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In the waning weeks of 2020, before everything turns to shite again, I find myself upon a bench amid inexplicable red plastic protrusions shooting from the ground in a manner as confusing as the tax affairs of some nearby headquartered multinationals. I am hungover and am sat like some sort of 21st century Kavanagh – begrudging people on e-scooters and segways, as they whir by in twos and threes.

I make a phone call to distract myself from the cold and am eventually joined by my better half, who, in true depressing, 2020 style has just come from a funeral. We’re here, amongst the jauntily-angled architecture, for to tick off one of Dublin’s most recently built public houses.

Brewdog

Hastily, in the end-of-year cold, we make toward the furthermost end of the southern quays, remarking, as we go, on the newness of the buildings and the emptiness of the streets. In short time, we come to an uber-industrial, faded-red steel-beam framed building; in Caledonian blue the sign above the entranceway reads: Brewdog.

To those unfamiliar, Brewdog is a Scottish brewery and pub chain which has been one of the defining entities in Craft Beer’s international boom toward the mainstream in this part of the world over the last decade and a half, or so. Having exponentially grown from humble beginnings, the company quickly became one of the UK’s largest independent breweries. In its lifetime, they’ve become known for their provocative marketing techniques and have ended up doing things as uncool as suing somebody for using the word ‘punk’. Recently they were implicated in a whistle-blower’s report which accused them of fostering a toxic and fearful culture within the company.

When we arrive inside the building, we land at an empty reception desk and, once there, wait about five minutes for someone to approach. We rumble through the formalities of the dreaded ‘new normal’ – the Covid protocols of the day – and are sat at a table on the ground floor, not far from some sort of indoor fire pit. Our server then hands us some menus for our perusal and reminds us of time limits that apply (under said- Covid guidelines) before promptly disappearing for fifteen precious minutes of our meagre allowance of drinking time.

In these fifteen minutes, we peer about the vast space like a couple of curious meerkats, only to be somewhat frustrated by the otherwise unoccupied staff who seem in no rush to take our order. As we observe one of them doing a literal dance for another, we decide that our efforts are in vain and decide to try and suss out the locals – a more difficult task than first imagined. We discern no obvious customer base at this time – the décor seems to request a young and trendy clientele, but instead, on this occasion, has pulled in a lot of middle-aged professional men and their laptops, a former Fine Gael TD amongst them, single-handedly robbing the place of any pretensions toward cool or hip it may have held, heretofore.

Eventually, we do get to order, and we order plenty. The beer, of course, is phenomenal. Having been to a Brewdog bar or two across the way – I’m happy to admit that the beer is always outstanding – in its quality, its variety, and its presentation. Dublin, thankfully, is no exception- there is even a pilot brew kit contained within the premises and, indeed some beer brewed in that very same set of equipment is to be found for sale in the pub. And while the quality of the fare is not up for comment, the price certainly is. This is a very, very expensive place to drink. A pint of their flagship beer – Punk IPA, comes in at a walletclenching €7.20 (Circa Late 2020). We theorise whether the pricing is just set to be in line with the salary of the nearby residents’ or an end to a means concerning the maintenance of such large premises. We settle on both, probably.

Concerning the building, the first thing to note is the size of it – it’s huge. Set out on two vast floors, it encompasses all sorts of different types of seating. Downstairs is afforded an abundance of light from its large open windows, while upstairs has porthole windows aplenty to look out as you play whatever game it is that is played on a glossy-polished table so long that it would put Vladimir Putin to shame. If you find that you’re not in a sporting sort of humour, and the weather is ok, you can head out to the considerable balcony/roof garden space, which enjoys views of the very last, or the very first of the waters of The Grand Canal.

Brewdog – Grand Canal

The design spec of the building is what you might call late-stage hipster industrial-chic. Unaffected concrete abounds with the requisite complement of exposed beam, cable tray and air duct. Curated street-art style murals are plentiful and instagramable neon signs are, of course, to be found. And I suppose plenty would call it an impressive looking sort of space, but when I walk around it, I can’t help but thinking to myself that such a large and faux-industrial space trying to convey its indie and punk vibe is oxymoronic in every sense. It’s the antithesis of indie and punk – it’s what Carroll’s Gift shop is to the 1798 Rebellion. It’s not punk, it’s aggressive capitalism wearing one of those cheap Ramones t-shirts that was almost certainly sewed together by an impoverished wage slave in deplorable working conditions, far, far away.

