Tag Archive for: southinner

On a September’s Friday evening, hardy drinkers have gathered into a quayside pub to mark the end of their working week. The pub, named in accordance with their customer’s and their customer’s forebearer’s profession, is in full swing as the last of the daylight is waning – cigarette smoke hangs in the air and aids in condensing the sound of song, laughter, and general merriment – all of which plays in symphony alongside the hiss of beer taps and the clanging of a busy cash register. 

Just as the evening is threatening to finally become night, the pub’s creaking front door swings ajar – and in what seems like an instant, a silence has spread itself through the entire pub – the way the arrival of a bridesmaid to a waiting crowd at a wedding ceremony might. Through the haze of the smoke and from the last of the evening’s natural illumination, steps a man into the pub. Emblazoned in a tailor-made reflective blue suit, the dull workwear-garbed patrons of the pub regard the man with an initial bout of bewilderment which eventually gives way, as most things do in Dublin, to indiscriminate slagging.  

I wasn’t there when this happened. I’m not even sure if I was alive when it happened, but this is a take on what it might have been like when David Bowie set foot in The Docker’s pub a few decades back. Recounted in Bono’s recent memoir:  Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story – the U2 lead singer alludes to how Bowie might have assumed the bar to be docker-themed, rather than docker-frequented, when he arrived there to meet the U2 lads for a few pints, a few decades back.  

It’s often said of Bowie that he was a futurist, and was ahead of his time, – there’s even a clip of him more-or-less predicting the forthcoming impact of the world wide web in 1999. So, we could argue that he was simply flexing his futurist abilities back when he met Bono and the boys for a few scoops, all those years ago. And I say this, because, if David Bowie were alive in the year of our lord: two-thousand and twenty-four, and well enough to frequent the renovated and reincarnated Dockers pub, as it is now – he’d have been absolutely correct in his estimation of it being docker-themed.  

That particular theme is demonstrated in the assortment of dock and docker imagery that adorns the walls of the pub and by the portrait that is printed on the wall and into the denim uniforms worn by the staff which depicts an older man – replete with flat cap and beard – presumably an old docker himself.  

Housing all of this is that well-worn faux-industrial style of pub fit-out we’ve all come to know and loathe – bare brick, exposed ducting and pipework all being par for the course. The ground floor is divided into two main atria: one of which houses a medium-sized bar and also provides the entrance to a smoking garden in the rear.  

When Pintman №2 and I arrived shortly before the after-work rush of an evening last year, we found ourselves being somewhat re-traumatized with memories of Covid-era drinking, when no sooner than we had stepped up to the bar, were we greeted by a member of the floor staff who had rushed to us and insisted upon seating us and serving us at the table, despite our preferences otherwise. Lovely and all, as this server was, her insistence on serving us in such a manner was made all the more perplexing when the 5 pm rush arrived and made table service entirely impossible. 

That 5 pm rush was an interesting sight to behold, from an anthropological point of view. It left us to wonder if, back when the docks were in their zenith, you’d be able to identify a drinker in a pub as being a docker on account of their dress or by objects they might have carried. This, we wondered, having observed this crowd of so-called Silicon Dockers that rushed in and noting a majority of them being laden with backpacks. And further so, when it was noticed that a majority of this majority simply left these backpacks on. Whether this was due to their reluctance to have their company-issued laptops therein, lost or stolen – or simply some sort of new fashion trend – we didn’t know – but it did amuse us to remark on their likeness to overgrown, pintdrinking schoolchildren. Not that we would condone the act of schoolchildren drinking pints, of course. But if this were a parallel world, where it was acceptable and beneficial for schoolchildren to drink pints – we’d wager, given our own experience, that they would be happy enough with the standard of Guinness here. But it would cost them €6.50 (Autumn 2023) of their pocket money every time they had one.  

Some who’d have little difficulty in shelling out €6.50 for a pint of something made up the river, are the pub’s incredibly famous former patrons. As suggested earlier, the pub has an affinity with the band U2 – who are said to have often drank there when recording in the nearby studios in Windmill Lane and Hannover Quay. The band even accepted a Billboard award by video transmission at a bar in the pub in 1992 and gave Phil Collins a bit of a hard time.  

