After visiting 14 pubs over 6 days in Dublin, I feel like I have some authority on the matter...
10.06.2016 - 10.12.2016 55 °F
When planning a trip to Ireland, it would be foolish to overlook the pubs. So much of Ireland's culture is in the pubs - in the food, in the drinks shared by friends and colleagues to blow off steam from the week, in the Irish music and dance, and in the buildings themselves. Our trip to Dublin put the pub culture at the core, with my cousin Jesse, a veteran to Dublin's pub scene after living in Ireland's capital city for 8 months, showing us the ropes.
Please enjoy this review of the pubs we visited on our 6-night bacchanal in Dublin, and definitely consider checking out a few if you find yourself in Baile Átha Cliath - "Town of the Hurdle Ford," (aka Dublin) in Irish.
Cheers! Slainte! (pronounced slawncha)
The Best, Classic Irish Pubs
We landed in Dublin at 7 and were at Jesse's apartment on Lower Rathmines at 7:40. We were at The Barge at 8. This pub holds a special place in my heart as the first pub on our trip, and thus set the bar for all the other pubs we visited. The building has the feel of a boat, and could probably fit 500 people across its multiple floors and cozy nooks. We watched the Ireland-Georgia World Cup qualifier match, and Jesse's half-American/half-Irish friend Thomas joined us for a fun evening.
It was at The Barge that Jesse introduced us to the Irish round system, whereby everyone in the group takes a turn buying a round of drinks and everyone is expected to partake. So when Jesse got the first round of drinks for Stephen, himself, and me, we'd effectively committed to at least 3 beers by the Irish round system so everyone would have a turn picking up the bill. The taps run the show here, and we enjoyed a sampling of Irish beers over several rounds. There's a great lager by Guinness called Hop House 13 that's quite good, and I also really liked a Pale Ale by the name of Wicklow Wolf. Each beer comes in the glassware by that particular brand of beer, optimized to release the aromas, flavors, and, in the case of Guinness, nitrogen bubbles for the perfect pint.
We also had our first sampling of pub grub at The Barge. I had the classic fish and chips with mashed peas, and the boys had steak sandwiches. So at The Barge we were able to comfortably eat, drink, visit, and watch a sports match, and thus it earns a spot at top of my list of pubs.
As advertised on the banner above the pub, McGrattan’s Bar is Dublin’s headquarters for rugby. After the Leinster-Munster rugby match, we hopped on bikes to put some distance between us and crowd and find some food to soak up the Guinnesses we enjoyed before and throughout the game. The bar had a light smoky aroma and cozy warmth from a peat fire going, a real treat after being outdoors at the stadium with a chilly breeze on our backs. We had no competition for a table, and watched New Zealand's All Blacks spank the Springboks in South Africa while we noshed on some classy pub grub. We had the famous spicy pork sausage with mashed potatoes and gravy, fish and chips (but salad in
stead of chips), and a steak sandwich. Maybe because they weren’t too busy, maybe because we were close to the bar, but we got some of the most attentive table service here of any of the pubs. As we wrapped up our meals the pub started to fill in more with people from the Leinster-Munster match, as well as a stag party centered around the billiards tables. If there were a rugby match that I wanted to watch with a meal, McGrattan’s would be the place to go.
On Sunday night after an evening of NFL games and biking across town back to our neighborhood, we decided to pop into the Portobello for a final pint. We were delighted to discover the pints were 4€, the cheapest we ever found on the trip! We got a round and piled into a booth, which happened to have an NFL game on the Jesse was following because of a sports bet he'd placed at Paddy Power. A 2-man band got going around 11, and they were a riot. This was also in the aftermath of Donald's lewd comments about women coming to light, and one of the guys did a great Trump impression. He also had mastered Obama and Bush (dubya), and had the whole bar in stitches over American politics. They called us out, "It looks like we've got some Americans glued to football there in the corner. Where are ya from lads?" California! "Oh California, yeah. We've got a song from California. Here we go. It's a Californian folk song..." They sang the theme song from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Ha!
"How about you sir? Where are you from?" North Carolina! ""Oh North Carolina, sure. We've got a song from North Carolina..." Then they sang Wagon Wheel by Old Crow Medicine Show - and not just the chorus that everyone knows but the whole song! We were quite impressed. We stayed for another Irish song and then called it a night, since Jesse did have to get up for work in the morning after all. We liked the vibe here so much that Stephen and I stopped in for a pint on our way home from tourism another day. Highly recommend!
