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Slashing through the darkness in a manner photoluminescent, it sits affixed to cladding, casting all who pass by the pub in its unworldly scarlet hue. Cheekily hinting back to days when ladies of the night pounded this particular beat of Benburb Street, it feels entirely alien and un-Irish – its look, its feel and most of all: its wording. In standard sans-serif, capitalized font it spells the two words out plainly: P-H-A-T J-O-I-N-T.

Whether its youngones on the DART calling things that are not lights ‘lit’ or auld lads from Cavan on Facebook calling me a snowflake, there’s always just something about native Irish people using Americanisms that just doesn’t hit my ears right. It was this that fed into my preconception – when I’d be passing by that sign. I had managed to conjure up an image of an entrepreneurial Stoneybatter hipster bragging to his pals about how he was going to open, not a deadly pub, but a phat joint. I wasn’t mad about him, to be entirely honest. I’d developed not only a distaste for him, but also for his pub – a pub whose threshold I had never even stepped beyond in my life. This disaste would not abide.

Running longer than it is deep – The Dice Bar, much like its Queen Street neighbour, is a bar whose hipster credentials are more naturally evolved than its contrived counterparts scattered about town. With tones of black, nearly black and red being those most dominant, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was just another run of the mill traditional Dublin Pub when the lights are off. But visit at night and observe the abundance of neon which provides one of the primary sources of artificial luminance in the room, you’ll find that it’s transformed to one that’s more post underground gig pints than it is aunty Margaret’s 60th.

Offering bar-proximate high stools and combinations of couches and low stools to its habitués, The Dice Bar is one in which you could comfortably spend a few hours drinking in, or go on the batter in, to phrase it with the expression derived from the locale. Options to do so are plentiful, with the bar offering up pints of a house red ale which tends to sell well on the premises. Regarding the Guinness, I’ll have to put my cards on the table here. Neither Pintman №2, №3 or I have been in the pub in a good few years, so we haven’t been able to make a conclusive call.

Normally, the MO here would be to just visit again and rate the pint, but with global pandemics being what they are, we’ve opted to go another route here and contact Pintman №8. A former Smithfield resident and a capable man where pints of stout are concerned, Pintman №8 is a man well capable of gauging the quality of a jar. His qualified assessment of Dice Bar Guinness amounted to a belief that the pint was of an acceptable standard albeit that the delivery of same wouldn’t have been up to the standard of other neighbouring shops.

So if ever you do situate yourself in this pub with a decent pint in hand and you still find that you’re embittered at the thought of someone diluting the Hiberno-English lexicon with New Yorkisms, rest assured that your fears are unfounded. It didn’t take me a whole lot of digging to discover that Hughie from the Fun Lovin Criminals once part-owned this pub. And I don’t think it’s too much of a leap of faith to imagine that he, a man well qualified to verbalise utterances such as Phat Joint and other assorted phrases from the USA, may just have been the one behind those red neon words mentioned at the outset of this piece. And when you consider that Hughie and Co. also brought the iconic DiFontaines to our shore, you’ll quickly realise that there’s plenty of room to embrace the Liffey being diluted with just a little bit of the Hudson now and again.


UPDATE: During of May 2020, the proprietor of The Dice Bar took to their Facebook page after apparently suckin’ back on a good feed of grandpa’s ol’ cough medicine. There, they proceeded to make comparisons between the so-called ‘lockdown measures’ imposed by the Irish Government in order to stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus and the transportation of Jewish prisoners to concentration camps at the hands of Nazi Germany. Naturally enough the owner was excoriated by the bemused readers of their statement. They apologized, well sort of… I think. Nonetheless, it would be remiss of us not to mention it. Anyhow, the choice is yours and yours alone when it comes to where you drink, Frank Ryan’s & McGettigan’s across the road are both grand pubs.

The year is 2053 and the end is nigh! Global warming, nuclear warfare, global pandemic, zombie apocalypse – picture it however you see fit. I was thinking about how certain subcultures would get on in some sort of apocalyptic scenario there the other day and ultimately I came to realise that the first set of the general population to start to see rapid attrition, aside from the infirm, will ultimately have to be the hipsters.

My hypothesis is based on two main ideas – firstly the veganism. Now I’m not for a moment going to knock vegans – fair play to them! Especially those who do it properly. But the type of fad veganism that hipsters tend to have a proclivity toward can’t be good for the system – taking all of that iron out of the equation just to look cool can only mean one thing– anaemia. And the anaemic are certainly at a loss when our plague-stricken sun scorched, sea-swelled, radioactive night of the living dead doomsday scenario plays out.