But nowadays you’ll find no mention of the band within the pub. From all that we’ve seen and heard, the current proprietors don’t seem to be trying to trade on what we’d assume to be a relatively lucrative association. Granted, we are mere business-averse consumers who wouldn’t be able for a Junior Cert profit and loss account, but this seems like a missed opportunity.  

After all, what could be more of a perfect U2 pub than one that’s polished, expensive, commandeered by multinationals and not nearly as good as it was in the 1980s?  

Standing and sitting all around him, they gaze ahead, unemotionally, and in glib expectation of a continuance of the mediocrity that has so far graced the stage on this cold winter’s night. He has no light show, no backing band, and no bejewelled jumpsuit for to dazzle them with – he’s garbed in a nondescript t-shirt and the pair of brown cords that we always slag him about wearing. He’s singing into a budget microphone, over a synthesizer-heavy, cheap-sounding backing track. Though it’s all eyes rolling and lips pursing as they recognise his song choice, his timely deployment of a few hip swivels and arm rotations has them softened before the first chorus comes in.

Kenny's (James' St.)

By the time he’s dropped to his knees for the middle-eighth and pleaded with the nearest pensioner to “wipe the tears from your eyes” and “not let a good thing die”, he has them fully onside for the home stretch. Finishing the song, he takes his applause and joins us where we’d been laughing at him in the crowd, throughout. After enquiring with us as to where he’d left his pint, we all returned to our seats in the bar and rejoined the remainder of our friends and the prostitute who had since joined us at the table.

Numerous people within the population may disagree with sex work and more again may be anti-karaoke. But one could only surmise that only the smallest of subsets of even those people would argue that neither karaoke nor sex workers are entirely out of place in a public house. But what if we told you that this is no ordinary public house?

When those shots, arguably the most impactful ever fired in Irish history, had long finished echoing through the Cork countryside and Michael Collins had been put in the ground in Glasnevin; the task of governing the Free State was placed upon the head of a Mr William Thomas Cosgrave. Known to most of us as WT Cosgrave, he was obviously a man who didn’t fancy much of a commute to his work given that when he fought in the Rising under Eamonn Ceannt – he did so in the South Dublin Union – a then-workhouse, which now forms part of the St. James Hospital complex. And handily enough for WT – the South Dublin Union happened to be across the road from Burke’s pub – where he was born, lived, and also put the odd shift in. This pub, as observers of the plaque outside it will know – is now Kenny’s.

The reason we felt it important to emphasize, as we did above, about this being no ordinary pub is that our own impression of it was just that. There’s a relatively narrow bar on the left side of the building and, at the time we visited, the pub was ticking over with customers who all seemed to be local enough and enjoying themselves. Kenny’s is a good-looking traditional pub. One where the pint is fairly priced (€5 as of late 2022) and is well crafted by the bartenders who, on our collective visit, are full of chat and banter as they go about their duties.

Other than that inconspicuous plaque, there’s no blatant or obvious reason for someone who wanders into this pub from the street outside to know that it’s the birthplace of the State’s first de facto Taoiseach. Who, himself, fathered another Taoiseach. There’s no indication in the place that it was once raided during the Civil War and that the uncle of the State’s first de facto Taoiseach was shot and killed here. Passing from the bar of the pub into its expansive lounge and sitting amongst all the spectators of the karaoke, therein, you could never imagine that this building did bear witness to such historical events.

The funny thing is though, that places of such historical significance tend to be more solemn and reflective places. You’d hardly have your Aunty Margret up doing her best Proud Mary down at Arbor Hill, or Uncle Tommy giving My Way a good blast in the yard in Kilmainham Jail, now, would you? So, with that in mind, you can’t help but question the appropriateness of Pintman №3 crooning out his best Suspicious Minds in here, though, can you?

WT Cosgrave Plaque

But, rest assured, the more and more we’ve thought about it, the more suitable we’ve come to believe that it is. What you need to do to achieve such a state is to look at the lyrics of the song – not from the perspective of a paranoid lover – but from that of a combatant in a civil war. Cosgrave is the man who had to make the big decisions to steer Ireland out of the Civil War, post-Collins. It could be argued that it is he who is the quintessential civil war figure in Irish history. And given the alternatives available to him at the time, you could say that he was caught in a trap.

