Tag Archive for: northinner

In stoic defiance, they stand before me with their arms folded and their serious faces downcast. One of them repeats what the other has already said – but this time in a different phrasing: 

Look, it’s not happening tonight pal. You’ve had too much to drink. Just leave the premises, please. 

I think it’s fair to assume that a majority of the drinking population of this country have found themselves in this position before – being wrongly, or in my case – rightly, refused permission to enter a premises on account of what the gatekeepers have perceived to be intoxication. But what if I told you that this place that I was being refused from on this particular occasion wasn’t actually a pub or a nightclub? What if I told you it was, in fact, Connolly Train Station?  

You might be wondering, as most tend to do when I tell them this tale, how it actually came to this – what could I have possibly done to be disbarred from one of the city’s major transport hubs? Well, to figure that out, we first have to backtrack a few hours. 

It was, as these things often are, at the Christmastime of the year and your humble author was finishing up his day’s work and getting ready to set out for his debut appearance at an Office Christmas Party in the company he had started working in a few months prior. Being of a shy persuasion, it was a given that some Dutch courage was on the pre-party agenda and on foot of that I arrived at a very busy, IFSC-adjacent pub and found what felt like the last available pint-perch in the city that night.  

A few lip-looseners later, I was IFSC-bound and crossing the threshold of Lagoona. Wasting no time, I made for the bar and found myself behind a polished chrome standalone tap whose badge identified it as an experimental nitro pale ale. Hung upon this tap was a small sign denoting that this particular brew was the beer of the month, and as a result, was being sold at a discount –a bargain I could not ignore at the time.  

Lagoona Bar, itself, is not somewhere that’s ever endeared itself to me.  A perfunctory space set amidst the offices of the financial service companies who neighbour it, it has the sort of vibe exuded by certain spaces in Dublin Airport where beer and spirits are sold for pre-plane, open consumption. Exclusively bedecked with high seating and shiny surfaces, it’s not somewhere to cosy up into – it is precisely the sort of place that its granite, ground-floor of an apartment complex, frontage would lead you to believe it is. After-work pints and Christmas parties for companies who’ve left the booking a bit late are par for the course here.  

But, putting aside my indifference to its aesthetic, it was a perfectly fine and functional space for that Christmas party when I was at it – well what I can remember of the night – which admittedly is little, compared to some of my fellow attendees. It was after about five or so of these discounted nitro IPAs, I came to realise that their ABV was far higher than I had anticipated. From there on the evening, like the IPA itself, gets a bit hazy.  

The next major memory of the evening finds me in Connolly Station admonishing a member of the security staff there for not “carrying out his public service obligations” by refusing to allow me to travel on one of the late DARTs which had been specifically timetabled to ferry home drunken Christmas partiers. The man, who was genuinely concerned for my safety (fair play to him) eventually relented with a stern warning for me to not fall onto the tracks. I gave him my word that I would not, slurred and all as it was.  

I proceeded to board that late DART and by some minor miracle managed to notice I was on the wrong line. Disembarking early, as a result of this, I began some sort of Odyssey where I took a wrong turn and ended up in an unfamiliar part of a housing estate in Donaghmede and walked in circles for what felt like about three hours. The next morning revealed a Facebook friend request from a colleague – accompanied by a private message from them enquiring as to my welfare after I took ‘that bad fall off the bar stool’. Once I’d established this to actually be true and not a practical joke, I suppressed the associated mortification knowing that it needn’t be dealt with until late into Sunday. I then rose to wash and dress only to realise that I had lost one of my shoes at some stage in the evening.  

My apologies to anyone who came here to read about The Lagoona Bar and has made it this far through the tale of the greatest dose of The Fear I’ve ever had in my life. I’m sorry to not be able to report on the standard or the price of the pint, too. For more familiar readers of this blog, it will surely be no surprise that we’re not corralling groups to bound on up to the IFSC and check The Lagoona out. It’s a pub that is what it is – an after-work drinks spot, a work-leaving party spot, a cheeky lunchtime pint spot, a remind you of the reason you’re not employed in that company anymore spot and we’re absolutely fine with all of that.  

