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!