Back there in March at the outset of the end of the world, when everyone was elbow deep in everyone else – fighting for jaxx roll and self-raising flour, you might have seen me up on the quays, at the mouth of Parliament Street, sketch book in hand, scribbling away. You see, like a sizeable part of my commonly crowd-shy countrymen and women, I had found myself diluting and rationing the last of my quickly dwindling supply of soap. After the deluge of panickers had subsided, me and my ilk would be left to find shelves, which would normally replenish our supplies of soap, utterly barren.
It was then that I thought of the Sunlight Chambers – a building which sits on the westernmost corner of the Liffey end of Parliament Street. The building is characterised by glazed ceramic friezes which run above the ground and first floors along the length of the building’s façade. Running in a sort of storyboard arrangement, the friezes are said to depict the process of making soap – a sort of early 1900s YouTube tutorial, if you will.
As you might imagine, I wasn’t really able to extrapolate any of the required information on how to get the DublinByPub luxury soap product line up and running, so instead I opted to take a ramble up Parliament Street. If you’re not too familiar with the street, I can only urge you to take a stroll up there some afternoon – it’s laden with historical significance to the city of Dublin: It leads up to City Hall, it contains Thomas Read’s – Dublin’s oldest shop and it’s also home to The Turk’s Head. A pub whose name dates back quite some time.
Those of you who have very graciously been following us along over the last few years might recall the piece we wrote on The Deer’s Head of Parnell Street. In it, we referred to a group of Dublin pubs as the ‘headed’ pubs – those being the ones with the word head in their title – we then wrote a little bit about the genesis of such names. The Turk’s Head, as it turns out, is a fairly common pub name over in the UK and it sort of comes hand in hand with another common pub name across the water – The Saracen’s Head. These come as a couple due to the fact that they are both said to relate to The Crusades, or heraldic symbols derived from The Crusades.
We did a bit of research on the Dublin incarnation of the pub named as such and found it to be dated back as far as the 1700s. However, in the course of this research, we found another possible genesis for the name – it being that it may have been derived from a type of sailor’s knot. It is suggested that the knot, known as a Turk’s Head due to the resemblance it bore to the style of Turban worn by Turkish natives at the time, would be used as a symbol to lure illiterate sailors into pubs close to bodies of water.
We mightn’t ever come to know which of the origins apply to this pub when it was originally bestowed with its name, but the fact that it still retains it is certainly a bit of a buzz. As is its placement, with the name Turk’s Head, so close to one of Dublin’s more beloved Kebab shops – Zaytoon.
I think it’s a fair assessment of the place to say that The Turk’s head looks like no other licensed premises in Dublin. Taking its aesthetic from the prominent reflective mosaic work, which spills from the centre of the bar across to other pillars in the room. Drinkers might find themselves, after one or two too many, gazing lovingly into one of the faces which are set into the shimmering miscellany of broken tile.
The bar, too, is a unique one when compared to the more run of the mill structures your average Dublin drinker would be accustomed to. Sitting in the centre of the room in a misshapen rectangular arrangement and topped in marble, it offers the usual array of macro beers seen in most pubs around Dublin.
This pub, to our estimation, isn’t what we’d consider a pub in the truest sense of the word. You certainly wouldn’t be landing in at 11.30 of a Tuesday morning after your granny’s funeral for a few sambos and a verse or two of The Parting Glass. We’d categorise the Turk’s Head as more of a late-night venue, than a pub. And to that end, we can’t really offer too detailed of a guidance on the place, certainly not in terms of the pint, anyway. Having collectively spoken on how we remember our respective last pints in The Turk’s head, we’re in agreement that pricey and not-great are two key attributes. But that may no longer be the case. We’ll defer to more up to date knowledge, should we receive it.
I don’t think we were ever going to laud Turk’s Head when we came to write about it. And that’s all grand – it’s definitely a case of horses for courses. We’ve had some good nights in here but not the type of nights that you envision when you think of the word pub in its traditional sense. Either way, we’re just delighted that the 18th century name remains.