Update: Have been meaning to write this one up for a matter of years, but found out that the pub had permanently closed a mere couple of days after it was finally written. This is also why our image of the pub shows it while shut. So farewell Lagoona, as we currently know it.

Upon the cobblestone streets built over basement dwellings which once made up the quarters of the lowest of the pauper class, Dubliners can still hear the clipping and the clopping of expensive leather as it makes its way up Henrietta Street.

In the past, it might have been an MP, fresh from his engagements in Grattan’s Parliament or a captain of industry arriving at his city townhouse. Nowadays it’s often a lawyer or a barrister, or one to be, at least. And usually, they’d be making their way towards the building which gives the pub we intend to write about here its name – that building (or set of buildings, even) is known as The Honourable Society of The Kings Inns – to give it its full title.

The Kings' Inn

A prestigious institute that sits in a James Gandon (he of custom house fame) designed building; this place is the foremost centre for learning the law in all of Ireland. And aside from giving the pub at the end of the street its name, it also affords it a few customers from time to time, as we’d found out one Christmas time. But let us come back to that.

The King’s Inn Pub is sat at the corner of Henrietta and Bolton Street – it was reopened under new ownership in 2018 after a spell of closure and has been well decorated on the outside and the inside. The inside of the pub, itself, is one entire space – there’s no separation of lounge and bar – but with that said, there are two distinctive sections, a main section with wooden flooring and then a raised section toward the back – resplendent with regal carpeting and, at the very back, sits the saviour of any cold or bitter day – an open fire.

Overall, the pub’s design spec does have a medieval, castle sort of vibe to it. This is helped in no small part by dark beams crossing the ceiling above. The ceiling, itself is painted in a contrasting brilliant white and much of this is overlayed with Book of Kells-style Celtic insignias. The odd suit of armour and church pew thrown in for good measure, complete the look.

One of the things that we enjoy most about the pub is the variety of drink on offer. You’ll get your usual mix of what would be expected in most traditional pubs, but you’ll also get some decent craft offerings too -Trouble Brewing’s Ambush, a personal favourite, being a constant offering! The Guinness is upper tier; always excellent and as of our last visit in Feb 2023, was a mere €5.20 a go!

Regarding the customer base here, and getting back to our Christmastime experience, mentioned at the outset of this piece – we’ve tended to encounter a wide variance of people here. There usually is, what appears to be, a core set of locals, presumably from the surrounding areas. There can, on occasion, be GAA sportswear-clad younger lads with accents from beyond the pale – possibly students from Bolton Street DIT (It’s not called DIT anymore, but I refuse to learn the new name just like me da who still calls FAS – which isn’t actually called FAS anymore, either – by the name it was in his day – AnCo).

But most interestingly for us, was not necessarily persons from the pub’s nearby namesake, but some of their prospective customers – who had arranged their Christmas drinks around a meeting one of them had attended with his legal representative beforehand. As usual, I was the first to arrive to the pub and settled in with a paper or a book over a pint while I awaited the arrival of some friends. A handful of men were sat in the section nearest to me and I had seen them and assumed them to maybe be a couple of work friends – perhaps drivers or tradesmen or factory workers out for a few Christmas jars – in the way people who are not employed in the sort of place that would have a formal Christmas party for all of its employees do. And I was kind of right.

I came to find it very difficult to concentrate on whatever it was that I was reading when I began to overhear one of these men explaining that he “has one rule on a job – get in and get out and I don’t care about anyone else. I do what I have to do.”

It wasn’t long before I realised that this was an office party for a troupe of petty criminals. Some of the things they said were in equal parts, hilarious and fascinating. I’ve included a selection of them below:

The cheapest shops are the hardest to rob from; you’d be out of Brown Thomas much handier than you’d be out of Penney’s.
• My nieces and nephews are the biggest shoplifters in this town. I taught them everything they know.
• Y’know Jane Doe? You know their ma? She’s 85! She used to be the best shoplifter in Dublin. The second she steps onto Talbot Street; she gets radioed all through town by the security.
• Smyth’s is getting ripped asunder now before Christmas.
• I have a friend in the Department of Social Protection, so I get free travel. I haven’t paid for a bus in ten years.

