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What is it about these places and karaoke?

Such was the question that I posed to Pintman №2 as we took our first tentative sups in The Dominick Inn. He attempted a response but found himself interrupted by the howls of a rotund wrinkled grandmother pitching noisily across the room. This interruption led me to become transfixed by the woman’s jewellery – generations of it, gold and cheap looking – hanging from her sweaty frame, it tended to reverberate in a more and more hypnotic manner with every thunderous stomp she made in her enthusiastic yet poor attempt to emulate Tina Turner. “I couldn’t tell ya”, Pintman №2 finally responded – having timed his response to the verses of the song.

By ‘these places’, we refer to boozers that are a bit rough around the edges – a statement we make without judgement – because pubs like this one are usually just normal community boozers – we’re well aware of that. These sort of pubs have no frills and no gimmicks, but are, undeniably, also that bit coarser in décor and atmosphere than most others we normally tend to write about.

The thing is though, we’re quite fond of pubs of this ilk – the drink tends to be cheap, the characters plentiful and the opportunities to send Pintman №3 up to deliver his famed Elvis impersonation are many. In his absence this time around, we’d come to discuss as to whether our ease in these type of pubs is a direct attribute afforded to us from having spent more time than we care to admit drinking into the wee hours in Northside Shopping Centre’s former premiere after-hours spot – The Blacker (aka Liz Delaney’s aka Dusk aka Club Hamunaptra). It was in this sawdust peppered den of iniquity that we served our time and developed the requisite skill-set for conducting oneself in establishments of such notoriety. Some even served tougher apprenticeships than others – with one of the troupe being spontaneously put into a state of semi-consciousness via the means of a choke-hold one evening. His crime? Whispering sweet nothings into the ear of a young lady who, as it turned out, was probably not single after all.

Now we can’t promise it, but we’d be confident enough that you won’t be choked out in the Dominick Inn.

Regarding the interior of the pub, there wasn’t a whole lot to write home about. The seating and tables comprised of traditional stuff mixed in with the odd sofa here and there – the arrangement of these was somewhat haphazard. The physical bar itself was noted as being a nicely crafted bit of woodwork but was at odds with the rest of the room’s sterile aesthetic with the hard flooring and flashing LED lights making for an uncomfortable sensory experience overall.

While the senses of sight and sound mightn’t have been well served on this occasion, we can gladly report that the sense of taste didn’t fair too badly from the experience. The pint, which was priced south of the €5 mark, was a good one and deemed to be of a high standard by all around the table at the time.

And so it was as the wailing tone-deaf strains of a merry youngone attempting her best ‘Maniac 2000’ rang out through the pub we glanced at one another and decided that we’d leave the second round for another time.

You won’t find The Dominick Inn in any guide books any time soon, but that’s ok. The locals enjoy it and so did we. And you should look not one millimetre further if you’re after a few decent pints in unpretentious surroundings that won’t break the bank or even if you just want to knock out a few bars of ‘Killing Me Softly’.

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.

“Once you have palm trees in a pub you may as well just forget about it”

… so were the choice of words deemed appropriate by Pintman №2 after he’d finished surveying his surroundings. We’d just sat down to our inaugural pint in the relatively recently refurbished Doyle’s Corner in Phibsborough and as I informed Pintman №2 that I was intending to utilise his opinions on the pub’s horticultural inclinations by way of a direct quote he found himself impeded in his response by Pintman №3 who, himself, threw his tuppence in by suggesting that I make sure to mention them “Eddie Rocket chairs there as well”. “Hold on and I have a look meself”, says I.

First things first, the lounge in Doyles Corner is a plush affair. With its goldened lettered signage, its Gatsby-esque bar and its chandelier lighting, there can be no denying that it is an aesthetically pleasing space. But a drinking experience, fancy surroundings do not make. Having spent all of about five minutes in these opulent surroundings I found that I’d invoked a deep-set fear in myself – the type of fear that your granny might have instilled in you when you were under the age of five and dared touch some ornament or another on a shelf in her ‘good room’. It’s that same fear that might stop you from touching museum exhibits or that keeps you quiet at funerals, which is all good and well in its own place – except for the fact that it’s not exactly a state of mind that’s conducive to comfort. And as we sat on high stools in the lounge of this boozer battling the aroma of chicken wings in an attempt to quantify the quality of our pints – comfort was not a quality that was coming to mind.

