Monday, July 14, 2008

What sort of Irish pub do you like?

If it's drink you want and plenty of feeding, and you like the bed as well
Grab the wife, throw the kids in the Datsun, make for Inch and the Strand hotel
If talk of turf drives you crazy, and you can't face a bale of hay
Make for Foley's, work the topshelf, talk puck, pints and the GAA
Christy Moore - Casey

Twenty talking about Ron's and jothemama on 49£s talking bar food got me thinking about pubs. Specifically the type of pubs I drink in and what and where I like. Living in Dublin the past 10 years or so I'd imagine I've drank in many of the bars in the city. I'd know a few.

Recently though I've grown bored of pub culture, of drinking and of the discomfort, the noise, the too-many-peopleness, the high prices and bad service in pubs. It's turned me off the whole thing and unless it's been something or someone important I've tended to avoid going in altogether.

I'm no big drinker by any means (two or three Guinness max) but for someone whose friends like to meet in pubs, who revolve social activities around pubs and who fancy a pint with a friend, well, it's not been much fun.

Photo of Mick Doyle's by Meophammon on Flickr

The small village I'm from in Co. Kilkenny has, to my knowledge, 15 pubs for the 1,500 people or so who live there. Some of them, like Mick Doyle's (no relation) above are also grocery stores, off licenses, fishing tackle providers and a place you'd buy a carton of milk when the local Super Valu is shut.

Photo on interior of Mick Doyle's by lhourihan on Flickr

They are more so social centres, hubs of chat, gossip and music for the locals, escapes from the cold and refuges, like Christy Moore's Foleys, for a chat and a catch-up. You'd know a few people there and they'd know (and probably be related to) you.

There are of course differences between pubs - The Globe would be for a younger crowd, with the DJ or a live group in every weekend. The Duiske has an older crowd and is great for a Sunday carvery. Tom O' Shea's is more for the farmers, situated as it is as the last pub before you leave the town. The Cosy would have the more trad singers, the guitar and voice groups in while Frankie Murray's at the bottom of the town seems to open when it feels like and is the epitome of an old man's pub.

The pubs I go to in Dublin are similar. I tend to prefer the IFI for the easy going atmosphere, the Church is a great place to bring the folks, or tourists (and have a great beer garden with barbeque on a sunny day), the Market Bar have free wifi, O'Neills does a great pint of Kilkenny, Doyle's have retro music playing on the weekends, The Bank is convenient for the bus, The Blarney Inn on Nassau Street does a great breakfast, Brogan's on Dame Street are hard to beat for Guinness, The Westbury is always luxurious, Grogan's and Dakota on South William Street are always good and Laura's choice for the recent Tweet Up, the Bull and Castle proved to be great with plenty of room and interesting choices of beers. I'm also really starting to like the Bernard Shaw at Portobello, as studenty as it is.

There's not many I can think of in Temple Bar that I've enjoyed being in, though the Mezz, opposite the IFI has become a visited-more-than-twice pub. Northside other than the Church, I like The Woolshed when, on the rare occasion, it's not too full, I liked the space in the Cobblestone (above) and even Fibber Magees tends to be interesting. The Bar in Cineworld is grand for a quick pint before the film or Toddy's bar beside the Savoy. The Lotts is a place I used to drink and... well, we could be here a while.

Okay, so what makes a good bar? I mean, if I had the space, the money, the resource and the capacity to build one, what would it be like? The Carlsberg one from the ad (was that 4 Dame Lane?) was grand, but could it be improved on?

  • It would have a layout similar to the IFI, possibly in a restored building like the Church. Somewhere open, interesting and memorable. I like the thought of different bars on different floors, and different types of music for people.
  • A mixture of stools at the bar and then comfortable chairs with low tables. Fully wheelchair friendly and accessible, you could get around and sit down without having to sit on some stranger's lap (unless you wanted to...) I'd probably always have an exhibition of something arty on the walls.
  • Senior waiting/serving staff would be Irish or at least have excellent English. This is borne of my own bad experiences with staff struggling to understand what I'd term simple requests. My own spoken style is clear and distinct - I'd expect theirs to be the same.