As someone who has drank in and enjoyed drinking in Brewdog bars abroad in the past, I really wanted to like this place. But I guess the reality of it on your doorstep just proved too much to handle. If it were more central to the city, I’d probably concede that I’d have ended up returning at some stage. But it’s so out of the way down there in silicon, low tax land that It’s unlikely I’ll be heading back to spend so much money anytime soon.

So, if you want good and expensive beer served in expansive ironically threadbare surroundings amidst tech bros, property developers and Fine Gaelers, by all means – head on down to Grand Canal Dock and fill your diamond-encrusted boots. But in the case that you’re looking for the real deal, The Thomas House is located at 86 Thomas Street.

Once upon a springtime’s evening, myself, Pintman №2 and a handful of other drinkers had found ourselves wandering merry through the streets of the capital. We were undertaking that grandest of Irish Sunday traditions – bouncing from pub to pub in the late spring sunshine attempting to assuage that impending doom of Monday morning with craic and pints.

We had started in The Liberties and had found ourselves up that long and boozy boulevard which contains streets Wexford, Camden, George’s and Aungier. Our intention was to make slow headway back to The Northside when we came to The Lucky Duck – one of Dublin’s newest pubs at the time. It looked decent, and in a time when we hadn’t any notion of who PressUp were – it offered no preconceptions, either. So, we decided to drop in and check it out.

The Lucky Duck

Standing at the threshold of the pub, we were met with the one thing which singled it out from others – the addition of a bouncer on the door. A certain anomaly for a normal pub of a Sunday evening. Having been scrutinized by our craictoseintolerant friend, we just about made it into the pub and happily found ourselves, a pint or two later, acquainted with two middle-aged local women who took it upon themselves to enthral us – their willing audience, with tales of the pub in its former guise – The Aungier House, or The Danger House as it was known to them. We asked them whether that name was warranted back then, to which they replied – sometimes.


As mentioned prior, the pub is operated by the much-maligned PressUp group and was opened in 2018, ending a two-decade-old spell of dereliction. The opening of the pub also happened to render an algorithmically generated route which solved Leopold Bloom’s much-quoted puzzle (about crossing Dublin without passing a pub) null and void. Take that, computer nerds!


The interior of the pub is newly kitted in a similar Victorian style to some of its nearest competitors. It merges newly purpose-built elements alongside apparent repurposed ones and contains a medium-sized snug at its Aungier Street side. A copper-topped bar runs most of the length of the space completing the look. It’s a very good-looking bar, certainly the most attractive in the Pressup portfolio, in our opinion.


Another feature of the pub which you might notice as you walk down Upper Digges St. is the collection of Delft Houses, which adorn shelves in the window. Cian, over on EveryPubInDublin, has identified these as souvenirs which were distributed by Dutch airline – KLM. These are noteworthy, as they refer to the intended name of the pub – The Dutch Billy.


We’re not entirely sure why the pub is called The Lucky Duck. We toyed with the theory that it was probably a name that was chosen in keeping with the avian pond-dweller theme established by the nearby (and excellent) Swan pub. Or possibly that it could be connected to other Dublin hostelries containing the word Duck in their title – there being two: The Dalkey Duck and The Wild Duck. Neither of these theories would prove conclusive.


What we do know is that the pub was to be called The Dutch Billy under the assumption that the structure containing the pub was an original Dutch Billy (A Dutch Billy is a specific architectural style of house which was built in Ireland during the 17th and 18th centuries and was named after King William of Orange). Plans for this name were so far advanced that a web domain was registered and a sign painted. But given that the above assumption proved to be incorrect, the name was changed late in the game.

https://twitter.com/feennui/status/984544318970003459


The pint, on this maiden occasion, was noted as being acceptable, though not exceptional. Price was not recorded at this time, though there was an outburst worthy of a warning from the bouncer when the price of the toasty was revealed to us. This price, while remembered as being somewhat outrageous at the time, was also not recorded. In the latter half of 2021, the Guinness is now recorded as having been well presented but leaving something to be desired and was priced at €5.80 per-pour – a far cry from the £1.70 previously charged in The Aungier House, as reported in The Evening Herald in 1995 which, further on in the edition, reports the price to be one of the lowest, if not the lowest, in the city.