Beyond these nuggets, I was struck by how mannerly the lads were to their fellow customers and to those that were serving them – especially compared to a far rowdier group of law students, nearby. It was definitely interesting to have these two groups all together under one roof and that roof not being one belonging to a courthouse. It really affirmed our belief that the pub is the great egalitarian space in Irish culture where all different streams of society freely mix.

Anyway, The Kings Inn is a fantastic place: Traditional feeling, with all the right modern tarnishes – in the landscape of pubs in Dublin, we’d consider it a must!

Coming toward the latter end of 2021, we’d had it fully planned and spec’ed out for a good while. It had been a slack year for the cause with all concerned in the DublinByPub ranks – assorted big life changes and a worldwide pandemic had given time its relished advantage to get between us. So when the opportunity to get the band back together and collectively hit a few city-centre pubs presented itself to us, we knew we had to make it count. It had to be one of our most wanted. It had to be Noctor’s.

Noctor’s: Sheriff Street Lower

There was to be a half-day, a preferred route, and a plan b, we may have even discussed wardrobe at one stage. But in the end, pints, just like they always do, would make light work of all these well-honed plans, leaving a half-drunk troupe of us bundling up Sheriff Street under the cloak of darkness, a few weeks out from Christmas.

Now let us, at the very outset, state that we have no interest in perpetuating the rough and ready classification that we’ve often heard attributed to Sheriff St. But with that said, we’re not looking to paint this part of Dublin 1 as some sleepy, oak-lined friendly avenue, either. We are but mere impressionable suburbanites. Suburbanites who exist and communicate, more than many, in that pub-talk realm of lore and hyperbole – and it’s in these spheres, exclusively, where we hear mention of, and talk of Noctor’s. And when this particular public house is up for discussion, the sentiment is never positive. It’s always tales and warnings of how “you’d take your life in your hands going up there” and that “you’d do well to keep away from that mad kip”, and so on, and so forth.

So with these warnings and tales of woe, alongside other nuggets like the supposed fact that Jim Sheridan brought rapper, 50 Cent here one time, making our existing curiosity curiouser, it’s not long before we’re stepping through the adjoining financial district and making haste toward Sherriff Street. We may be, outwardly, acting like we’ve not heeded any of those cautions, but a spike of adrenaline, internally, is telling an altogether different tale.

When we shortly find ourselves turned onto the fabled street, the initial reaction is one of disappointment. An absence of a glowing façade, or assortment of smokers, all compounded by a closed set of shutters, leads us to initially believe that the pub is closed and that our journey has been a pointless one. Pintman №2, not being one to waste valuable drinking time, immediately sets course to return the way we came – only to look back and realise, just like in some terrible slasher-flick, that he’s completely alone on the dark street. Heading back towards the pub, he realises, just as we had, that, despite the unopened shutters, the pub is actually open. Immediately, he enters to find us standing at the bar on the receiving end of what can only be described as an interrogation at the hands of the barman and a few of the locals sitting around him. Questioning is carried out in the form of:

Where are yous from?

What are yis doing here?

Who told yous about here?

Insisting that we’re only here for a few pints, as the rest of us mumble incoherently in not-so-stoic agreement, Pintman №3’s retort is met with steely silence before the barman declares, in response, that he hasn’t decided if he’s going to serve us yet. At this point, things go sad-funeral quiet as the staff and the locals continue in their inspection of us. And just as we consider letting go of our last collective nerve and bailing, the bar erupts in laughter.

Yizzer alright lads!

What do yis want?

Sit down there and I’ll bring them over.

By the time we’re about to sit down, we’ve acquired the attention of a fair few of the locals, most of whom engage us in conversation. Pintman №3, in a manner befitting an affable 1950s Fianna Failer, makes no qualms about joining a sizeable table of habitués and chats away with them about one of the locals playing over the speakers – a Mr Luke Kelly. The rest of us, in turn, find a spot and chat across the divide with a woman who happens to be drinking a can of Tenants – an unusual sight in a Dublin Pub, we agree later.

As promised, pints are dispatched down to us in short enough time and we’re more than impressed with them. We note them as being of an incredibly high standard and the price to have been set at €4.50 a pour (Late 2021). A bargain, we agree, especially in the context of the comparatively inferior pints we had been drinking for 5.70 on Capel Street an hour prior.

