemon will get ya.”

Sadly, Hairy Lemon died a lonely old soul with no friends or family to remember him. That task came upon the local librarian in Cabra, who, having not established the man’s actual name, put a prayer in the local mass that week for the salvation of H. L., not wanting to have the priest referring to the dead man in such colloquial parlance.

While his name may have been a mainstay of the Northside back during The Emergency – today Hairy Lemon’s name looms large on the southside of the river. In the heart of Dublin 2, at the junction of Drury and Stephens’ Street – there sits a pub which some have incorrectly assumed was named in homage to a long-forgotten, rancid piece of citrus. A pub that is actually named after that fabled dog warden of days gone by – The Hairy Lemon.

Glowing like freshly bloomed Howth gorse on a dull day, the pub looks out upon far dimmer surroundings and looks a great option for thirsty passers-by. Passing through its doors, you’ll be greeted by that haphazard yet welcoming sort of décor where the only design spec is to cover all and any available wall space with whatever you can, with no regard for theme or homogeneity. Aside from the bedecked wall space, there is wood and exposed brick that abounds to complete the look. Amidst all of this, there is the notable addition of the bar featured in The Commitments. Sitting close to the entrance and making up part of the structure that contains something resembling a snug, drinkers can imbibe alongside the same timber that Colm Meaney knocked his curly head off in the cutaway scene in the movie when The Commitments play their first gig.

Colm Meaney Commitments

We’d advise drinkers to locate to the Drury Street side of the bar, where seating is overwhelmingly comprised of high stools and nooks and crannies are provided aplenty. The window-side seats are very appealing and offer some fantastic people-watching potential. And as for those whose hunger outweigh their thirst; we’d advise them to make toward the Stephens’ Street end of the building – wherein the lower seating section is located and where most of the sit-down meals tend to be served. Overall, though, this is a pub on a large scale – with the full of the upstairs offering ample additional pinting space, along with a terrace for smokers – first and second-hand alike.

When discussing the pub amongst ourselves we were all in agreement that we certainly like the place. And then in probing further on this, we came to identify the pub as being one that put us on the right pathway, so to speak. A gateway pub. A pub that your immature, early-twenty-something-year-old self could find a semblance of comfort in when all social life was the dark and the loud meat markets of lingering adolescence. This was the type of place that offered a warmly lit convivial alternative to those gaudy nightclubs that no one really liked anyway.

Pintman №2 and №3 are the most recent of us to have darkened the door of the pub and report that the pint (early 2022) is hitting the wallet for €5.80 and while being described as acceptable, is also noted to be considerably lacking when compared to some nearby pinting dens which have become known for the quality of their stout.

While we’re not drinking pints there too much lately, we can’t help but have a fondness for a pub like this. It educates us on a character of old. It doesn’t present itself with too much pretentiousness. You could very easily find yourself drinking in worse surroundings.

If you were to happen upon the scene of a very recent murder and inadvertently disturb evidence there and then find yourself, as a result, in police custody and subsequently charged with a murder you did not commit and then, after all that – find yourself at trial, convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment whereupon you end up in an overcrowded prison cell, drinking a primitive sort of alcohol brewed from fermented scraps of fruit foraged from bins and canteen floors, you’d be spending the same amount of money, but having ten times the craic as you would be if you were drinking in this glorified Cromwellian monument.

Keavan's Port

Have some respect for yourself and walk up to J O’Connell’s, instead.

At the very outset of this post, I first want to offer you, well – future you and your team, some information that will undoubtedly aid you in answering one of the questions in a pub quiz. The question will centre around the Olympic Games and will most likely ask something along the lines of – in what year were the 2020 Olympics held? And you will know that this is a trick question and that the answer is 2021. All because you came to read the ramblings of this pub-obsessed headbanger.

The Bleeding Horse

Now, none of this really has any real correlation with the pub about which I intend to speak. But let me be honest with you and admit that this year’s delayed Olympics was the first where a Modern Pentathlon had cause to leave me in thought of a Dublin Pub.

Yes, it was of course in the midst of one of those irksome Monday hangovers when I was putting in the longest of my working hours. I was listening to the radio and heard the far-too-cheery hosts discuss a German Olympian: who had met the ire of the internet when she was found to have punched her horse during the equestrian section of the Modern Pentathlon event. “Was the horse bleeding?” asked the host at one stage. Immediately I was transported to that awkward junction at the top of Camden Street.

A cavernous pub set out on multiple floors, The Bleeding Horse has the distinction of being one of the few Dublin Pubs which retains the name it held prior to the 1872 Licensing Act, which required the proprietor to affix their name to the premises they ran. It should, however, be noted that the pub’s name was changed to The Falcon Inn for a period in the middle of the 20th Century, and having done a bit of archive digging on it, I’ve found that most mentions of the name in the media are to lament it having been changed in the first place – one such article being humorously headlined: What’s bleeding wrong with the old name?

WhatsApp Image 2021-08-18 at 9.16.55 AM

The definitive genesis of the name itself is unclear, though there does seem to be two front-running explanations. The first of these relates to the claim that there was once said to be a farrier on-site at the premises, who would carry out the practice of bleeding horses for supposedly beneficial reasons. And the other, of which there are a number of variants, relates to a riderless horse entering the pub having come from a battle, further afield (some say during the Cromwellian invasion and others say during the United Irishmen’s 1798 rebellion). In each telling of this version of etymology, the horse is said to be bleeding upon entry with some going as far as to say that the horse dies on the floor of the tavern. One of the sources I checked even alluded to the pub being haunted by the spirit of the dead horse and mentions that strange, unexplained noises can sometimes be heard in the pub after close. But this author would argue that this is more likely a result of the kebab shop across the junction.

Pintman №3 and I were recently chatting about The Bleeding Horse and immediately we were in agreement that it was a pub which we both certainly liked. Its abundance of differently shaped, sized, and lit spaces give it a wide appeal and its historical chops are, of course – an advantage. Not only does the pub have age and name at its disposal to pique history gluttons, but it also has plenty of ties to Literature – James Clarence Mangan is said to have frequented the place and it gets a mention in the grandest of Dublin texts – Ulysses. It’s also cited in Donleavy’s Gingerman.

Speaking some more about the place, we did note one feature which we’d mark the pub down on and that was the expanse of the large, centre-located bar. Mulling this over, we compared it to Synott’s of Stephen’s Green – their’s being the most extreme example of over-allocation of bar space. Though we were in agreement that The Bleeding Horse wasn’t that far gone. Naturally enough, after that, chat mutated to talk of large bars in general. We wondered if our unease with them related to some subconscious awareness of longer beer lines and their inherent susceptibility to the production of poorer pints, in comparison to their shorter counterparts.

We also pondered the phenomenon of larger bars not usually increasing the speed at which you could obtain a pint, suggesting that there may be complex mathematics at play behind the scenes there. But that’s definitely one to work out over a pint and with a few betting slips and bookie’s pencils.

The Bleeding Horse really is understated in comparison to some of the pubs in our city, whose owners (or PR agencies) are only too happy to fabricate some bespoke bollocks to tie in with their “image” and sell you sugar-laden, low abv cocktails. The pub is a good one, and an infinitely better choice to drink in over its newest neighbour. And while we can’t speak for the quality or the price of the pint at this minute, given the gap between present times and our last visit, we certainly would have no hesitation in returning to suss this out. And we might just.

Post Script: And just might, we did. A recent visit to the pub gave us the current price (late 2021) of €5.50 for a pint of Guinness, and a more than acceptable one it was too.

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.

Gill’s: Russell Street

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.

Gill's 2

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.

Gill's - Jaxx Tinfoil

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.