When you consider the threat of awful and terrible violence from the British war machine that hung like a Damocles sword over the head of the State’s first government, were they to not have settled the civil war, you come to realise that Cosgrave could not walk out during that violent time in Irish history where most of the cabinet and their families barely ever left government buildings for fear of execution. And all this because he loved you (i.e. the path to achieving a real republic) too much baby.

Cosgrave Shot

So, to us, there’s no reason why the performing of Elvis can be considered as a disrespectful act, on such sacred turf. It is also worth noting that, though they seem worlds apart, Cosgrave didn’t die until 1965 – at which point Elvis was already established as a global superstar. And who’s to say that the founder of Cumann na nGaedheal, anti-royalist as he was, didn’t have a soft spot for this particular King, were he to be played on Radio Éireann back when rock and roll was taking over the world?

As for the woman who had joined us, that – to us – was an unusual encounter in a Dublin pub. We had clocked her mostly-unreciprocated overfamiliarity with all of the men who were arriving into the pub as we were there, and we’d privately made a few guesses as to her profession being that which ranked as the oldest in the world on this basis.

When she did join us for a drink, and confirm our guesses to be correct, she didn’t opt to stay around for long when it was established that we were not prospective customers.

We definitely do stand over the case we’ve made for WT being likely to let a bit of Elvis slide on such hallowed, historical ground, but we can’t say with any degree of certainty that, given his endorsement of the closure of Dublin’s notorious red-light district: The Monto, the case can be made for Mr Cosgrave looking so fondly upon the solicitation of sex on the premises.

So, if you’re a blueshirt, a karaoke fan, a member of the vice squad, or all of the above – or if you’re just looking for a few decent pints, get yourself down to Kenny’s of James’ Street for one of the best nights you could hope for.

Epilogue: We do just want to make sure it’s clear that we are not suggesting that the management/proprietors/operators of this pub are involved in the provision of sex for sale. The sex worker we met in this pub was not affiliated with it or its staff. As alluded to above, this was a fairly unusual encounter – not only in Kenny’s (which we’ve separately and collectively been to a handful of times and not experienced) but in Dublin pubs in general.

Looking back on it now, with the gift of hindsight, and decent software that chronologically catalogued all the photos from the year, I can see that we were fitting a lot into that summer.  

Leonard’s Corner

Big weekends like the one in question weren’t as abnormal as they’ve admittedly become. The body and the circumstances were better equipped for an action-packed Thursday to Sunday extravaganza with a full itinerary of very late finishes. It was at the tail end of one of these glorious weekends that I would first cross the threshold of Leonard’s Corner.   

It was a Sunday, nay – it was the Sunday. World Cup Final Sunday, and we were away to deepest darkest South Dublin to watch the fixture in a friend’s house. Yours truly was barely upright and still contending with the Charlie’s that had been consumed when the sun had already started to come up, a mere couple of hours prior.   

Having marginally survived the journey across the city, I located the nearest licensed outlet and immediately realized that, alike the 11 Croatians that were to be shortly lining out against France in Moscow, I was going to have to play this one tactically. 

Cans of stout would not be on the bill of fare for that afternoon. Nor was lager or any other such widely available beer that was for sale in the supermarket I’d found myself in. I had almost settled on cider, when, for some reason at that particular moment, it was obvious that several different variants of cheap sparkling wine were the necessary tonic required for reviving my ailing soul.  

A couple of hours later and things had improved exponentially. Now cured about three times over and with a few quid of French Sweepstakes money in the back pocket, I found myself in tow with some friends as we crawled our way out of Harold’s Cross and towards Clanbrassil Street. Naturally, it wasn’t long before we arrive at Leonard’s Corner.  

Leonard’s Corner, situated on… Leonard’s Corner is one of a unique set of intersections in Dublin that derive their name from a business that was once (or may still be) situated there. Though its name is in harmony with the name of the intersection now, the pub did go through a few different names in its past, previously bearing the name Carrs.