Noctor's

Décor-wise, this is a pub where function certainly trumps form. That’s not to say that we haven’t drank in worse looking pubs (we have) but, suffice it to say that other licensed premises within the city might be more likely to end up in that Dublin 2023 calendar your Ma is going to get you for Christmas. The pub is, however, laid out well for its intended purpose – a dark wood, small to medium size bar stands on your right as you enter the pub. Banks of low seating take up the space on your left. And there’s a sizeable bank of floor space between the two. Curved arches at the far end of the seating space denote the leisure section of the pub wherein stands a pool table and a dartboard. The colour scheme, overall, is bright – walls are painted in a beige/cream sort of tone and the flooring is a varnished, yet somewhat weathered light wood. Some dark wood in the seats and the tables and shelves add a little contrast.

Earlier in this post, we said that we wouldn’t paint Sheriff Street as a sleepy, oak-lined friendly avenue, as if such a thing was what a street should aspire to. But, in all reality, why would anyone want to aspire to such boredom. Not that you need us to tell you this, but Sheriff Street is an infinitely more interesting place than some leafy, embassy-saturated thoroughfare in Ballsbridge. And, let alone the scores of well-known and beloved Irish people in music and the arts of both today and yesterday that have come from here, this is also thanks, in no small part, to somewhere like Noctor’s. Its clientele is friendly like very few other city pubs’ are and it’s yet another pub that has taught us to take little heed of supposed notoriety.

Recently, in thinking about what I was going to write about Gill’s pub on Russell Street, I had been conjuring up verses and choruses from The Rare Auld Times. Though Pete Saint John’s anthemic lament for old Dublin makes no mention of car rental offices, builders providers and decent Italian restaurants, you could argue that the sentiment of the song is one that very much applies to Russell Street in Dublin’s North inner city. Famously home to the Behan family before they made the leap out to Crumlin, or Siberia as Brendan would quip, Russel Street – by all accounts – was typical of the sort of street that the rare old times bemoans the demise of – tenement lined, industry adjacent, bustling and rebellious.

Gill’s: Russell Street

There are, however, still some tenuous remnants of the past to be found on this street. Croke Park, though a different beast these days, remains, as does the canal. A Celtic Tiger era block of apartments bears the name ‘Behan Square’. Arguably though, the strongest remaining tie to Russell Street of days gone by is the public house which sits on the easternmost side of its junction with the North Circular Road – James Gill’s.

Obviously, this piece is going to contain a lot of Behan references – and nobody needs me to tell them that there are a great many Brendan Behan quotes on the subject of drinking and drunkenness – but there’s one that I believe is most appropriate here. This is the one where Brendan remarked that “drunkenness was not regarded as a social dis­grace”, in the Dublin of his time and how “To get enough to eat was regarded as an achievement.” and “To get drunk was a victory.” And the reason I deem this one to be so appropriate is that when I finally managed to raise a glass to my lips within the walls of Gill’s, it did feel like a bit of a Victory.

Opening on a strict schedule of big match days, concert days and whenever the owner feels like it, James Gill’s public house is one that can be difficult to arrange around a busy drinking schedule. Hence the sentiment of victory! Yours truly managed to successfully board the bandwagon and get in for a pint on the occasion of the aftermath of a draw tie between Dublin and Kerry in the first of the two 2019 all Ireland finals.

Gill's 2

Having found myself, initially, in the main bar, I was happy enough with the décor. Brendan Behan ephemera abounds. A considerable portrait of the man is painted to the wall on the Russell Street side of the pub, under this sits a physical bibliography of his works – each encased in its own frame. The rest of the featured imagery and trinketry is remembered as being fairly standard, as compared to temporary pubs. Though I should emphasize that my visit to Gill’s was at the tail end of a day which saw my thirst adequately quenched for quite some time.

With that said, I should move on and mention the pint, insofar as much as I can. I took no notes on price, and the fact that I don’t remember it as being in any way awful must mean that it was ok. If that makes sense. I did find myself surprised to receive a glass, glass and not plastic on the occasion though.

