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.