It seems that the original Leonard was a Mr Francis Leonard, who owned the building in the latter half of the 19th Century. And even though this 1894 edition of The Belfast Newsletter shows that he put it up for sale in that same year, the intersection still bears his name more than a century later.

Leonard’s Corner, the pub that is, is a traditional looking pub; L-shaped, due to the placement of the bar and its being on a corner, we found it somewhat dimly lit to an agreeable level on this first visit. On that occasion, having ordered a round and happily sat down at one of the low tables, we – being a bit boisterous with the day that was in it- found ourselves on the bad side of one of the barmen.  

Were we merry from the day? Yes.  

Were we of any harm to others? Absolutely not.  

Were we too loud? Almost definitely.

Leonard's Corner Full2

By pint number two, that barman had asked us to quieten down a few times. And in lieu of pint number three, we decided that we probably were ruining the ambience and opted to leave. 

When I next set foot in Leonard’s Corner, it was on the occasion of wanting a few pints prior to a Mary Wallopers show in the nearby National Stadium. To those unaware, The Mary Wallopers are what I would term a sort of nouveau Clancy Brothers – rollicking balladeers from Dundalk who have a fanbase as thirsty as their repertoire of liquor-laden folksongs. Unfortunately, for our friends in Leonard’s Corner, they were aware of none of this – the Mary Wallopers, their fans, or their concert didn’t exist as far as they were concerned. That is until they did. 

I’m sorry to say that I’m capable of being a petty, petty man. And I know this because of the sense of satisfaction I found in watching that same said barman – the one that had been so vexed with us those four years prior – as he battled against the unexpected hordes, five deep – on the far side of the bar that he tended. I’m sorry to tell you, reader, that I couldn’t shift that feeling of cosmic equilibrium as I gazed into the eyes of that man and saw that he was like a fox in the headlights, timidly asking another customer – ‘what time do them doors open up there’.  

I keep telling people to enjoy bartenders like this while they last, though. The old-school career bartender is becoming a rarer thing in the modern world. This man and his colleagues excelled themselves on that particular night – professionalism defined. They got everyone served in good time and dealt with a swell that would have engulfed the less experienced. And of course, the man was right and proper to throw us a bit of ire on that Sunday in 2018, we’d expect no less from the bartenders in our own local, were a messy group of outsiders to descend upon it on a relaxing Sunday night.  

I suppose we’ve only proven, in writing about our only two visits to Leonard’s, that we’ve never actually been there under normal circumstances. So, we’re definitely not the best arbiters of what it’s actually really like on a day-to-day basis. Then again, maybe we are – those two visits told us everything we need to know about the place and that is that it’s in great hands. I definitely have a grá for the place as a result of those two visits – and I can’t wait to get back there again.  

A clamper, a man with a battery-powered angle grinder and a recently clamped motorist all walk into a bar…  

Fear not, reader – this isn’t the first line of a poorly constructed joke – this is the scene which presented itself to me upon arrival at Lowe’s in Dolphin’s Barn on an afternoon, earlier in the year. But let me come back to that a little bit later on. 

The Clamper, The Angle Grinder and The Regular: A Visit to Lowe’s in Dolphin’s Barn

Lowes, along with its neighbouring pubs, are ones that have evaded the clutches of DublinByPub for quite a spell. We certainly hadn’t been actively avoiding Cork Street and Dolphin’s Barn – this just wound up being a thoroughfare we never managed to make it past The Liberties to. But with the pubs open anew in the early part of this year we set a course to tackle the street once and for all. And of the three pubs along that particular stretch, Lowe’s is the best by a country mile.  

A one-room pub, narrowing at the back, Lowe’s has a traditional décor. With plain brown carpet underfoot, it contains all its low seating to the front of the pub in the guise of couches and low stools. Containing the pub’s medium-sized bar, the rear of the space contains the majority of the pub’s high stools. A side entrance to the pub brightens the pub decently during the day leaving us to deem the place to have been in good nick upon our first visit. 

On that first visit, I had mentioned to my fellow drinkers that Lowe’s had something of a unique trait, relative to the Dublin pub landscape. I had been saying that though there are many pubs in Dublin which boast the name of a historic pub which once was located elsewhere in the city – Lowe’s is one of few pubs which actually is a pub that was once located somewhere else in the city.  