A raised section sits to the rear of the bar. Walking into it on my last visit, I found it to be harshly lit and resemblant of a comic book store – its walls being lined with hundreds, if not thousands of, colourful magazines which turned out to be various match day programmes from nearby Croker. The toilet is situated out beyond this back section of the pub and has the distinction of being one of the only pub toilets in Dublin where the sight of something shrouded in tinfoil is not to be automatically construed with illicit recreational opiates. Yes, should you find yourself the discoverer of tinfoil in a toilet cubicle in this pub, just as I once did, be assured that this, more than likely, is only indicative of a countryman who defied the best wishes of his mother and opted, instead, to obey the long-respected creed of ‘Eating is Cheating’, leaving poor Mammy’s hang sangwiches in the lurch.

Gill's - Jaxx Tinfoil

I don’t think any Brendan Behan admirer, such as myself, would ever come to rate this pub too harshly. It’s infrequent opening hours are certainly a pain, but to finally get in and enjoy a pint is a real treat. The appearance of the pub doesn’t really seem too dissimilar from the way it appears in the excellent Brendan Behan’s Dublin, which is up on youtube. And in amongst all the mayhem of sweaty GAA jerseys, there are one or two locals to be found who will give you a story or two about the area. And what’s not to like there.

Regardless of whether some politicians want to hear it or not, there can be little escaping the fact that drink is interwoven into our national fabric. Come temperance, cafe culture and minimum unit pricing – one and all – there are literally centuries worth of work that will be required to separate us from our association with lady liquor.

The Bohemian – McGeough’s: Phibsborough Road

I say this not because of half the public parks in the city being former Guinness estates, nor is it to do with the porter proscribed to new mothers or blood donors. This opening statement is prompted by my recent discovery that many of the well-known junctions, or corners, of Dublin, had their name bestowed upon them not by figures of historical or mythological fame but by the names of the very publicans (and sometimes grocers) which they gave frontage to. So think Bakers, Harts, Hanlons and Leonards – all baptised in intoxicating liquor. 

image credit: national library ireland

Of course, I wouldn’t be bringing this up if it wasn’t relevant in the case of the pub pictured. And given that The Bohemian is situated on Doyle’s Corner it seems an apt subject. Doyle’s Corner has an interesting history of which this particular pub is a part of. Back around the turn of the century, the intersection of The North Circular and The Phibsborough Road was known as Dunphy’s Corner. Now, this is where it starts to get a bit confusing because the word Doyle is about to be bandied about as much as it might do in a series or two of Father Ted. 

The name Dunphy’s Corner was derived from another public house which sits directly across the road from The Bohemian – now named Doyle’s Corner, formerly named Doyle’s. The pub that provided this named was owned by a man named Thomas Dunphy who presided over it from the mid-1800s up to around the 1890s. The name Dunphy’s Corner must have been widely used by Dubliners because it’s well represented in song, literature and lore. It gets a mention in Peadar Kearney’s anti-enlistment Ballad about the recruiting sergeant William Bailey (Lankum do a great version), who is said to have stood on the corner in the process of his enlisting. And Peadar might have been working on a subliminal as well as a perceptible level here because ‘going round Dunphy’s Corner‘, as it would have been put, was seemingly an idiom used to describe those who had gone to the great beyond, given its nodal point on the route taken by hearses on their way to Glasnevin. Those familiar with the first half of Ulysses, might remember that Poor Dignam went the very same way along that route in the earlier stages of the book. 

So in the mid-1890s or so along came John Doyle. And John Doyle fancied he might usurp Dunphy and in setting about doing this, he acquired both number 160 and number 66 Phibsborough Road and placed within each of them a public house which bore his name. It was a trick the evidently worked because, as I’m sure you will know, the corner is still referred to as Doyle’s. Seemingly someone by the name of Murphy – proprietor of the nearby Botanic House – took ownership of The Bohemian in the 1970s and figured he could usurp Doyle by erecting signs which read ‘Murphy’s Corner’. But the inhabitants of Phibsborough and Dubliners alike never took to it. So it remains – Doyle’s Corner.

image credit: archiseek

But what about the pub? We’ve collectively visited here just the once over Christmas time and what a gem. Though it doesn’t seem to make the frequent lists of Victorian bars that do the rounds online, this must be one of the more polished in the city. Hard dark wooden floors adorned with flashes of complimenting tilework give the pub a durable feeling – it’s a floor you can imagine was well equipped for the sawdust and saliva it might have suffered in days gone by. But it’s far cleaner these days which is in keeping with the rest of the bar. Traditional seating of couches and small and large stools is ample throughout and plenty of light protrudes the large windows to bounce off the coffered (new architectural term of the week) ceiling and illuminate the dark ornate wooden bar and partitions in which decorated glass is set.

