A locals' guide to Dublin's pubs
The standard serving size in most Dublin pubs is an imperial pint. (Olivier Cirendini/LPI)
Since 2005, more than 1,000 of Ireland’s top-shelf, well-established public houses have closed shop, and 150 more are expected to shutter in 2012. But despite the country’s ongoing recession, the pubs in Dublin seem to be surviving. Of the 7,500 pubs left in the Republic, 700 of them are located in the capital. While spirits may sometimes be down elsewhere on the Emerald Isle, the craic in Dublin’s pubs is going strong.
For a taster menu of the capital’s pub scene, we asked a few locals, including a theatre director, an architect, a university entertainment programmer and a professional tour guide, for their unbiased, pint-based recommendations.
For traditional Irish music
Antoine Ó Coileáin knows Gaelic folk music like few others, given that he is the CEO of Gael Linn, Ireland's oldest record label, with a shop on Dame Street that specialises in selling sheet music and traditional instruments. He vouches for The Cobblestone as one of the best pubs for traditional Irish music played without amplifiers. "There is nothing pretentious at The Cobblestone, nothing phony,” he said. “Locals and tourists rub shoulders as they savour music played by top-class musicians and imbibe the great Guinness. You would have to travel far to find its equal.”
For a rural vibe in the heart of the city
Pádraig Heneghan, deputy director at the Gate Theatre, one of the city’s two most celebrated dramatic venues (the other being The Abbey), stages works by some of the country’s most famous playwrights, including the current production of Da by Hugh Leonard. Heneghan’s favourite pub is The Welcome Inn. “While some describe it as a dive bar, I always feel that this is a rural pub just a short walk from the main drag of O'Connell Street,” he said. “The owner is friendly; the drink is good -- and cheaper than many other pubs in the city centre -- and it's a great place to meet friends for a chat. It's a completely unexpected find, especially for the fact that there are still places like this in Dublin in 2012.” Opening hours are erratic, typically after 5pm on Thursdays through Saturday nights.
For a place without tourists
Michelle Fagan is a principal of one of Dublin’s leading architecture firms, FKL Architects, who just started a two-year term as president of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland. Her favourite pub is Martin B Slattery’s, located in the Rathmines district, a mile-and-a-half south of central Dublin, and far from the well-trodden tourist path. During the day, lifelong regulars (the “auld fellas”, in local slang) read newspapers and chat, while nighttime brings a younger crowd, who come for its unpretentious and unplugged live music.
For young visitors looking to make friends
Chris O’Connor is Trinity College Dublin’s Ents Officer, meaning it is his responsibility to help run the social and nightlife agenda for the school. O’Connor could not pick a single favourite off-campus pub, but at the top of his short list is Peadar Kearney’s, for its intimate size and exceptionally friendly staff. “It’s one of a few great spots to go with a friend for a chat and a quiet pint to get away from the madness of some other bars,” he said. Upstairs is a new bar that is carefully and successfully designed to look really old, O'Connor said, "with rows of vintage mirrors, faded Guinness adverts and giant barrels for tables." Downstairs is a dance club that draws good DJs.
For a cosy pub with traditional interior design
Dublin-born author and historian Gerard Cooley leads walking tours of the city's major sights, such as the historic Kilmainham Gaol that once housed nationalist prisoners. While he has a few favourite pubs in Dublin, Cooley praises Toners Pub for having a handful of charming snugs (a secluded area partitioned by half-wood, half-glass walls), with flag-stone floors and a historical pedigree. Toners is delightfully traditional in its lack of TVs, and Cooley said the quiet “encourages conversation with all comers, which Dublin natives are only too willing to engage in”. It is a longstanding gem on the Dublin social scene, where even teetotaller and famous poet WB Yeats is supposed to have sipped a sherry.
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