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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.

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

Lowry’s: Summerhill Parade.

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

Lowry's 2

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

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

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

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

The Sunset House: Summerhill Parade.

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

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

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

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

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

It was a few years ago and during the course of a casual conversation with a colleague that I came to realise that Lloyd’s of Amiens St. was a pub I needed to visit as soon as possible.

Being on the occasion of having recently started a new job – I found myself talking to a well-established member of staff for such a substantial duration that platitudes and my grossly limited knowledge of football would no longer suffice in their efforts to sustain the conversation – so I changed to the subject to pubs, which is when he said it.

With the topic in hand – this colleague came to mention Lloyd’s on Amiens St – he remarked on how the pub was one he was familiar with as it was his grandfather’s local, before suffixing the statement by calmly adding that his grandfather “wrote his will in there”. This is a boozer I need to see, thought I.

Lloyd’s: Amiens St.

A bit of a North Inner City institute, Lloyd’s sits on the corner of Amiens St. and Foley St. A medium-sized sort of pub – its interior follows an almost hook-like shape with regard to its floor space. Wooden flooring sits underfoot at the front of the pub while carpet takes over at the back section. Seating is comprised almost exclusively of low tables which are complimented by stools and couches – all of which are neatly upholstered. We spotted just the one high table which was located close to the bar.

The bar itself is flanked by the expected couple of stools along its length and is a fairly solid looking structure. Built of carefully varnished dark wood, it contains a well-branded header which wouldn’t struggle too badly to inform the blindest of patrons that they are in “Lloyd’s of Amien St. Est. 1823” – this statement is made twice in appealing gold embossed letters, each instance of which is separated by a clock which is recessed into the wood.

Pictures hung upon the wall mainly relate to sport and one in particular caught our eye so much that I’ve just spent an hour on google looking for it. The image (below) is one of a seven-a-side football match in an historical inner-city area toward the rear of Gardiner St known as The Gloucester Diamond.

Lloyd's - Gloucester Diamond

It’s been a good year and a half or more since I last darkened the door of this boozer, but Pintman №2 and №3 happened to drop in a few weeks ago and found themselves surprised to discover that the pub was showing television coverage of a certain wedding that a group of high profile tax-dodgers were hosting in a neighbouring state – y’know the one.

Finding themselves on the end of the type of look someone might receive from a group of locals in a pub that they aren’t known to frequent – Pintman №3 quickly piped up to disarm the gang of regulars by enquiring as to whether they had bought the wedding in “on the pay-per-view”. After a bit of a chuckle, the lads hastened to insist that the viewing choice was solely for the benefit of a woman who happened to be in cleaning the pub – a statement that Pintman №2 classified as a dubious one given the comparative level of interest shown between the gang of lads and the cleaner.

As the rest of Pintman №2 and №3’s time elapsed in the pub, they were also to meet another character who Pintman №2 describes as bearing a striking resemblance to Bricktop from the movie Snatch. While there, Bricktop spent his time brandishing a cheap sharpening stone he had acquired that day. When asked what he was doing with such an item he responded that it was to sharpen his knives, “in case I need to stab one of you bastards”. The lads legged it shortly afterward.

I’m also assured that the pint in Lloyd’s is still up to the high standard I remember it as previously being at – and still very competitively priced to boot. So if you’re looking for a good pint or a few characters, or if you’re just a closet West Brit seeking like-minded drinking buddies – Lloyd’s could be the place for you.