Pints, on the occasion of our last visit, are remembered as being dispatched in good time and with plenty of competence. The taste was spot on and the price was most certainly right at €4.50 a go (Dec 2018)

Though we only did have the few on this occasion we did remark on how the locals were in good spirits and gave us the warmest of welcomes of all the local pubs. And as we vowed to return, I couldn’t help but think of one of the lads.

Although he might be starting to catch up now, Pintman 5 was once an old head on young shoulders and in the indulgence of one of his favourite pastimes of reintroducing old Dublin phrases he managed to bring the bewildering threat of “wigs on the green” into our lexicon. Anyway, I was thinking I must get onto him about bringing back the whole going round Dunphy’s corner thing. I mean wouldn’t the great gig in the sky be all the less terrifying if it had the promise of a pint in The Boh on the way out to the cemetery. 

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.

The Dominick Inn: Dominick St.

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 guidebooks any time soon, but that’s okay. 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’.

On more than one occasion, we’ve happened to find ourselves in conversation with an older generation of pub patronage whereby the topic at hand will wind its way around to that much-favoured subject of ‘The Dublin Character’. Generally, these conversations will go the one way – we, being the younger side, will ultimately find ourselves on the receiving end of the older side’s lament for the demise of The Dublin Character. Usually delivered with a swathe of clichés, there’s no room for irony when they just don’t make ’em like they useta anymore.

Grainger’s: Talbot St.

Naturally, though, we’re always poised to argue the contrary – and it is a matter of public record that we believe Dublin, and in particular – its pubs, to be ripe with characters for the pickin’.

Objectively though, we can bring ourselves to admit that the nature of the Dublin Character has changed down through the years. Recently, we took in a crawl along Talbot Street which prompted a discussion on Dublin characters of old, and one in particular – Matt Talbot. Matt, or The Venerable Matt as he is now known by some, was a terrible man when it came to the demon, drink – an alcoholic by thirteen, his early years were defined not only by his dependence on sup but by the scheming, thieving and cajoling that came along with such an addiction. Eventually, though, Matt saw the light and decided to live in servitude to the divine – a life that ultimately would include a bizarre self-inflicted regiment of food deprivation, sleeping on planks and wearing chains upon his body.

Given all of that, and having incorrectly assumed that Talbot Street had been named for Matt, we couldn’t help but wonder what the man himself would make of the proliferation of boozers along the street that bears his name if he were still rattling along the streets of the city. Probably not much. We were also thinking that we’d been indulging in some of his penance ourselves in the name of the craic. Skipped the odd meal to nip in for a scoop? Check! Slept on uncomfortable surfaces? Yep! Wore chains upon your person?…. Eh, we really should get onto the topic of Grainger’s here.

Grainger’s, depending on your geography, sits at the start or the end of Talbot St. A mainstay of the street, the Grainger name has adorned the façade for as long as any of us care to remember. A narrow pub, it’s probably best identifiable by its striking black and white chessboard flooring. The fit-out of the pub is typical of a modern style of interior design seen in new and newly refurbished pubs – chesterfield-esque upholstery and trendy lighting fixtures sit amidst pastel tones. It’s quite evident that the recent refurbishment seeks to establish the space more as a café-bar than just bar.

Overall the look is effected nicely enough. That is though with one exception – sitting atop the bar there lies a plywood covering at the base of the beer taps. As if plucked straight from Cassidy’s or P Mac’s, this anomaly sits in defiance to its refined surroundings having apparently been designated as the pub’s proverbial plaster cast, it being littered with signatures and doodles.

