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In the month of September, with all the usual talk of Indian Summers abound, I’d happened to find myself becoming dizzy in a well-known Baggot Street pub. This particular spell of pub-housed dizziness was comparatively unusual as it wasn’t one which had been brought about by the effect of alcohol, but instead had been borne from a rush of blood to the head. Witness to this was my drinking companion – Pintman №2, who upon his return from the bar had found me with my head beneath the couch in one of the three snugs in Doheny & Nesbitt’s, immediately inquired as to what I was doing. Attempting to quell his curiosity I promptly responded by telling him that I was looking for money. Unsatisfied with this answer, he probed me further – “Why?”, he asked. “The IMF”, I responded.

This only served to heighten his curiosity.

Now far be it from us to talk politics here on Dublin By Pub– after all, to do so is to be in direct contravention of one of the great unwritten rules of the Irish pub – No Politics. I’ve often heard my grandfather – a man who is only a few short years younger than the state – recall how speaking politics in a boozer was a bar-able offence. ‘You have to remember how vicious the civil war was’ he’d say, ‘Brothers shooting at brothers. That was all still fresh in everybody’s minds. People would be liable to kill each other talking about that sort of stuff. Especially if there was drink taken.’

Doheny & Nesbitt’s: Baggot St.

Doheny & Nesbitt’s lives outside the jurisdiction of this unwritten rule. Frequently regarded as the foremost political pub in Dublin, I needed not fear any expulsion when it came time for me to explain to Pintman №2 who Christine Le Garde was. Having told him to have a look at ‘the aulone’ in the picture, which had been taken in the same snug we were sitting in, I explained that she was head honcho numero-uno over at the IMF, and therefore would be just the woman to drop a quid or two down the couch. Unfortunately, there was ne’er a coin nor a promissory note to be found – so we moved our chat swiftly along from economic geopolitics to the more comfortable topics lads down the local who bear resemblance to minor celebrities, the price of a pint and other such related topics.
There can be no denying that Doheny & Nesbitt’s is an institution. But given that it’s often referred to as The Doheny & Nesbitt’s School of Economics – it’s a pub that I came to approach with a degree of wariness. You might forgive this embittered, would-be tradesman but over time the word ‘economics’ and its variants are ones I’ve come to develop a natural disdain for. You see, phraseology pertaining to economics has an ability to render their audience angry or bored, or both when mentioned in the media. ‘Economics’ is a harbinger of doom – a real ‘Brexit’ of its time, utterances of it immediately conjure up thoughts of dole queues, austerity and overdrawing credit cards with pints of Tuborg on Sunday nights. Ok, that last one wasn’t so bad.

But I digress. Because the good thing about perceived statuses or supposed institutions is that they don’t really exist if you don’t subscribe to them. Now don’t get me wrong, if I’d have been in the boozer when the recession-era government were scooping with the troika I’d likely be barred for life – but once you’re plonked into one of the snugs in here with a pint of plain in front of you, you can allow the pub to be whatever you want.

For us, we want to allow to be a Victorian gem, and indeed it is. Listed in Kevin C Kearns’ ‘Dublin Pub Life and Lore’ as being one of Dublin’s original Victorian pubs, the pub is said to be trading since the 1840s. Its interior is satisfactorily reminiscent of other such pubs – the front section being narrow and split by towering ornate carved dividers. Containing no less than three medium-sized snugs, the pub affords multitudes of space for covert conversation while mirrors branded with the name of beer and whiskey companies, old and new, are plentiful throughout the ground floor, maybe more so than any other Dublin pub.  These make the pub a far brighter affair than its dark wooden fixtures would normally allow. Beyond the front (and presumably original) bar, the space opens up at the back, lighter woods, higher ceilings and natural light bring an airier feel compared to the front bar. We noticed some painted bodhráns depicting other pubs in the Mangan group which was agreed was a nice touch.