Secondly, and this is something a chiropractor or a spinal surgeon might easily school us on, but it seems to me that the variety of mismatched, rigid and antiquated seating one tends to happen upon in The Bernard Shaw and its contemporaries just cannot be the type that leaves your spine in a better shape than it would have been prior to use. I’m near-on certain that we’ll have a good cohort of grey-haired hunchback hipsters knocking about the place telling us how they collected their pensions before it was cool come 2053. And lord knows that they’ll be ripe for the pickin’ when all of the looters and the undead come rummaging around the gaff at end of days.

So, The Bernard Shaw. Name after Portobello’s most famous Nobel Laureate (who, himself, shortened his name by dropping the George at the start of it), this pub is one held in the same regard by the hipster class as St Paul’s Cathedral would be by subscribers to Catholicism. It’s a boozer which tends to be revered by cooler kids than I for its exterior rather than its interior. We’re told that the beer garden is extensive and that there’s a double decker bus somehow involved in the whole setup. Unfortunately all of this is a bit lost on me – my take on al fresco drinking being that it is better done on grass and through the thriftier means of cans. And as for drinking on a bus, personally I wouldn’t want to risk a Vietnam flashback of some of the things I’ve seen on the 27 down throughout the years.

As with all pubs, our concern lies mainly with the interior.

More Cockney flower girl than toast of London, the pub is comprised of three main sections – the front bar, triangular in its layout, screams twenty minute lunch rather than six pint session – although there is something to be said for its purpose as a prime people-watching real estate. Closing in acutely, this section leads toward a small set of steps which bring you to the lower area of the pub – this in turn houses a larger seating area complete with DJ box and the third section of the pub – a tiled corridor, in essence, sits at the back of the building. The aesthetic of the place is standard hipster chic – rough and ready – characterised by mismatched minimalist furniture and perpetually changing artwork.

Pint-wise, the main complaint is to be made in relation to the price. €5.70 is the sum charged for a Guinness – which, in fairness, was a bit of a majestic drop. Along with the stout – and as you’d expect from such a place – there’s a wide range of craft on offer too.

It was always unlikely that we were ever going to come to extol the virtues of this place. At best for us, it’s a decent lesson in subjectivity – people love it! And we’re fine with that. But with that said, our likelihood of return is probably most appropriately summed up with Shavian parlance – “not bloody likely”.

Mainly for the fear of joining that easily-offended, ever-moaning subset of the public who believe in the one true lord and saviour – Joe Duffy, we decided we wouldn’t. But when we first visited T O’Brennan’s we had considered lodging a complaint about some of their signage with the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland.

If you ever find yourself in or around the area within which this pub is situated, we strongly urge you to go and check it out – Its renovated facade is a thing of wonder. Harkening back to humbler times, its perfectly-rejuvenated red brick and carefully restored signage really is a feast for the eyes, especially when you consider how the building looked only a few years ago (pictured, cr: Google).

 

When we approached T O’Brennan’s for the first time with the intention of entering and having a drink, we were feeling all the better of about four or five pints of your ordinary, run of the mill, nitrogenated, Dublin brewed, draught-stout. And having found ourselves in this particular drinking rhythm – our intention, though unspoken at the time, was to carry on consuming this very same beverage. So when we drew closer to the pub and observed a large oval-shaped sign bearing the brand name of our preferred purveyor of stout, we figured that we had no cause to suspect that we would encounter any interruption to the drinking pattern we had established on this sunny summer’s evening. But when we came to order a few pints here, suffice it to say that we were a little disappointed.

The sign which we mention above (pictured, cr: Google) is placed upon the west-facing end of the building at ground level and is one which replicates an old Guinness bottle label. Prior to the 1960s, it was common practice for Guinness to be bottled by the seller rather than the brewer – bottles which would be kept and reused in-house would be adorned with labels supplied to the publican by Guinness, these would generally include the name of the pub, or its owner, or both.

Thinking about the sign in the last while, we’d thought that maybe the new owners had revived a name which was previously attributed to the pub and that the sign depicted one of these old labels. After a bit of digging, we found that the building was in use as a public house during the ‘bottling era’ but couldn’t seem to come across anything mentioning the current name. Then we struck gold. We found an image of an actual label used by the publican, Patrick Leavey, who was the man behind the taps in the pub way back when. And wouldn’t it be fitting enough that we found it on The Beer Nut’s Twitter feed, The Beer Nut is an extremely knowledgeable beer blogger (check out the blog here!) whom we once had the pleasure of having a few pints with… inside the walls of St. James’ Gate! We’ve shamelessly knicked the image in question (pictured), and we’re pretty satisfied that this is the one that the sign is likely based upon.