Anomalies aside, it should be noted that the livery sitting beneath the graffitied plywood is far more extensive than one might expect, or than was by us. With plenty of genuine independent craft brews alongside the old reliables – there’ll be no lip out of your Granda or your cousin from NCAD, should you decide to bring them to Grainger’s for that big family get-together you’ve been meaning to have. Guinness clocked in at an even fiver and made no negative impact on the taste buds of me or Pintman Nº2, no mean feat when you consider that it followed a few in Cleary’s.

Vibe-wise the pub could have stood to have had a bit more atmosphere befitting of a Saturday night when we last visited. Sparsely populated, it seemed to lack the benefit of a regular custom that its neighbours seemed to enjoy. Crawling though, as we were, it can’t be said whether we had just ducked in before the rush.

None of us, with full conviction, could say that we dislike Grainger’s. But it suffers from being situated to too many other beloved boozers for us to find the charm in it that we do with the rest, It’s certainly a better pub to be waiting out a train in when compared to Connolly station’s in-house boozer.

Occurring in the form of premises decorated with ephemera alluding to places and people of no significance to local culture – the overseas ‘Irish Bar’ is an ever-intriguing anomaly.

Of course, we’re more than aware that most are likely a mere means to generate profit, but it’s sometimes still a difficult task to silence that voice in your head (that same one verbalises, after a pint or two, to ask the Garçon in McNulty’s in La-Rochelle whether he’s ever been to Ballyfermot) from bigging-up the fact that the most popular variant of drinking establishment, worldwide, is that which replicates your own native one.

Kimchi Hophouse: Parnell St.

It would, though, make you wonder how others feel about similar circumstances. What would, say a native Korean, think about Dublin’s flagship Korean watering hole: Kimchi-Hophouse? Answers on a postcard, please.

Sitting in the somewhat Asian district of Parnell Street: Kimchi-Hophouse trades in a premises that’s been involved in the purveying of intoxicants since 1848 and which, much to our delight, retains the signage bearing its former name: The Shakespeare. The reason for this we’re not sure of. Whether it was a decision based on finances or a deliberate nod to the past is uncertain, but we’re sure Will-o himself would approve. Past being prologue, and all that.

As it turns out, a Korean bar in Dublin isn’t that unusual in the grand scheme of things. The similarities between Korea and Ireland are many, with some even referring to Korea as the Ireland of Asia. It’s also well reported that Korea is a country not too dissimilar to ourselves when it comes to the partaking of a few social beverages. A fact that is easily evident when you consider that their national spirit – Soju, was the world’s best-selling type of liquor in 2017.

This is all good and well, but the 72-billion KRW ($64M at the time of writing) question is whether this all translates to persons of Korean lineage running a good boozer. Using Kimchi-Hophouse as an example, the answer is yes. A narrow sort of pub, its appearance is characterised by a light blue and white colour scheme with homely wooden flooring underfoot. TVs are ubiquitous and my companion, a far more discerning football fan than I, agreed that the pub is a perfect setting in which to take in a match. The drink on offer comprises both craft and mainstream and the prices – all of which are helpfully displayed upon labels hung from the taps, are good. The Guinness was of a very high standard, costing a mere and moreish €4.50 a pint.

The overall vibe of the place is a buzzy one and the adjoining restaurant means there is plenty of movement from the kitchen which is situated somewhere toward the back of the pub. On any visit, we’ve found the crowd to generally be a young one, with trendy inclinations. Many of them seem to opt to occupy the smoking area out the back of the pub. The staff are sound too and our only complaint about the experience of the pub was an ordering process which seems to come into effect in the evening whereby one can only be served if they are standing within the confines of a relatively small section of the bar. This we found to be an unnecessary practice especially when it was enforced with a strictness that meant you’d miss out on the chance of service if you were merely a foot out of place.

But overall, we’re very fond of this boozer -having all the adventurousness of a departure from the norm with all of the comforts of the familiar – Kimchi-Hophouse is a pub we’ll definitely revisit, even if only to try some of this Soju stuff.

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 about 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.

The Deer's Head

Previously, having visited The Boar’s and The Stag’s head, we were content enough to think that these types 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 to 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 substandard memories.

To walk into this pub at 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 by 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 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 to 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 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?

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.

Cumiskey’s: Dominick St.

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 two main atria that are connected by a corridor which also happens 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 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.