aungier


I think we’d be happy to label this as our favourite of the pubs in PressUp’s arsenal. It would be easy to be cynical about The Lucky Duck, especially given its proximity to The Swan – one of the city’s most authentic versions of the sort of pub that The Lucky Duck seeks to emulate. But why would you want to be cynical – they’ve, admittedly, done a fantastic job with the space. They’ve replaced a dismal derelict shell with a beautiful pub. How can any of us, especially in the context of contemporary dereliction discourse, I think we’d be happy to label this as our favourite of the pubs in PressUp’s arsenal. It would be easy to be cynical about The Lucky Duck, especially given its proximity to The Swan – one of the city’s most authentic versions of the sort of pub that The Lucky Duck seeks to emulate. But why would you want to be cynical – they’ve, admittedly, done a fantastic job with the space. They’ve replaced a dismal derelict shell with a beautiful pub. And yes, there is a bigger chat to be had around PressUp’s furthering monopolisation of the sector, but for now, how can any of us, especially in the context of contemporary dereliction discourse, argue with something as nice as The Lucky Duck?

Me uncle had wolfhound,

That never had to pee.

But Hairy Lemon snatched it

Down on Eden Quay

The words of Pete Saint John, as sung by the gravelly baritone of Ronnie Drew in John’s encyclopaedic ballad – The Mero. The song, whose title is derived from a Dublin cinema, is one which seems to chronicle every conceivable Dublin City character of the mid-20th century – Bang Bang, Alfie Burn, Dolly Fawcett, Con Martin, Johnny Fortycoats and as mentioned above – Hairy Lemon all make the cut.

The Hairy Lemon

According to Bobby Ahearn’s excellently titled book, which brilliantly catalogues Famous Dublin Characters – D’you Remember Your Man? – Hairy Lemon was “a formidable dog-catcher who patrolled the city around the time of World War II”. In the book, Ahearn outlines how Hairy Lemon – a jaundiced man with an oval-shaped head was frequently used as a deterrent for bold children, who’d be told to “behave, or Hairy Lemon will get ya.”

Sadly, Hairy Lemon died a lonely old soul with no friends or family to remember him. That task came upon the local librarian in Cabra, who, having not established the man’s actual name, put a prayer in the local mass that week for the salvation of H. L., not wanting to have the priest referring to the dead man in such colloquial parlance.

While his name may have been a mainstay of the Northside back during The Emergency – today Hairy Lemon’s name looms large on the southside of the river. In the heart of Dublin 2, at the junction of Drury and Stephens’ Street – there sits a pub which some have incorrectly assumed was named in homage to a long-forgotten, rancid piece of citrus. A pub that is actually named after that fabled dog warden of days gone by – The Hairy Lemon.

Glowing like freshly bloomed Howth gorse on a dull day, the pub looks out upon far dimmer surroundings and looks a great option for thirsty passers-by. Passing through its doors, you’ll be greeted by that haphazard yet welcoming sort of décor where the only design spec is to cover all and any available wall space with whatever you can, with no regard for theme or homogeneity. Aside from the bedecked wall space, there is wood and exposed brick that abounds to complete the look. Amidst all of this, there is the notable addition of the bar featured in The Commitments. Sitting close to the entrance and making up part of the structure that contains something resembling a snug, drinkers can imbibe alongside the same timber that Colm Meaney knocked his curly head off in the cutaway scene in the movie when The Commitments play their first gig.

Colm Meaney Commitments

We’d advise drinkers to locate to the Drury Street side of the bar, where seating is overwhelmingly comprised of high stools and nooks and crannies are provided aplenty. The window-side seats are very appealing and offer some fantastic people-watching potential. And as for those whose hunger outweigh their thirst; we’d advise them to make toward the Stephens’ Street end of the building – wherein the lower seating section is located and where most of the sit-down meals tend to be served. Overall, though, this is a pub on a large scale – with the full of the upstairs offering ample additional pinting space, along with a terrace for smokers – first and second-hand alike.

When discussing the pub amongst ourselves we were all in agreement that we certainly like the place. And then in probing further on this, we came to identify the pub as being one that put us on the right pathway, so to speak. A gateway pub. A pub that your immature, early-twenty-something-year-old self could find a semblance of comfort in when all social life was the dark and the loud meat markets of lingering adolescence. This was the type of place that offered a warmly lit convivial alternative to those gaudy nightclubs that no one really liked anyway.