When we finally did temper our expectations for what we could drink in here and decided against making a complaint to the ASAI we opted for two pints of Porterhouse stout. Pintman №2, a man whose tongue’s ability for mockery and mimicry far outweighs its capacity for discerning the flavour profiles of malt or roasted barley, denounced his beverage as being too ‘coffee-ish’ – a complaint he makes about every craft stout he encounters. I eventually came around to enjoy the drink after my taste-buds managed to acclimatise themselves.

A small one-roomed pub, T O’Brennan’s is easily the cosiest of any craft beer pub we’ve set foot in. Its use of more traditional pub furniture sets it apart from its contemporary craft beer houses, which tend to favour furniture rooted in aesthetic over comfort each time. The decor is most certainly craft-beer centric with metal signs depicting a wide array of breweries taking up much of the wall-space, these were noted as having been effected in a more mindful manner than that of other such pubs around town. Navy blue upholstery blends nicely with the dark wooden bar and floors, while white and blue upon the top and the bottom half of the walls lightens the space well. The drink, as one would expect from a craft beer boozer, is varied and plentiful. There also seemed to be a good variety of the stronger stuff on the back of the bar, most noticeable being the gin.

On this visit, we just had the one pint and thumbed through a few books with photos of old Dublin which we found on the shelves behind us. As I perused the black and white images of poorer people of yore, I came to contextualise my first world problems with reference to the deprivation that was once commonplace in the tenements of Dublin and indeed Dominick Street. So I threw another mouthful back and listened to the bells of the passing tram wane, and as a warm summer’s breeze swept through the pub I felt contented with my lot – so much so that I turned to Pintman №2 and said – ‘It’s not so bad is it?’

– ‘It’s too coffee-ish’, he replied.

– ‘Not the gargle!! Life!’

– ‘Life!?” he wondered, ‘what are you after??’

– ‘Nevermind’

I’ll certainly darken the door of T O Brennan’s again. Pintman №2, on the other hand, might take a bit of convincing.

Outside of a few punts on The Grand National and Cheltenham, I think that it would be a fair assessment of myself to say that I’m not that much of a gambling man. But with that said, I’m here to tell you today that I would happily bet pounds to the pence that former Ireland and Leeds footballer – Johnny Giles, when given the option of drinking somewhere other than The Back Page, would probably do just that.

So here’s the thing, it’s not that I have any inside knowledge on Gilesy’s drinking venues of choice or his inclinations toward craft beer or anything – it’s just that on either of the gable ends of The Back Page there is, in the guise of street art, two nods to Giles’ former colleagues. One is a direct Eamon Dunphy quote likening Christiano Ronaldo to a fish and the second happens to be a colourful caricature of the late Bill O’Herlihy, fully complete with his trademark catchphrase: Okey Doke.

I’m not for a moment suggesting that Johnny would have a problem with either of these two embellishments in their own right. It’s just that if I were him I’d probably be a bit annoyed about the proprietors of The Back Page not completing the troublesome trio and emblazoning me upon their facade too. But Gilesy I am not, so I suppose that I should state for the record that my initial visit to The Back Page was made with no such biases, hypothetical or otherwise.

If those two above-mentioned features haven’t convinced any of you football-mad readers out there, I must hasten to advise you to make no mistake about it, The Back Page is here to stake its claim as one of Dublin’s utmost soccer-centric bars. With national and club football flags and scarves looking down upon the countless images of moments from soccer history, this pubs grá for the beautiful game is something it wears proudly upon the sleeve of its vintage Italia ’90 jersey. I’m even sure that I wasn’t hallucinating when I saw wallpaper comprised entirely of FIFA PlayStation covers stretching back as far as the nineties on one of the walls.

The downstairs interior of the pub consists of three main sections, -the bar which is situated at the front of the building is the first of these. Tending to be dimly lit upon each of our visits – it’s a space wherein you’ll find a handful of high tables outside of a raised section with lower seating. A medium sized bar is placed to the right of the space, beside which sits a full-length bookcase housing a sizeable collection of board games.

The bar itself is well stocked and offers a wide range of craft alongside a couple of the old reliables. Guinness came in at the painfully high price of €5.60 a pop, and while objectively it wasn’t a pint which was overly poor on quality, it was most definitely one which felt like very poor value when compared to the price and standard in the pubs located within the immediate vicinity.

