From Stevedores to Life on Mars: U2, Bowie and The Dockers Pub.

From Stevedores to Life on Mars: U2, Bowie and The Dockers Pub.

On a September’s Friday evening, hardy drinkers have gathered into a quayside pub to mark the end of their working week. The pub, named in accordance with their customer’s and their customer’s forebearer’s profession, is in full swing as the last of the daylight is waning – cigarette smoke hangs in the air and aids in condensing the sound of song, laughter, and general merriment – all of which plays in symphony alongside the hiss of beer taps and the clanging of a busy cash register. 

Just as the evening is threatening to finally become night, the pub’s creaking front door swings ajar – and in what seems like an instant, a silence has spread itself through the entire pub – the way the arrival of a bridesmaid to a waiting crowd at a wedding ceremony might. Through the haze of the smoke and from the last of the evening’s natural illumination, steps a man into the pub. Emblazoned in a tailor-made reflective blue suit, the dull workwear-garbed patrons of the pub regard the man with an initial bout of bewilderment which eventually gives way, as most things do in Dublin, to indiscriminate slagging.  

I wasn’t there when this happened. I’m not even sure if I was alive when it happened, but this is a take on what it might have been like when David Bowie set foot in The Docker’s pub a few decades back. Recounted in Bono’s recent memoir:  Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story – the U2 lead singer alludes to how Bowie might have assumed the bar to be docker-themed, rather than docker-frequented, when he arrived there to meet the U2 lads for a few pints, a few decades back.  

It’s often said of Bowie that he was a futurist, and was ahead of his time, – there’s even a clip of him more-or-less predicting the forthcoming impact of the world wide web in 1999. So, we could argue that he was simply flexing his futurist abilities back when he met Bono and the boys for a few scoops, all those years ago. And I say this, because, if David Bowie were alive in the year of our lord: two-thousand and twenty-four, and well enough to frequent the renovated and reincarnated Dockers pub, as it is now – he’d have been absolutely correct in his estimation of it being docker-themed.  

That particular theme is demonstrated in the assortment of dock and docker imagery that adorns the walls of the pub and by the portrait that is printed on the wall and into the denim uniforms worn by the staff which depicts an older man – replete with flat cap and beard – presumably an old docker himself.  

Housing all of this is that well-worn faux-industrial style of pub fit-out we’ve all come to know and loathe – bare brick, exposed ducting and pipework all being par for the course. The ground floor is divided into two main atria: one of which houses a medium-sized bar and also provides the entrance to a smoking garden in the rear.  

When Pintman №2 and I arrived shortly before the after-work rush of an evening last year, we found ourselves being somewhat re-traumatized with memories of Covid-era drinking, when no sooner than we had stepped up to the bar, were we greeted by a member of the floor staff who had rushed to us and insisted upon seating us and serving us at the table, despite our preferences otherwise. Lovely and all, as this server was, her insistence on serving us in such a manner was made all the more perplexing when the 5 pm rush arrived and made table service entirely impossible. 

That 5 pm rush was an interesting sight to behold, from an anthropological point of view. It left us to wonder if, back when the docks were in their zenith, you’d be able to identify a drinker in a pub as being a docker on account of their dress or by objects they might have carried. This, we wondered, having observed this crowd of so-called Silicon Dockers that rushed in and noting a majority of them being laden with backpacks. And further so, when it was noticed that a majority of this majority simply left these backpacks on. Whether this was due to their reluctance to have their company-issued laptops therein, lost or stolen – or simply some sort of new fashion trend – we didn’t know – but it did amuse us to remark on their likeness to overgrown, pintdrinking schoolchildren. Not that we would condone the act of schoolchildren drinking pints, of course. But if this were a parallel world, where it was acceptable and beneficial for schoolchildren to drink pints – we’d wager, given our own experience, that they would be happy enough with the standard of Guinness here. But it would cost them €6.50 (Autumn 2023) of their pocket money every time they had one.  

Some who’d have little difficulty in shelling out €6.50 for a pint of something made up the river, are the pub’s incredibly famous former patrons. As suggested earlier, the pub has an affinity with the band U2 – who are said to have often drank there when recording in the nearby studios in Windmill Lane and Hannover Quay. The band even accepted a Billboard award by video transmission at a bar in the pub in 1992 and gave Phil Collins a bit of a hard time.  

But nowadays you’ll find no mention of the band within the pub. From all that we’ve seen and heard, the current proprietors don’t seem to be trying to trade on what we’d assume to be a relatively lucrative association. Granted, we are mere business-averse consumers who wouldn’t be able for a Junior Cert profit and loss account, but this seems like a missed opportunity.  

After all, what could be more of a perfect U2 pub than one that’s polished, expensive, commandeered by multinationals and not nearly as good as it was in the 1980s?  

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