Pintman №2 and №3 are the most recent of us to have darkened the door of the pub and report that the pint (early 2022) is hitting the wallet for €5.80 and while being described as acceptable, is also noted to be considerably lacking when compared to some nearby pinting dens which have become known for the quality of their stout.

While we’re not drinking pints there too much lately, we can’t help but have a fondness for a pub like this. It educates us on a character of old. It doesn’t present itself with too much pretentiousness. You could very easily find yourself drinking in worse surroundings.

If you were to happen upon the scene of a very recent murder and inadvertently disturb evidence there and then find yourself, as a result, in police custody and subsequently charged with a murder you did not commit and then, after all that – find yourself at trial, convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment whereupon you end up in an overcrowded prison cell, drinking a primitive sort of alcohol brewed from fermented scraps of fruit foraged from bins and canteen floors, you’d be spending the same amount of money, but having ten times the craic as you would be if you were drinking in this glorified Cromwellian monument.

Keavan's Port

Have some respect for yourself and walk up to J O’Connell’s, instead.

At the very outset of this post, I first want to offer you, well – future you and your team, some information that will undoubtedly aid you in answering one of the questions in a pub quiz. The question will centre around the Olympic Games and will most likely ask something along the lines of – in what year were the 2020 Olympics held? And you will know that this is a trick question and that the answer is 2021. All because you came to read the ramblings of this pub-obsessed headbanger.

The Bleeding Horse

Now, none of this really has any real correlation with the pub about which I intend to speak. But let me be honest with you and admit that this year’s delayed Olympics was the first where a Modern Pentathlon had cause to leave me in thought of a Dublin Pub.

Yes, it was of course in the midst of one of those irksome Monday hangovers when I was putting in the longest of my working hours. I was listening to the radio and heard the far-too-cheery hosts discuss a German Olympian: who had met the ire of the internet when she was found to have punched her horse during the equestrian section of the Modern Pentathlon event. “Was the horse bleeding?” asked the host at one stage. Immediately I was transported to that awkward junction at the top of Camden Street.

A cavernous pub set out on multiple floors, The Bleeding Horse has the distinction of being one of the few Dublin Pubs which retains the name it held prior to the 1872 Licensing Act, which required the proprietor to affix their name to the premises they ran. It should, however, be noted that the pub’s name was changed to The Falcon Inn for a period in the middle of the 20th Century, and having done a bit of archive digging on it, I’ve found that most mentions of the name in the media are to lament it having been changed in the first place – one such article being humorously headlined: What’s bleeding wrong with the old name?

WhatsApp Image 2021-08-18 at 9.16.55 AM

The definitive genesis of the name itself is unclear, though there does seem to be two front-running explanations. The first of these relates to the claim that there was once said to be a farrier on-site at the premises, who would carry out the practice of bleeding horses for supposedly beneficial reasons. And the other, of which there are a number of variants, relates to a riderless horse entering the pub having come from a battle, further afield (some say during the Cromwellian invasion and others say during the United Irishmen’s 1798 rebellion). In each telling of this version of etymology, the horse is said to be bleeding upon entry with some going as far as to say that the horse dies on the floor of the tavern. One of the sources I checked even alluded to the pub being haunted by the spirit of the dead horse and mentions that strange, unexplained noises can sometimes be heard in the pub after close. But this author would argue that this is more likely a result of the kebab shop across the junction.

Pintman №3 and I were recently chatting about The Bleeding Horse and immediately we were in agreement that it was a pub which we both certainly liked. Its abundance of differently shaped, sized, and lit spaces give it a wide appeal and its historical chops are, of course – an advantage. Not only does the pub have age and name at its disposal to pique history gluttons, but it also has plenty of ties to Literature – James Clarence Mangan is said to have frequented the place and it gets a mention in the grandest of Dublin texts – Ulysses. It’s also cited in Donleavy’s Gingerman.

Speaking some more about the place, we did note one feature which we’d mark the pub down on and that was the expanse of the large, centre-located bar. Mulling this over, we compared it to Synott’s of Stephen’s Green – their’s being the most extreme example of over-allocation of bar space. Though we were in agreement that The Bleeding Horse wasn’t that far gone. Naturally enough, after that, chat mutated to talk of large bars in general. We wondered if our unease with them related to some subconscious awareness of longer beer lines and their inherent susceptibility to the production of poorer pints, in comparison to their shorter counterparts.