    I would though have staff who spoke different languages, including Irish, to make sure everyone could be understood.

  • Important too would be to hire locals. People who knew the area (and could give directions/recommendations when asked), who'd recognise your face if you were a regular and who would generally make you feel welcome.

  • Waiting staff would remember your table, remember your order, keep an eye on when you (and the rest of your group) arrived, sat down, had your meals and finished and wouldn't have to be asked more than once for something. They'd always bring a jug of water and glasses and never forget the bottle opener or the knives and forks.

  • Bouncers, finally, would be there to help people in as well as deter the trouble makers. At closing time there'd be none of this "get out, get out, havyisnohomestogoto" but allow people to finish their conversations and drinks. They'd always have a local taxi number.
Food and drink:
  • This is always a tough one, though I think I'd at least have scones and a selection of sandwiches for the tea drinkers. Definitely both crisps (not just Pringles) and peanuts, a great coffee machine and barista and a wide selection of beers and wines.

    Meals I'd probably do in the evenings between 5 and 8 or at the weekends all day only. Weekend carveries with a great chef and cook and then a reasonable selection of bar snacks, platters and so on. There'd be none of this "oh we're not serving tonight, it's the Tuesday after a Friday night hour long episode of Corrie" crap. There'd always be something.

  • Don't/can't drink? No problem! All the water comes with complimentary dash of lime/blackcurrant, designated drivers get free soft drinks all night and if you ask for a tap water you don't get looked at like you've just offered to give someone leprosy.

  • The Guinness would be top notch. Always.
  • Important to me would be to try help foster Irish musical talent - the people who love to get up there and sing their own tunes. Open mic nights would be a must.

    Otherwise it would be musically niche (as in not just chart stuff all the time), or at least be suited specifically to the customers. Saturday afternoon might be Spanish guitar playing, Thursday night a singer songwriter, Friday a bit of ceol and a sing-along, Sunday a selection of 70s and 80s hits and at Christmas I'd allow charity carol singers in for an hour or three.

    After hours there'd be a good band or dj and enough space to have a comfortable dance. There'd be no seats on the other side to have to navigate through dancers with pints in hands. No way.

    The music would never be too loud, and there'd be a place to escape to where it wouldn't bother you.
  • I'd be picky. None of your 21st, stag parties or hen nights for me. I'd invite the table quizzes, the launches, the tweet-ups, the movie clubs and generally the people who aren't going to drink themselves stupid and wreck the place.
  • What's there for you? Well, the wifi would be fast and free and the tables suited for laptops. Maybe a specific area. Equally for the matches there'd be a comfortable area for that, away from those who didn't want to get involved.

    There'd be chess boards definitely, the daily newspapers and probably a take one, leave one bookshelf. I'd have a box of pens kept behind the bar. There'd be two ATM machines and for the smokers there'd be heaters outside.
  • The toilets would be clean. I can't quote better than Twenty in his description of Ron's:
    "... cubicles which are fully enclosed as Ron appreciates his customers, if they want to move their bowels, don’t want to have to worry about being overheard or people looking at their underpants as they wait patiently by their ankles during business time."
    There'd always be plenty of toilet roll, soap and handwash, though there wouldn't be staff handing you towels. I'd have the Dyson hand driers in though.

What do you reckon? Would you join me there for a pint? I mean it's all very well saying "ah sure good company and conversation is all you need", because we often settle for that, but where do you like and where would you like to drink?


  1. I like one full of old people that has the smell most pubs now have of long gone cigarettes.
    Y'know that smell?

  2. Porterhouse (the original at the end of Temple Bar) is one of my favourites - if you're out on Fri we should be heading there after sushi.