Beyond the main bar toward the back of the premises, there is a lengthy atrium which offers high seating at bar-tops which seemed as if they were protruding from the ledge along the wall in the manner in which they jutted out perpendicularly. Opting to sit at one of these we surveyed the rest of the space and found agreement in our dislike for what was essentially the kitchen from a pizza restaurant. This particular feature which sat partly obfuscated by the bar made us feel we were in a restaurant more so than a pub.

The third main space within the pub is found down a short corridor from the right side of the front of the pizza restaurant. Housed within here is a games room which boasted a veritable leisureplex worth of amenities such as pool tables, table tennis tables, and a crazy-golf course. Yes. Crazy Golf. In the pub.

if any of you currently reading this happen to be long time DublinByPub readers, you may have already twigged that this one wasn’t for us. I’m certain that there are people whose experience of going for a few pints can be enhanced with the addition of miniature golf and pizza, but those people are not us. And while I’m sure that our absence from this pub is no lamentable matter of fact for its proprietors, I can only offer our particular opinion. And our opinion saw something of a contrived and gimmicky affair.

But different folks will take to different strokes. Plenty will have no problem with a sports bar being readily built and decorated. Us, we prefer a more organic establishment of a boozer’s theme. We reckon it’s like reading a book – in order to have a meaningful understanding of the narrative you have to read through the entire text. You can’t just skip to the back page!

As you move away from Thomas St. and make your way toward Dame St you will likely find yourself wandering past a noticeboard. Upon this noticeboard there is a crudely painted heading which reads ‘Upcoming Events’. As you continue to read, you’ll find no less than six events listed in equidistance below the heading and painted in the same crude manner, yet smaller. Beer, beer, beer, beer, beer, beer. This may well be your first encounter of The Beer Market – a pub that sits on that buffer zone between The Liberties and Town, known as High St.

The Beer Market is one of the ever growing number of Galway Bay Brewery (GBB) Bars that have begun to proliferate throughout Dublin over the last few years. With a veritable myriad of beers on offer in bottle and from the twenty taps behind the bar, there’s absolutely no denying that this is a pub which is more than aptly named – beer is most certainly the focus here.

As a whole, the pub is set on three separate mezzanine-like floors that zig zag to one another. The main bar is placed on the middle of these three floors in and is a relatively small space. Compounding the diminutiveness of this middle room is what Pintman Nº2 and I categorized as one of the largest pub tables in Dublin. The unnecessarily large table, which sits in the centre of the room, comes complete with a hollow in the centre – for those all-important board games, and takes up 40% of all available space in this section, easily.

Given the above, and unsurprisingly enough, we opted for a seat at the bar where I happened upon a small design flaw that irked me enough to include it here. Presumably due to the dynamic nature of the range offered by The Beer Market, taps are marked with numbers instead of the usual branded disc you’d find in most other pubs. In order to identify what pours in any given tap you need to check the corresponding number on a board – this sits above the bar and annoyingly is outset from the boundary of the bar itself. Call me lazy if you want, but having to get up off my stool and take those two or three paces back just to pick what I want to drink for each round is something that impacts my drinking experience negatively. For the little details, an experience, make.

The top section of the pub is easily the best. Large windows complete with a ledge offer prime people-watching real estate – some of the best in Dublin. Ultimately though the vibe of the place is pushed away from our liking with the furnishings. The seating is a particular annoyance – comprising of antique metal and wooden industrial stacking chairs – they bring back memories of some uncomfortable and over-ran school assembly that might have taken place in any given Irish national school between the 1950s and the 1990s.

But all to their own, and just because the boozer’s vibe isn’t to our liking we can’t deny its success. This is a building that has been something of a perpetually failing boozer to our memory – given the volume of times it has changed names (and presumably hands) before GBB had a crack at it, and they’d certainly appear to be going nowhere anytime soon by the looks of things. Aside from all that there is no denying the quality of the beer – I opted not to go too adventurous and get my usual GBB order of ‘Of Foam and Fury’ which is a fantastic DIPA, Pintman Nº 2 went with the house stout – Buried at Sea and drank it with little complaint.

When all is said and done, there is no-one that could say that Galway Bay Brewery aren’t capable of running a good boozer. Because they are. And there are a number of their pubs in Dublin that we’d happily spend a good few hours in. Unfortunately, for us though, this isn’t one of them.

“Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination”… so sang Gene Wilder when he played Willy Wonka in the on-screen adaptation of Rohl Dahl’s most famous book. The song is one that you might hear from time to time as an adult and find yourself kicked by the boot of nostalgia right back to the dreamy state of childishness where you were innocent or naive enough to believe that such places as Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory might exist.

