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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’.

Lately in thinking about The Deer’s Head, we’ve been considering pub names in a bit more detail than we usually would. Our reason for this is that we’ve decided that The Deer’s Head is part of an exclusive-ish club, speaking in terms of the confines of Dublin City. Along with another four somewhat similarly named boozers – The Stag’s Head, The Boar’s Head, The Brazen Head and The Turk’s Head, this pub is a member of what we’ve decided to call The Headed Pubs Club. And recently we’ve become quite curious toward the genesis of these peculiar names. So much so that we don’t actually get around to speaking about the actual pub until about 8 paragraphs in, feel free to skip ahead if you want. We don’t mind.

Previously, having visited The Boar’s and The Stag’s head, we were content enough to think that these type of boozers were named so in accordance with their prized pieces of taxidermy. But reflecting further upon this, and considering the lack of taxidermy in The Deer’s Head, along with a hypothetical angry Turkish lad or two, we’ve decided that we don’t really know that much after all.

Now most of you may already know or will have observed that pub names in Ireland tend bear the name of the proprietor of the premises, or the former proprietor as the case may be. This is a result of the requirement to do so which was legislatively enshrined into rule by the Licensing Act of 1872. This act decreed that ‘Every licensed person shall cause to be painted or fixed, and shall keep painted or fixed on the premises in respect of which his license is granted, in a conspicuous place – his name’. Failure to abide by these directions would incur the hefty penalty of a £10 fine or a £20 fine in the case of repeat offenders.

This is all good and well, and certainly does explain the emblazoning of ‘O’Reilly’s’ upon the left hand side of the façade of The Deer’s Head – but having completed an unfruitful search in the text of the aforementioned Licensing Act for the words Stag, Boar, Brazen, Turk and head, I can’t say any closure was given to our sense of curiosity. What followed this would be a sluggish wade through torrents of digital articles pertaining to the listing of ‘the top ten maddest’, ‘the world’s most memorable’, ‘Ireland’s weirdest’ and ‘Britain’s funniest’ pub names. Progress was slow! But eventually we did find some material of substance.

Firstly, the point we need to make about the ‘headed’ pubs before any other is one that separates The Brazen Head from the pack. This is mostly because the genesis of The Brazen Head’s name falls outside the norm given that it stems from the occurrence of a nosey hooker falling afoul of an errant Williamite cannonball. But that most certainly is one for another day.

As for the rest of our ‘headed’ pubs, it would seem that these are so named with a hearty dollop of influence from the culture of the former oppressor. Yep, it seems that The Brits have had a certain propensity down through the years to name pubs in accordance to popular and/or local heraldry – heraldry being the act of attributing a coat of arms to your family name or bloodline, (very) broadly speaking. That, too, is not to say that people didn’t just name pubs after a boar that might have been moseying around the town, or a stag up in the park or the like. Pictorial symbols were most definitely the way to go back when the majority of your customer base was illiterate!

Overall though, it’s the sole inclusion of the head in each of the names we’re currently writing about that would leave us to believe that some coat of arms, while maybe not directly bringing it about, certainly influenced the naming of the boar’s, stag’s and deer’s head, or even a pub they were named after, or in the same vein as. And again, with The Turk’s head, we can say this with a higher degree of certainty, given that pubs of the same name are ten-a-penny across the water and are well reputed to be named  in accordance with heraldic symbolism that popped up during and after the crusades.

So that’s about the shape of it with regard to these pub names, enough to satisfy our curiosity at the least anyhow. And if you had asked us a few weeks ago, as we emerged from The Deer’s Head in a state of giddiness from what we had just encountered whether we’d end up writing anything akin to that which precedes this sentence – we would likely have rebutted your query with a response that was overwhelmingly laden with profanities. But still, here we are.

Having wandered in upon a whim following a couple in The Shakespeare we found ourselves greeted by a pub that we scantly remembered from our previous visit some years ago – not because of any renovations, just because of our brutal memories. To walk into this pub of 10 o’clock or so on a Friday evening as the summer is beginning to wane is to experience working class Dublin through multiple senses. The first is smell. Upon stepping beyond the threshold one encounters an aroma of feet and perspiration that starts with a degree of pungency before subsiding to a more minor consideration. The second sense affected is sight. No dress code applies here, snickers and steel toe boots are commonplace and certainly go some way to explaining the smell. Scores of hardy men gather around wooden plinths dancing like teenage girls would do to pop music in their bedrooms, empowered in the knowledge that no-one is looking at them. When there we rejoiced at a man in a full length Hi-Viz jacket striding, Jagger-esquely, up and down the length of the pub accosting people with the lyrics of the song playing on the PA, which brings us nicely toward the third sense at play here – sound. What other band on this entire earth could possibly be responsible for such widespread expressive physical movement other than Madness! Twenty one solid minutes of Madness, in fact. I’m even struggling now to try and remember if the DJ played any other artists than Madness while we were there, or if even he possessed the copies of any other recordings aside from those released by Madness. Possibly not. And with the reaction of the patrons in the pub, who could blame him.

Other than the over exuberant patrons, the appearance of the pub was fairly standard. Most seating comprised of couches and low stools with the option of higher seating around the aforementioned wooden, plinth-like structures and at the bar too. Colour-wise the bar is light enough, with white walls and green carpet taking dominance of most views. Pictures did hang about the wall and could have been displaying images of Tanzanian Ski Championships for all we knew – given we didn’t pay them too much heed with the other distractions about. It was noted, however, that there was no taxidermied Deer’s Head to couple with the name though.