Interiors aside, we also need to mention the exterior which is beautifully kept. A traditionally hand painted sign is always better than a fabricated one and this particular sign is up there amongst the best. The pint is good but, in our opinion, does suffer from being so close to Toner’s which offers one of the best scoops in the city. Prices are a bit of an issue too (as is the case in most pubs up around here) – Christine Le Garde will have no issue picking up the tab after an evening of lowering porter into herself, but more meagrely waged persons such as ourselves and yourselves will need to keep an eye on the bank balance and hope that pubs of this ilk could adopt The Gravediggers’ attitude of pricing domestic-produced libations in a manner proportional to miles travelled.

You will enjoy a pint in here, especially with that added comfort of history that you get from older pubs. And if you’re looking for somewhere where you can safely bandy phrases like ‘blue-shirt’, ‘brown-enveloper’ and ‘tribunal-fiend’ while sipping on a pint, look no further.

I wonder if you’ve ever found yourself, at some stage in your life, completely contradicting values that you hold dear for no other good reason than gut reaction? This happened to us a number of weeks ago when we wandered into the newly refurbished and newly managed Devitt’s of Camden St which has instiled in us a sense of ambivalence that no other pub ever has.

Devitt’s: Camden St.

Devitt’s, as we knew it, was a family run GAA pub which offered the normality of a local atmosphere amidst the madness of an ever trendier Camden St. Aesthetically traditional, it was just another decent Dublin boozer – wooden flooring and carpet sectionalised areas for high and low seating while dividers aplenty broke up the bar and created nooks and crannies. It was a pub that was aging nicely and the pick of Camden St. in our humble opinion.

During 2017 we heard through various channels that the pub had been sold to a group and that the new owners were quick to put their money where their mouth is, deciding to finance a full refurbishment – news which we had received with much trepidation. Now this is where the contradictions start, so please bear with us. The new fit out is fine – The exterior is immaculate; it would be easily argued that the façade of Devitt’s is the now finest pub frontage from The Grand Canal to Dame St. The interior is, for all intents and purposes, also fine– dark wood, wooden floor, drinking paraphernalia along the walls, it’s everything we look for and if it were a brand new pub that had been installed into a bare shell it would be fine. But it just didn’t sit right with us.

We’ve been pondering this for the last few weeks and our reasoning for not taking to this particular renovation is loosely described in the following sentiment. Essentially Devitts’ new proprietors have thrown the baby out with the bathwater, they’ve literally taken an actual real life old Irish pub and replaced it with a fit out that’s designed to look like an actual real life old Irish pub. They’ve gutted authentic worn in fixtures and fittings and replaced them with faux, pre-worn flatpack versions of themselves. It’s simply an act that we can neither abide nor understand. Imagine if The Stags Head or The Long Hall went for a psychedelic vibe in the 1960s, or went all disco ball in the 70s. What a disaster that would have been.

But what’s done is done and when we arrived we had to reluctantly admit that the new owner’s investment was evidently paying off. An ironic version of a Ronan Keating tune was being blasted out by an energetic duo to a willing crowd which was comprised of a younger demographic than one would have associated with Devitt’s previously. G&T bowls aplenty glistened in the shimmer of Christmas lighting and the overall atmosphere in the pub sounded akin to that one would hear upon passing a temple bar pub on a Saturday afternoon. This wasn’t exactly to our taste.

Determined to not be the grumpy aul bastards in the corner we did decide to focus on the positives. First of all the pint – well poured and very well priced given the location, we couldn’t fault Devitt’s one iota here and can only urge they keep up the good work in this regard. Secondly we had to commend the inclusion of the pub’s GAA heritage within the décor, in particular the maintaining of the beloved porcelain GAA player figurines that any former patrons of Devitt’s will likely remember with much fondness.

In our departure from the pub we couldn’t help but ponder the future for the humble family run Dublin boozer. With way that economics seem to work in Ireland, the sad likelihood is that more and more cherished family run pubs will fall afoul of wealthy groups and chains. We’d like to take this opportunity to issue a warning to these buyers. Pubs are our culture! Sterilising and homogenising them, depending on the flavour of the moment, for the purpose of profit will only ultimately run them into the ground. Then they will render no use – economically or culturally. Look at the most popular of the pubs in Dublin. All of them are dozens or even decades old with only minor aesthetic change throughout the years.

So if you do buy an aging pub, hold off on that big refurbishment, a return on investment is only a century or two away.