We also pondered the phenomenon of larger bars not usually increasing the speed at which you could obtain a pint, suggesting that there may be complex mathematics at play behind the scenes there. But that’s definitely one to work out over a pint and with a few betting slips and bookie’s pencils.

The Bleeding Horse really is understated in comparison to some of the pubs in our city, whose owners (or PR agencies) are only too happy to fabricate some bespoke bollocks to tie in with their “image” and sell you sugar-laden, low abv cocktails. The pub is a good one, and an infinitely better choice to drink in over its newest neighbour. And while we can’t speak for the quality or the price of the pint at this minute, given the gap between present times and our last visit, we certainly would have no hesitation in returning to suss this out. And we might just.

Post Script: And just might, we did. A recent visit to the pub gave us the current price (late 2021) of €5.50 for a pint of Guinness, and a more than acceptable one it was too.

There’s one in every town and parish of Ireland. You can’t miss them as they cut a dash in shops, workplaces and public houses; going about their day to day mundanities. Nearly everything about them is as it should be – the attire is in keeping with what is to be expected, as is the accent and the mannerisms, there’s usually just the one thing that will stand out – the hair. Jet black and generally extending to flank the face with sideburns of varying sizes, this is the primary indicator of what I term a particular Irish character called ‘The Elvis Aulfella’.

Bakers: Thomas Street

Elvis Aulfellas, on average, tend to earn their keep as manual workers or as drivers. If there exists a job where one can sing or whistle freely, there is an Elvis Aulfella to fill it. Though manifested daily in their physical appearance, an Elvis Aulfella’s devotion to the king is not something that he may always be so outward about in general conversation. Should an Elvis Aulfella come to build your porch or pave your driveway, he’ll do just that – you shouldn’t expect yourself to be canvassed on the virtues of Presley in order to have the work done to an agreeable standard.

It’s at social gatherings where Elvis Aulfellas come into their own. DJs see them approach on the regular and cheap karaoke microphones are more than acquainted with their h-sound ladened warbling. They drink in normal pubs, local pubs – pubs like Bakers. In fact I’d go as far as to say that Bakers is the ideal Elvis Aulfella pub – and that’s not just because it was flush with Presley ephemera.

Bakers had a sort of a warm charm to it – a real down to earth shop. The walls were covered in all sorts of things pertaining to the tastes of the working class ageing Dublin gentleman. The sort of things they’d hang in a room of their own at home – if they had one. But the sizes of Liberties abodes being what they are, Bakers stepped in to provide a sort of communal man-cave for its customers. This, in turn, provided a real treasure trove for eejits, such as myself, who find interest in the modern social history of The Liberties in the face of all the gentrification ongoing, there.

Whenever we drank in Bakers, we’d opt for the bar and, subconsciously, try to sit as close to the collage of John Wayne pictures as we could. There’s something calming about John Wayne. It’s probably his standing as the most beloved figure of our grandfathers’ generation, but images of the man they nicknamed Duke tend to elicit comfortable feelings of clandestine donations of shiny pound coins and a seemingly unending supply of hard toffee sweets for me and my ilk. Once happily sat in the environs of this collage we would set about tucking into a few pints, which were always anticipated with no fear for their quality. What was always surprising, however, was the price – last noted in the late summer of 2019 as being €4.40 – far lower than some immediate neighbors.

At this point you might be wondering – why the use of the past tense in most of what was written above? Well, as unfortunate circumstance would have it, this piece is more of a Eulogy than anything else.

It’s another sad reality in this pox of a year that Bakers is set to be one of the pubs which will not return to trade whenever this all-encompassing pandemic has sang its last encore and made for the stage exit.

And that really is a terrible shame. Not just for all the Leeds United plaques and fake Elvis Presley gold discs that will be condemned to landfill – not even for the collection of John Wayne imagery, but for the old stock locals, Elvis Aulfellas included, that will have to find a new third space. It’s true that The Clock and Kennedy’s in nearby proximity are a similar sort of pub; but the truth is that pubs like these are getting fewer and fewer in the heart of town, and, sparkly and intriguing as they may be at first, no amount of donut shops, aparthotels and for-profit rural hardware simulacra will ever provide the cultural sustenance that the likes of Bakers did. I’m just glad I took the chance to darken it’s door when I had it.

“This old pub standeth on sacred ground, surrounded by the high walls of the Royal Kilmainham Hospital, by the ancient cemetary of Bully’s Acre and the dungeons of Kilmainham Jail. The Patriot’s Inn has been closer to the pulse of Irish history than any other contemporary pub.”