The pint was a perfect pour and rounded in at an even more perfect €4.50 a pop. We had just the one as we were on a schedule at the time, and maybe subconsciously we were afraid as to what would happen if the DJ ran out of Madness tunes.

So for those of you who have stuck with us here and have read this whole thing all the way through – we’d like to thank you. And suggest that you do take a visit to The Deer’s Head on one of these steamy autumnal evenings. The locals will ask you about baggy trousers ten times over before anyone even suggest a query on the provenance of the pub’s name. But it couldn’t hurt to know, now could it?

 

Sitting in close proximity to one of our boundary lines – The Royal Canal, Lowry’s is a pub firmly in the centre of the inner city Dublin. Given the pub’s proximity to Croke Park it may be one that thirsty GAA fans will recognise easily – older regulars will remember it by its former name – Belton’s, it having been part of a chain of pubs attributed to former Lord Mayor of Dublin: Paddy Belton.

 

 

We haven’t really a whole lot to say about Lowry’s really. Pintman Nº2 and I visited last year on the occasion of a match day and found little incentive to hang around for too long. A sparsely decorated pub, we found the overall look to be a clinical one aided in no part from the light colour scheme and the textured, shiny wallpaper which all served to alienate the overall aesthetic from that expected of your run-of-the-mill Dublin boozer. TVs were ubiquitous around the space allowing ticketless fans to catch any of the action going on down the road that they would be otherwise be missing.

Our misgivings about the fit-out aside, there’s wasn’t too bad of a buzz around the place in the preceding hours to the impending fixture in Croke Park. The staff were all more than capable when it came to dispensing pints to the thirsty hoards and consistently did so at a rate in keeping with the demand. A pint of Guinness is returned to me on this particular occasion in a Budweiser glass sparking that age old debate on whether such an importance should be put on the vessel within which a pint is served on, and whether it’s allowable to diminish said importance in the setting of a busy bar. The pint, which is following a few of its friends before it, is drank without too much difficulty in the end.

Overall we couldn’t lie and say that we left here with any sort of urgency to return, especially not when such a gem like The Bridge Tavern is only up the road, but if you’re looking for a few on the way up to Croker there’s no reason why you shouldn’t drop in.

I’m a bit annoyed at The Sunset House! You see, the pub was rebranded as The Brendan Behan after a fatal gangland shooting back in 2016, and this was the name that the pub was trading under when we made our only visit there back in September of last year. Being aware of the name and needing no persuading – yours truly here wrote a piece on the pub which was more of an ode to Brendan Behan than anything else. You can imagine my disappointment when I rocked up to Summerhill Parade to snap the pub last January, only to discover that it had reverted to its former name – The Sunset House. So queue in a re-write and a not-so-swift realisation that the pub’s signage had been obscured by a traffic light in the photo I’d taken, and I’d returned to Summerhill once more for another snap only to find the pub closed. In the intervening times that I’ve passed the boozer I’ve always found it closed * – so this image will have to do for now.

*[I’m not sure if it’s gone the way of Gill’s down the road and decided upon a more skeleton set of opening dates, or if it’s just plain closed-down. D1/D3 folks might advise us of what the craic is in the comments.]


Anyhow, I suppose I’m glad that I managed to snap an open and operating Sunset House during an actual sunset, albeit with obscured signage – we made just the one visit here over the years and happened to do so on what we can only assume to be one of the pub’s busier trading days – All Ireland Final Day. With Dublin Facing off against Mayo in the 2017 decider – Pintman №2 and I, GAA novices at best, found the bluest attire we possessed and took to the boozers of Summerhill hoping to suck up some of the atmosphere. Arriving in during the earlier half of 1PM we found The Sunset House to be as busy as one would expect any purveyor of alcohol in close proximity to a stadium on the day of a final to be.

In the past we’ve spoken about how some boozers sometimes defy expectations set by their exterior, The Sunset House is no such a pub. There was little or nothing to write home about when it came to the appearance of this pub, bright and plain – the colours bring an unwanted sense of sterility to the place. The seating is basic enough and Pintman №2 and I agreed that the only noteworthy feature of the pub was the bar which had been constructed from brick.

The pint was good and in a fine flow with the increased level of custom, mine came to the table in a Smithwicks Glass which prompted a discussion on whether such an offence was excusable given the day that was in it. The price isn’t remembered as one that caused any offence to either of us.

The vibe in the place was surreal enough, we agreed that we’d need to return to get a feel for the place on an ordinary day but for now we embraced the mix of patrons brought in by the impending game. A DJ sat ensconced into a corner of the pub blasting unfazed patrons with that type of paddywhacking continuity-republican music you might hear at the end of the night at some ropey cousin’s wedding. Face-painters did the rounds and coloured in the cheeks of children with their team colours of choice – I was disappointed that Pintman №2 wasn’t further along with the gargle such that he’d be more agreeable to having his mush painted too. As we finished out our gargles we’d clocked a local in a weathered Bowie t-shirt. Having remarked on him being the oldest lounge boy we’d ever seen we pondered as to whether he’d been coerced into the job with the promise of free gargle the night prior.

Even though we wouldn’t see this place threatening to breach the top one hundred cosy boozers in the capital, we’d still hate to think that the sun had set on The Sunset House. Hopefully it’s still on the go or at least will be again soon.

 

Early houses are strange places in modern day Dublin when you think about it. The Chancery Inn, situated nearby an extensive Victorian fruit-and-veg market must have surely seen its fair share of early morning custom over the years but with the forward march of progress the early morning crowd has certainly thinned out over the […]