 

Unfortunately life gets its hands on us all, and by the time you get around to our age you come to realise that chocolate factories are in fact cold humourless industrialised complexes filled with hardy workers operating noisy machinery and ne’er an Oompa Loompa in sight. You even know by now that if Willy Wonka’s factory was actually a reality it would be burdened with litigation and health warnings and such…. It’s tough being an adult.

But fear not ye dejected grown-ups, we here at Dublin By Pub have found a space that will fill that Wonka shaped void that plagues your soul so! And it’s happens to be right here in Dublin. The Open Gate Brewery is a space within the confines of St James’ Gate Brewery where magic happens. There’s no confectionary and no little orange lads singing songs which, to be fair, wouldn’t really be that much craic when it came down to it. What they do have instead is something far more exciting – gallons upon gallons of beer!

We will acknowledge that this spot isn’t really a pub – but given that it’s contained within the complex that supplies pints to the vast majority of pubs that we visit, and also given the fact that we’ve contradicted ourselves umpteen times previously on DBP we’re going to make an exception. A working brewery, you could think of this space as Guinness’s very own Frankenstein’s Lab where teams of brewers are given free rein to cook up whatever conceivable form of beer takes their fancy. The gates of this brewery are then opened weekly on the evenings of Thursday, Friday and Saturday – allowing the public sample the brewers’ wares.

I think we might have mentioned in one previous post or another that Pintman №2 is a bit of purist when it comes to drink. It’s not often that you’ll find this man with anything other than a pint of Guinness in his claw, so you can imagine my surprise when himself and myself managed to try each of the 10 or so beers listed on the large board behind the bar on our first visit into the OGB a number of months ago. The setup is handy enough, you can have any of the beers listed outright or you can get a set of samples. The staff were sound and guided us through the options with a good degree of knowledge and friendliness, they explained that most of the taps change as new experimental brews come on stream and older ones dry up. Once we’d finished with all the seasonal beer, Pintman №2 and I knew that there was only one show in left in town, and let us just say how weird of a thing it is to order a pint from within the confines of the belly of the beast – expectations run as high as they possibly can.

Thankfully there’s no sting in the tail here – these pints were perfect down to the last drop: the temperature, the head, and the pour – all spot on. The only criticism we had was that they were served in a new style glass rather than a tulip glass. We debated as to whether we’d reasonably be allowed to take points off Guinness for the way they serve their flagship beer in their own brewery as we drank a few more that evening. I’m not sure if we managed to come to a conclusion in the end.

The Open Gate Brewery is good craic. It’s not a pub in our definition of the term but it is a good precursor to the pub and should accommodate beer thirsty palates of all types.

 

Full disclosure folks: we’ve since visited here on the invitation of The Open Gate Brewery and the lads from The Fine Ale Countdown and were very kindly looked after on that occasion. The piece above is based upon an initial and impartial visit, as all the rest of our posts are.

There was a while after this pub opened when people would inquire after us as to whether we had been in The Black Sheep. Coyly we’d respond that we had, not before blaming our attendance there on the fatal combination of excessive pints and limited options. Only around the fifth time we were asked this did we come to realise that the folk questioning us were referring to a newly opened craft beer house on Capel St. In our naivety we believed they’d been referring to Northside Shopping Centre’s infamous sawdust-littered nightclub which was known as The Blacker, a name derived from the original name of the pub it sat upon: The Black Sheep. We could write a novel’s worth of material on The Blacker but we’ll leave that for now.

The Black Sheep is another of The Galway Bay Brewery’s premises in the country’s capital. It adheres to your standard craft beer bar design specs with all the usual brewery posters, flags and fixings. The seating, the majority of which was comprised of large kitchen tables and mismatched chairs was more gastro than it was pub and wasn’t really to our liking. We opted for a few high stools along a ledge which we found a fair bit more conducive to decent chat. One design feature we were, however, quite fond of was a technicolor image of Fr. Ted & Dougal’s Lovely horse which was housed in a fantastically tacky gold frame.

The assortment of beer available is unrivaled in its variance and GBB are consistent insofar that their staff here are as helpful and knowledgeable as their colleagues in the other GBB bars across the city. They’ll be sure to land you with a jar that’s to your liking.

All in all The Black Sheep is a solid craft beer house, a thousand times better than its nearest Capel St craft beer neighbour and well recommended to those in search of crafty options on the northside of the city centre.