It was just when I’d about made up my mind on the place when Pintman №2 and №3 came to suggest that we relocate to the bar. ‘There’s a bar?, I wondered before being reliably informed by my companions that indeed there was and that the entrance to such was located just behind the abovementioned offending palm tree. So, feeling like three early Amazonian explorers, minus the machetes, we passed through the impeding tropical flora where we emerged from the overgrowth to find surroundings far more tempered to our expectations, a proverbial oasis of calm.

Looking like something that we can only imagine some worn-in boozers around the city might have looked like at their outset – The bar in Doyle’s Corner hits the eye with a degree of freshness. Characterised by the light-toned wooden seats and walls, the bar’s use of alcoves add a good degree of comfort – while their separation with glass aids not to compress the perceived size of the space. Walls are mainly decorated with glass-cased taxidermy such as birds and fish and the odd framed graphic here and there too. A fireplace which houses an iron woodburner sits toward the front of the room, the functionality of which we never established as it was lamentably left off the time of our visit. Overall though, we found the bar to be a nice space and would have to tip our hat to the designer for having bucked the trend and avoided installing that pre-worn “old-pub” effect so commonly seen in new premises these days.

Pint-wise, the pub fared relatively well for somewhere next door to the likes of The Hut. At an even fiver, it was drunk with no complaint made regarding its quality.

It’s funny though, if this had been our local which had made way for such a fit-out, this blurb may well have been of an entirely different tone. Unfortunately, none of us ever darkened the door of this pub in any of its former guises so we can only report on what we know. And that is that if you’re in the market for a chicken-wing joint with instgrammable decor, the lounge in Doyle’s Corner may just be for you. But, if like us, you just want to gather a few friends into an alcove, sup on a few pints and have a chat, you’d better move on through the jungle and head into the bar.

It’s probably fair enough on our part to assume that the word ‘hut’, when considered by all those included in the English-speaking world, will elicit images of rudimentary structures of mud, straw and/or bamboo in the mind’s eye of most. But today, ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to tell you about a tiny subset of that aforementioned lingual population who, upon hearing the word ‘hut’, will come to think not of favelas or muddy Maasai camps – but will instead conjure up the thought of craic and creamy pints amidst perfectly retained Victorian grandeur. Yes, that’s right – ask anybody of a certain vintage upon the streets of Phibsborough what the word ‘hut’ means to them and they will almost certainly set out immediately to put you in the know about Phibsborough’s most beloved pub – The Hut.

Having spent a worthwhile thirty-five minutes devouring all information that Google will provide us with on this pub it seems only appropriate that we follow suit from those who have penned their own thoughts on The Hut before us by first mentioning the name. Some say that it’s derived from hut-like structures which once provided shelter for the inhabitants of Phibsborough. Others (namely those allied to the local LOI team – Bohemians) say the name is taken from hut-like dressing rooms which used to be in situ in nearby ground, Dalymount Park. Us, we happen to think the name could be rooted in Latin given that the word ‘tavern’ is derived from the Latin word ‘taberna’ which translates to, yep you guessed it, ‘hut’.

Regardless of the provenance of the pub’s name, there is certainly no ambiguity to be encountered when it comes to its standing as one of the remaining authentic Victorian Dublin Pubs. A longer room than its well-kept façade might suggest, it ticks all the boxes regarding features of such pubs from that period – wooden dividers and partitions, stone and wooden bar-tops, gas lamps, grocer’s drawers, and my personal favourite – cask-heads incorporated into the structure of the bar – all of them well-kept and authentic; affording the pub ample parity with any of the more central and well-known Victorian watering holes dotted around the capital.

We managed to collectively get up to Phibsborough for a pint over the last few months with the full DublinByPub contingent in tow. Arriving into The Hut a few hours following nightfall (and with about 4 or 5 pints sunk too) we, or should I say our dark-adjusted and somewhat intemperate eyes, immediately found our one and only complaint with the place – the brightness. It’s needlessly bright in the evening. We wondered if it was a safety feature – one to give the cohort of Mountjoy screws, who supposedly drink in the pub, every opportunity to spot a potential aggrieved former inmate.

Seeking refuge in the more softly illuminated environs of the snug we sat down to three pints of plain and remarked on how expansive the carpeted room was. Possibly the largest snug in Dublin, we wondered? The pint itself I remember as being the best of the immediate locality – well-poured and served through the hatch of the snug it was enjoyed by all around the table with no complaint about taste or about price, coming in south of a fiver. Happy drinkers all around.