So says the signage sitting at the entrance to the Patriots Inn pub in Kilmainham. Now far be it from us to stand here today and call this pub’s historical bona-fides into question, but can we just ask you whether you might agree with us that the sense of historical significance that may well be afforded to this pub just happens to get even a little bit diluted when you factor in the fact that that sitting just atop the pub is Dublin 8’s most authentic, lively Italian dining emporium – La Dolce Vita. I mean, pizze di Napoli, fettuccine alla carbonara and spaghetti al pomodoro, don’t exactly scream saoirse na hÉireann now do they? Maybe it qualifies under ‘our gallant allies in Europe’. I don’t know.

The Patriot’s Inn: Kilmainham

It’s probably just me. But when I first pushed back the door of the bar in The Patriot’s Inn of a November evening, the first thing to grace the olfactory plains of my internal workings was the pungent bouquet of basil, garlic and tomato. All fine things in their own right and great in the appropriate time and place, but when a man has the desire for porter, he need not be enticed by certain aromas and these are certainly included with those. I, and others so discerning, have been known to leave pubs for less.

But this night, it would take more than the smell of decent Italian gnosh to move me and my companions as we were there to get this pub well and truly ticked from our list. Making our way to the bar we hastily retrieved a few pints and set about getting a table. Finding our way to a free table toward the back we listened a while to the music which emanated from the lounge before tucking into the pints before us. While the enjoyment of these was impacted by the smell of food, it was agreed that they were of an acceptable standard and a decent price too. (€4.80 in November 2018… we don’t often get the chance to get out to Kilmainham)

As we discussed Italian involvement in the course of Irish History and considered floating to the owners – the idea of changing to the restaurant to French cuisine for the 1798 tie-in, we came to notice two lads who had become uneasy about themselves and were up and down from their seats a lot. Deciding that they were probably looking for something we left them to it before they interjected and asked the entire enclave which we were sat in if they had seen a ring about the place. Having received entirely negative responses to their queries one of the men informed us of how it was the other’s wedding ring which had gone missing, the other having only been married a few short weeks and out on his first few pints, sans-missus, since the big day.

It was at this moment when a beautiful act of male telepathy occurred. We all knew that losing a wedding ring was bad. But losing one on the first few pints away from the wife – fatal. Every person harbouring a Y chromosome in that room knew that this fella’s entire drinking future was at stake. So with that, we all mobilized. Recruits seemed to appear from all angles. And after a solid ten or fifteen minutes of ransacking the back alcove of this bar, a tolkeinesque roar could be heard throughout the town of Kilmainham as this newlywed was reunited with his wedding band once more. And even better was the fact that after such upheaval, I’d no longer found myself bothered by the smell of Italian cooking. We sank a pint or two with the newlywed afterward to celebrate before heading down the road.

The Patriot isn’t a bad pub by any stretch of the imagination. But they could do with leaving the pasta upstairs.

Dublin! It’s a city, if the annals of internet comment sections are to be believed, that divides opinion. And while pub-dwellers prone to over-romanticisation, such as ourselves, are ten a penny – there’s also a hefty cohort out there in the world who refuse to base their opinions of our native city on anything other than the darker end of the full spectrum.

Though our official line is one attesting to the craic and beauty being in plentiful supply, we’re not so ignorant as to equate Dublin to some utopia and even we like to take the road out sometimes in search of an atmosphere where urbanity doesn’t abound. Where settings are a little, if not a lot, more rural.

Thankfully when such pangs kick in and when time or money won’t allow – we can achieve something akin to a rural encounter without having to travel so far. Sometimes an experience bordering on bucolic can be had mere minutes from the city centre – we’re referring, of course, to a pub which rightly calls itself an authentic country pub in Kilmainham – The Old Royal Oak.

The Old Royal Oak: Kilmainham Lane

In researching the name of this pub, I can’t say with any great degree of confidence that we’ve managed to establish its exact origin. Some say that there must be a tie with the nearby Royal Hospital given its inclusion of the word royal, but in the course of our research we’ve come to establish our own particular theory. We have previously touched upon the genesis of some modern pub names in our post about The Deer’s Head and similar to that, we’ve found ourselves looking back toward our old colonial neighbour for answers. You see, it so happens that an abundance of pubs across in the UK have names containing any given permutation of the words royal, oak and old. And as you might imagine, there’s a good reason for this.

