Alike all the great cities in the world, dear Dublin of ours is one that is often defined by its most famed thoroughfares. We may not have avenues that garner attention on par with that afforded to the Champs-Élysées or Broadway, but there can be little doubt that our little metropolis is oft-characterized by the expanse of O’Connell Street darkened in the rebellious shade of the GPOs grandeur, or by the hustle and bustle of the Grafton streetscape vignetted in sound by the various buskers of the given day.
Of course, there is little wrong with these scenes, they are what they are by no accident, but, as all keen and unkeen travellers alike will tell you – the real heart of any city is, more times than not, found off the beaten path. Hidden off in small side streets, where industry and old habits clamour against nightlife and gentrification, is the concentrated distillate of a city’s very essence.
Harbouring about as great a variance of energy as the underground pipes knocking about over on the continent around CERN, Capel Street is one of Dublin’s better examples of the streets described above. Serving as a main, yet narrow artery from Dorset Street as far as Grattan Bridge, it’s a street that pulls far more traffic than was ever intended. Acting as something of a demarcation between the end of the Henry Street shopping district and the beginning of the more residential setting that lies close to The Four Courts, it is a street that we would wager gets its unique energy from the variety of businesses that are to be found along its length. These contain, though are not limited to:
• Restaurants – both Dine-In and Take Away
• Charity Shops
• Sex Shops
• Antique Shops
• Electronic Repair Shops
• Music Shops
• A Hardware
• A Tool Shop
• A Pet Shop
• A Tattoo Parlour
• A Jewellers
• A Comic Book Store
• A Tailors
• A Workwear Shop
• A Model Shop
• A Hemp Shop
Sitting somewhere roughly around the middle of all of this is Slattery’s. Along the corner that facilitates the meeting of Mary Street Little and Capel Street, it strikes a more curved appearance than any other on the street. Complete with its Romanesque windows and striking façade, you could argue it to be the most unique-looking on the street.
Operating as a licenced premises since the 1800s, the pub boasts as having obtained the authority to operate as an early house in 1892 in order to cater to the once-bustling nearby market trade. Though trading through the Rising, The War of Independence and The Emergency, we would argue that the pub’s most notable contribution to Dublin and Irish history is its use as a music venue in the latter half of the 20th Century.
One doesn’t have to exhaust to much clicking power in their research of this pub to find that it happened to become a bit of a muso’s paradise from the 1960s onward. Catering for genres aplenty, it was the go-to venue for rockers, bluesmen, pipers, singers, and listeners galore. There are accounts of all sorts of different musical nights on the various floors of the pub: an acoustic night, a blues night and a number of different trad nights – a long-running one called The Tradition Club and another, The Mug’s Gig, organised by Donal Lunny and Andy Irvine – so-called as it took place on a Monday night.
The trad nights in the pub, by all account were legendary, a recording of a night at The Tradition Club survives and is available here. Cream of the crop participation wasn’t unusual with some of the evenings pulling in anyone from Seamus Ennis to Ronnie Drew up to Andy and Donal, and their pal, Christy Moore. Christy even namechecked the publican, Paddy Slattery in his song “Me And The Rose”.
Phil Lynott is also said to have frequented the pub too, an account of him reciting some of his spoken word poetry at an acoustic night there is given by a pal of his, Ivan Pawle, in Graeme Thomson’s biography of Phillip. It would even seem that the pub’s ability to pull in the stars of stage and screen hasn’t waned too much given that it was the venue of choice for Anthony Bourdain when he wanted to make use of the early license for the cure and a fry in the Dublin edition of his TV show, The Layover.
Slattery’s is a good-looking pub, there’s little denying that. With its rectangular bar sat in the middle of the pub, it offers up plenty of choice in the ‘ol nook and cranny department. The matte-tiled floor, colourful in comparison to the rest of the pub’s dark wooden interior, contrasts well. And there’s a sort of museum redbrick wall adorned with ephemera relating to the 1916 Rising which flanks the stairs down to the toilet.
Whether as a result of the Bourdain visit or not, the pub would seem to be geared more so toward a tourist market these days. We found this to be evidenced, firstly, by a substantial collection of literature and leaflets about day trips and visitor experiences beside the entrance, and secondly, by the over-enthusiastic floor staff who tended to pester us with food menus and premature glass collection while we were there last.
Thirdly, and perhaps most conclusively, was our winding up on a crawl with a few Norwegians during this visit. Through a mouthful of snuss, one of these lads told us that they arrange a trip to Dublin every few years to satisfy their relish toward decent Guinness: fair play to them. Speaking of Guinness, Slatterys pours a decent one which warrants no negative commentary regarding taste. Financially, though, we found it less agreeable, it being relatively high to some of the neighbours (€5.60, as of May 2019). Though when or pals from Norway told us about the fifteen quid price tag, apiece, on their pints back home, admittedly, it didn’t feel so bad.
So be ye celebrity chef, ballad singer extraordinaire or stout-thirsty Scandinavian, we can only offer you the same advice we’ve been doling out to one and all for many’s the year. Namely that Capel Street is one of Dublin’s greater drinking streets, due in no small part to the fact that it has no bad pubs, and Slattery’s is most certainly no exception to that.