We might, if we could, go back to those thirty-five minutes of research we mentioned earlier. It was in an Irish Times article written on the subject of The Hut some years back that we happened upon an interesting quote from one of the pub’s owners – Joe Mohan. In it, he describes his position as owner of the pub, as being one which makes him responsible to ‘just mind the place’. This quote resonated with us for a few reasons, but mainly due to the fact that it was reminiscent of a sort of caretaker sentiment that we’d heard over and over again from various barmen and pub owners alike. These are people who are at the helm of the likes of The Gravedigger’s, The Swan, Fallon’s, The Palace, The Long Hall… we could go on. Do you reckon that it may just be coincidence that all of these pubs just so happen to be up there with the most renowned and regarded in all of Dublin? Because we certainly don’t!

If you happen to wind up upon the streets of Phibsborough and you find that that persistent thirst just won’t relent, we can only suggest that you drop into John and see how good a job he’s doing of minding The Hut. Maybe even ask him to dim the lights a bit for us too, will ye?

Nice one!

It seems that the further we wade into our task of boozing around all the watering holes in Dublin city the more and more apparent it becomes to us that the inner-city is an incredibly fascinating place. As far back as the splendour of Georgian townhouses right through the era of slums and tenements, and onwards to council estates, regeneration and whatever else may come, the history of Dublin city’s last few hundred years could almost solely be charted from examining the ebb and flow of the culture and society on inner city streets down throughout the years. Dominick St is one such inner city street.

Standing through all those periods aforementioned, and for a good 260 years or so, is No. 41 Dominick Street – a building which now houses Cumiskey’s pub. No stranger to historical events, itself – it’s a structure with plenty of interesting stories to tell if the national archives are anything to go by. Having done a quick search with the address, we were almost instantly onto a webpage listing copies of forms related to applications made by its former occupants to The Property Losses (Ireland) Committee, 1916, in order to ‘Claim for Damages caused during the Disturbances on the 24th April, 1916, and following days’. One particular occupant, a Ms Lizzie Burchill, made a claim for ‘£6 10s for destruction of clothing due to gunfire’ which yielded a determination by the committee that she should receive £3. Another claim was made by Messrs J&J Doyle but was declined by the committee as the gentlemen exceeded the deadline within which their claim should have been made. Thankfully though, it wasn’t all bad news for the lads – at least not for John, who made up one of the two J Doyles. He made a claim for ‘£3 for destruction of silver watch by fire at Hopkins and Hopkins, jewellers, 1 Sackville Street Lower’ and got 2 quid back for his troubles.

Anyway, 100 years on from when Lizzie Burchill and John Doyle were dodging trams on Sackville Street, trams have again returned to the capital’s main thoroughfare and are bringing people right by the front of 41 Dominick St. We, ourselves, recently rolled by and couldn’t resist dropping in to have a look at what sat behind this pub’s alluring exterior.

A smaller-than-expected sort of space, it comprises of two main atria that are connected by a corridor which also happened to house the bar. The northern atrium is the quainter affair of the two and is the one where we chose to park ourselves when last we visited. With soft-yellow embossed wallpaper and royal red velvet couches, we enjoyed two superiorly-poured pints while remarking that the room’s exclusive inclusion of low seating made it a real and proper lounge, in every sense of the word. Familiar ephemera adorns the walls in this section and yours truly was happy enough to be sat under a copy of the proclamation until becoming envious of some other patrons sitting in the corner given what was displayed beside them. Cast in white plaster, the unmistakable likenesses of Luke Kelly and Ronnie Drew gaze out at drinkers who sit in close proximity.

We didn’t spend much time in our analysis of the southern atrium, if we’re to be truthful. As alluded to above, we found to it to be the less formal of the two main sections, if that makes sense. The section you’d be less self-conscious about raising your voice in, y’know? Or so we thought as we made our way through it into the jaxx. Oh and speaking of the jaxx, Pintman  Nº2 reckoned it must be one of the only, or at most one of the few in Dublin with a clear window that looks out into the street… Thankfully away from the more purposeful parts of the room.

Cumiskey’s is a fine unpretentious little boozer and I wish we hadn’t left it so long to finally make a visit there. Next time we go, I’ll be dragging the lads down early to get the seat beside Ronnie and Luke.