    Great choice of beers (similar to Bull & Castle). Handy for buses / taxis for me, nice food, and a crazy layout - not very disabled friendly, but allows it to be a huge pub split into smaller, friendly sections. Can be a bit noisy at night, though...

  3. I'll come and test it for you!

    I am rather out of the pub scene these days. As I have said before 'widows' die at 3p.m. in these parts. Invites come for coffee or lunch...

  4. I like quiet pubs these days. I abhor pubs where you cant speak without shouting...i go to pubs for two things; beer and the craic. If I cant have the craic, I leave.

    My local in Dundalk is my all time favourite pub. Its not so quiet that it feels dead, but its also not full of fucking rave music being blasted out. I can sit their with my mates, drink beer and have banter.


  5. if we ever get to Dublin (we're working on it - enough airmiles for one free ticket so far) i'll be sure to look you up and have you take us out for a drink. we both generally like places that are abit quieter, although we'd love to see some places with good irish music too.

  6. Morrisey's in Abbeyleix is to die (drunk) for. The staff even wear shop-coats.

    ps. Uncanny - I linked to Christy's site today too. Ya can't bate the bauld Crusty. Some man, for one man.

  7. Excellent post, I must admit I love the woolshed, but that's because it shows all the matches for me at strange times and there is a great atmosphere in it!

    I've yet to make it to the cobblestone and it's on my doorstep.

    Bull and Castle is great as there is a lot of space and a good variety of beers to suit everyone!

    However, my favourite pub in Dublin is in the Longstone! Massive layout and loads of space!

  8. Thanks for the comments all :) I've tidied up the post a bit to make it a bit clearer!

    @b'dum - howdy! I'm a fan of old man pubs meself but picky in that there has to be a bit of life there too!

    @Elly - hello :) Hoping to be out on Friday alright. And I do like the porterhouse, except that I'm slightly deaf so find it very hard to hear in big crowds. Awkward as ever, me, eh?

    @Grannymar - rubbish :) We'll have to get you down soon for a night out. You can sleep all the next day! There are certain birthdays coming up next month...

    @Roosta - thanks for the comment! I'm with you on the quieter pubs - and also for the craic. Fidn it very hard to have a conversation at all these days!

    @donna - hey, thanks for the visit :) Happy to show you around and have a pint - always! ;-)

    @laura - hey there! The atmosphere in the Woolshed is great (Thursday night karaoke especially!) but too full most of the time.

    One of my best friends is the sculptor of the fireplace in the Longstone. It's gotten much better with new management recently!

  9. old pub after a funeral so! they're great.

  10. @b - depends on the pub. And the funeral! ;)

  11. darragh, i have to visit. i have your blog on rss feed on my igoogle page :)

  12. I've always been a fan of quiet pubs. Somewhere yourself and some friends can relax after a hard day and have a chat without needing to be 2 inches away from them to hear what they say!

  13. Personal favourite at the moment is Johnny Fox's. It's full of tourists and I love that, means you meet new interesting people every time it's not all nods across the bar at the same people week in week out. The food kicks ass and when the mister is watching the footie (which is on low volume :) ), the walls have much amusement to offer me as I gaze at the memorabilia of Ireland past finding new bits and bobs every time.

  14. My favourite pub is the one closest to me at the time!

  15. I like them all and they all love me!

  16. I'm with Gary on this one, I prefer a pub where you can sit can talk to the people you're out with, without having to shout or lip read what they're saying, with the end result you hear something COMPLETELY different to what they'd said!!!

    Roosta, I was at a wedding in Dundalk on Friday at the Fairways Hotel, I also used to drink in the Muirheevna (I think it's spelt) years ago when I was in college, also heading out to the cinema there tonight :-).

  17. Mary - "also heading out to the cinema there tonight :-)." this is a blog not an internet dating site. Stop trying to pick up fellow commenters!

  18. Ahh feck off Lottie you big bully you :-(.