Having a direct lineage from the Lowe’s, which once stood on Dean Street, and constituted one of the Four Corners of Hell before its demise in the late 80s, The Lowe’s name has adorned the façade of this Dolphin’s Barn premises since the early 90s and is one of that interesting subsection of Dublin pubs that have moved location and are operated under the same name and by the same owner, or at least the descendants of the same owner. 

Our visits to Lowe’s would suggest that it’s a well-run pub. We found ourselves greeted warmly on each visit and found the drink to be in very good order, too. Coming in at €5.20 (Mid-2022), there wasn’t too much moaning to be done about price either. 

But there was plenty of moaning to be done about price by a man who was evidently a regular after he arrived into the pub one evening. Not that of the pint, though. From what I gathered – this fella worked nearby and was after having his car clamped. Sitting up at the bar and relaying his woes to the barman and all within earshot, he’d come to discover that he was sat between a clamper and a builder who happened to have, in his possession – a battery-powered angle grinder. Having been fully briefed on the legal workarounds by the man in the know (“they won’t give a shite… unless you’re a repeat offender..A code black they call it – happens all the time”), he left with the angle grinder and returned smiling ear to ear. He stood his two advisors a few pints and drove off into the evening. 

Lowe’s is a fine pub and well worth a visit, just leave the car at home if you end up going there. 

A Code Black (File Photo)

DublinByPub does not condone or recommend the removal of clamps by any means other than those advised by the relevant authorities.

Edit: we were entirely incorrect in what we said about the pub moving location, above. While we’re still certain it is connected to the Lowe’s which once constituted the Four Corners of Hell, the Dolphin’s Barn outfit has stood there for far longer than we had thought – since the 60s it would seem. Meaning it would have run concurrently with its namesake down on Dean Street. Many thanks to the commenters who set us right here. Must stop taking stories told to me in pubs as fact. Prior to Lowe’s, the pub was previously called Hunt’s. Hunts went for auction in 62.

Hunts for Auction

Verbose and all, as we’d like to be about every Dublin pub that we visit – sometimes there’s just no escaping the plain and the ordinary from our experiences. And not that we’d like to label Kavanagh’s of New Street as such, it just happens to be such a pub relative to all of our experiences there.

Kavanagh’s: New St.

Each time we’ve darkened the door of this particular hostelry, we must admit that it on the occasion of having left the big and the green, and admittedly enjoyable, bombast of its nearest competitor across the way, and we’d be naïve to think that this didn’t feed into our view of the place. So do take that as a disclaimer, if needed.

A medium-sized and well-maintained pub, it’s a rather bright space during the day and, as Pintman №2 would put it – a grand place to watch a match, though it must be disclosed that this is an attribute he affords to any space that has a visible television and a sky tv subscription.

A large bar sits to the left of the space as you walk in, and a stonework arch catches the eye at the back of the room. Leading out to the beer garden and the toilets – it was in the passageway beyond this arch that we found what we considered to be one of the more conversation-worthy features of the pub – a note that read “no drink to be brought out back after 7 pm, as neighbours are complaining”. Something we all agreed definitely threw a sort of passive-aggressive shade toward dwellers domiciled in the pub’s proximity.

Kavanagh's Sign

We had reason to recall the tone of this particular note during the pandemic when the pub hit the headlines for their defiance of Taoiseach – Micheál Martin’s pleas for pubs to refrain from selling takeaway pints, childishly referring to him as ‘Mehole’ their printed quote.

Thankfully, there wasn’t such juvenility evident in the pint pouring and pricing to be found when we visited. Pints were of acceptable standard and caused no considerable hurt for either wallet or the palate. There was no food about the place on the occasion of our well-dated visits, but even the quickest look at the pub’s social channels will tell you that this is something they’re really pushing lately. Suffice it to say that we don’t need to tell you how we feel about that.

But keeping pandemic-era politics and anti-carvery bias aside, we’d categorize this as a grand little pub. An unremarkable and inoffensive local shop. And God knows that they’re becoming a rarer and rarer gem these days.

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.


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. 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.