Way back in the 1600s during The English Civil War, Royalists and Parliamentarians were having a bit of a disagreement. And this disagreement was of such severity that it brought about the need for a battle in the town of Worcester. Possibly about governance, possibly about sauce, who knows? Anyway, King Charles, the king to be; not the dog, being head of the Royalists and a bit of a useless prick to boot – decided that he had scant chance of survival when pitted against Lord Protector and cunt of the last millennium – Oliver Cromwell, Ollie being head-honcho of the opposing side. Opting to hide away from all the bloodshed, Charlie sought refuge – and as the story goes, found it in the relative sanctuary of a big oak tree.

Fast forward a decade or so and the civil war is over, Chaz is back on the throne and is regaling everyone with the tale of the time he was shielded from danger by a big bastard of an oak tree. So Brits being Brits – they start writing songs and naming boozers after this Royal Oak, as it had been dubbed.

Let it be known that our guess, educated by the fact that The Old Royal Oak was first opened as a pub when British rule still reigned over this country, is that this pub took its name – as so many others across the Irish Sea did – from that tree in the middle of England. And if it didn’t then so be it. We still managed to get around to calling Ollie Cromwell a bollox in at least one of the things we’ve posted on this website.

The Oaker is a pub that would seem to espouse the principle that less is more – the bar, a one-roomed, undivided space, is characterised by its simplicity. Upon entrance you’ll observe low seating on your left and a medium sized bar to the right. Seating, while not in short supply, is limited and when the place fills up it fills up fast. We commandeered a few stools up near the bar just in the nick of time when we last visited. Decoration is made up of the usual cavalcade of ephemera you might find in traditional pubs – paintings and pictures of local landscapes and landmarks, old drink adverts, framed jerseys and a few flags on the ceiling too, just for good measure.

I’d made my first visit here in the company of Pintman №5, who rates this pub as his favourite in the city. My fears of disagreeing with him were quickly allayed as we settled in to a few pints and he pointed out an elderly lady perched on a stool at the end of the bar. Describing her as “a little dreamboat” he informs me that she is the owner, or related to the owner as it may be.

When the time comes to use the jaxx, I’m reminded by my companion to inspect the snug while en-route – and I’m glad that take this instruction. Peering through the unassuming door I find myself in a space that is more family – living room than pub-snug. Its cosy inhabitants, all of whom are glued to a match on the TV, react to my interruption with the same sort of perplexity you might to a perfect stranger wandering into your own sitting room. I return to the bar extoling the cosiness this snug to my companions before demanding of them that we sit in there upon our next visit. We will!

Pintwise, we’re in dream territory here €4.80 on our last visit (which was Nov 2018, way too long ago) and a decent skinful sunk with great pleasure. Pintman №5 indulged in a toasty on that occasion too and it looked the part.

Out and out this is a fine establishment. One I wish was in more of a convenient location relative to a northsider such as myself. The pub too is also a great lesson for all new and prospective publicans thinking of going for that big revamp. Simplicity can be effective, if the place is run right.

A couple of posts back you might remember that we were drawing parallels between pubs and books. Well, rejoice ye lovers of poorly constructed prose because here comes this poorly effected simile once again.

Peadar Brown’s: Clanbrassil St.

Pubs and books… consider, if you will, the similarities between the two – how both a pub and a book are home to many a great story, both have acted as vehicles for education and enlightenment for as long as we care to remember, and both are a source of refuge where the common man can go to escape the mundanity of ordinary everyday life.

Keeping that in mind, let us say that as we continue to wade through the convoluted task of drinking our way through the entire network of boozers in dear old dirty Dublin town, we’ve come to recognize a great many parallels between the pubs of our beloved capital city. We’ve identified things that are true of some pubs and have also come to recognize some traits that can be attributed to all pubs. It’s one of the latter of these two observations that brings us back to our initial thought – given that it’s true that of all books that they should not be judged by their covers we’d argue that the same sentiment can be applied to pubs regarding their façade.

Taking the pictured Peadar Brown’s here as an example, it’s haphazardly decorated frontage sitting amidst apartments and fast-food units just don’t really constitute the type of composition typical of the more refined imagery you’ll find adorning products upon the shelves of souvenir shops. And this is, at least for our own selfish reasons, a good thing. For if an image of Peadar Browns’ facade could convey the level of craic available inside – the place would be besieged by every imaginable incarnation of plastic paddy conceivable, and within days it would be rendered uninhabitable for discerning drinkers like you and me.

