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

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.  

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