It was the weekend of the All-Ireland Football Final last year when Pintman №2 and I had fallen afoul of the ire of the man behind the taps in Fallon’s (we love you Fallon’s but good jaysus can you be a narky one.)Deciding not to tarnish our perception of the pub any further, we decided that it was high time that we ticked Peadar Brown’s off the list. Heading southward up to Clanbrassil Street we soon found ourselves at the threshold of the pub which had temporarily rebranded itself as Jim Gavin’s in tribute to the Dublin bainisteoir himself. Tentatively we crossed the threshold to find a pub that we instantly regretted having not visited sooner.

With tiles toward the front of the pub and beautifully weathered wooden boards flooring the back end, the pub is decorated traditionally throughout. The ephemera around the place is in plentiful supply and ranges from local and national history to sport to the usual knick-knacks like vintage beer and cigarette advertisements.

Amongst the more traditional décor, there is a theme to be found. Denoted by painted bodhráns, as this particular theme tends to be, we recognized a definite Republican flair to Peadar Brown’s. With portraits of the signatories of the 1916 proclamation and the prominent placement of the green Irish Republican flag over the mantle, it’s not the type of place we personally would have been advocating a visit to for any of the lads in white rugby tops that we encountered culturally appropriating African American slave song around temple bar over the weekend just gone. We’d also be wary of bringing any Rangers fans in too, we noted the pub to be a bit of a hub for Celtic fans given the couple of die-hard hoops propping up the bar early one Sunday taking in some inconsequential tie with a rival from the bottom of the league table.

Upon our first visit (which would inspire plenty more) we settled in with two jars of Arthur. Having counted the change returned and calculated them to have impacted the pocket to the tune of €4.60 apiece, we turned our attention to the quality. And let us say that these gargles were as creamy as that poxy couch in your granny’s front room. Served in the preferred tulip shaped vessel, we found no fluke to be identified with the quality remaining constant throughout the duration of our first session here, and let me tell you – it did end up as a session. With the sole intention of dropping in for a pint or two to give the pub a try, Pintman №2 and I soon realised we’d be here for a longer spell than initially intended.

As if being satisfied with the atmosphere, the gargle and the aesthetics wasn’t good enough, Peadar’s had another ace up its sleeve. We were barely into our third pint when we came to notice a growing assembly of musicians beginning to occupy the back section of the pub. In ones and twos, we observed the arrival them – a guitarist or two first, then a piper, then a fiddler and then plenty more besides. By the time we were halfway through our fourth pint we were front row to a blistering All-Ireland eve céilí and Peadar Brown’s had captured our heart.

So you may take your picturesque rip-off dens festooned in fairy lights and hanging baskets. They might look the part on a calendar or a postcard or a fridge magnet. But no such piece of overpriced tat could possibly deliver the type of craic that you’ll find within the walls of Peadar Brown’s. This pub is a pillar of its community, a place of music and culture, a proper public house! This is a real Dublin pub!

The Long Stone we hardly knew ye.

You stood proudly on Townsend Street for over 200 years and now they’ve decided to knock you down. We never even took our chance to photograph you while you were open and now it’s too late. Soon you’ll follow your neighbour – Ned into the dusty abyss and take your rightful place in Valhalla, and all we can do to console ourselves is to think of cliches – you really don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

The Long Stone: Townsend St.

We went to visit you on your last day and came to realise what fools we have been not to have spent more time drinking within your confines. We were like flies scutting along the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel – ignorant of the beauty upon which we were standing.

It’s true that I’ve said things in the past that you mightn’t have liked. I was no fan of the hot nut machine that sat atop your front bar and bathed all around it in an uncomfortable fiery hue. I certainly bemoaned the price of your drink on more than one occasion, but none of that matters now.

How we wish you were still open. How we wish we could saunter into the back bar and sit at the mouth of a 10ft sculpture of Odin’s head and gaze upon your bespoke wooden features, your slate flooring, your ancient hanging banners.

But we can’t visit you anymore. The newspapers say that a wrecking ball is due on-site in January, They’ll probably build a hotel on the ground upon which you currently stand. Tourists might come to stay and they’ll ask if there are any good pubs around. No, we’ll respond… Just hotels.

Rest in peace, The Long Stone. We’ll miss you.