Located just a 2-minute walk from the LinkedIn office, Searson's is the go-to Friday night watering hole for the team as well as other professionals in the Grand Canal area. The pub sports a classic horseshoe bar in front, a long main room with booths and high tables, and a popular heated outdoor smoking patio. The clientele ranges from 20-60, in casual to professional attire. We were greeted by a Heineken promoter upon arrival, who invited us to a round of Heineken Light on the house. Wait, free beer? Yes, please. We took our beverages down the long stretch of indoor seating and posted up at a standing table on the outdoor patio. The downside to the patio is the smoke, but the convivial ambiance and UV rays trying to make their way through the cloud cover makes it worthwhile. We had a very friendly young Irish waitress, who was very excited about a trip she was planning with friends to California for next year. Pints were fairly priced (5 euros for Guinness), and the menu had solid hearty options like lamb shank. We actually liked it so much that we stopped in for our final pints in Ireland after saying goodbye to a Jesse at the Linked In office and killing some time before heading to the airport. Definitely a good spot to include on a pub tour, though its a big and bustling pub so if the aim is bonding with the bartender best to look elsewhere.
Cool Hipster Pubs, Though Not "Classic Irish Pubs"
The Market Bar
We popped into The Market Bar on our Saturday night pub crawl, first wading through the courtyard in front that was packed with the bar's smoke-loving clientele. On the inside, Jesse and I grabbed a table and Stephen bellied up to the popular bar to get a round. As the name suggests, the space used to in fact be a market. Inside, there was a big, almost warehouse-like room with brick walls. The lighting was very dim and there were lots of lounge seating arrangements, occupied by a very hip, under-30 crowd. The Market Bar was among the most hipster pubs we went to, so even thought I loved it I wouldn't consider it a classic Irish pub - which is why it's not on "The Best" list.
The Bernard Shaw
We walked by The Shaw several times on our way from Jesse's apartment to the city center, and we met up with Jesse for a pint when he got off work on Monday. The facade is very eye-catching with whimsical painting, which is just a taste of the explosion of color you find in the courtyard. The bartender was among the chattiest we encountered, and they had a good selection of beers on tap. For the tip jar, they had it set up as a sort of poll with 2 jars. "Trump's wig is made out of...(jar 1) your chest hair (jar 2) the tears of children." Do you get the sense that we're kind of a joke to the rest of the world for even having this numnuts as a candidate? Anyways, we enjoyed our pints on the patio under the warmth of heat lamps. The courtyard is also home to a retired double-decker bus that has been refurbished into a pizza kitchen. We did not partake, but it was a cool concept for sure. Similar to The Market Bar, this was an extremely cool, hipster pub - but not a classics Irish pub.
Located just 2 blocks from Jesse's apartment, the Blackbird has the most hipster vibe of the pubs we visited with dripping red candles illuminating the space and a stash of vintage board games to entertain. The beverage offering here seems split between taps and spirits, and their dining offering is a food truck in the patio that reheats pizzas. The guys each got a glass of Teeling, the only Irish whiskey still produced in the city of Dublin, and I got a glass of beer. We got our hands on a Connect Four set, and had a mini-tournament with Stephen emerging as the victor. I loved the ambiance here, and we fit right in with the 25-35 year old crowd. The music added to the scene, but was not so loud you couldn't talk to the person next to you. It's a great nighttime pub, either for an intimate romantic night by candlelight or a playful evening with friends.
We kicked off our Saturday night pub crawl at 37s, a classy spot with an upstairs bar. They had a well-stocked liquor supply as well as beers on tap. This place reminded me of some of the dimly lit, hipster whiskey lounges around Downtown LA. There were groups of friends coming in with reservations for table service as wells as others the filed through to the smoking patio. It had a classy feel and was a great spo
Pubs That Didn't Connect
The Bleeding Horse
What do you get at the end of a Friday night of Dublin pub crawling? Something that looks like this:
To round out our Friday night pub crawl, we ended up at The Bleeding Horse. Another classically unassuming building that has a small street front, The Bleeding Horse actually has two stories and can fit quite a party. Leinster rugby flags adorned the rafters for the match the next day, and the speakers pumped out music that encouraged dancing over conversation. I had a glass of Bulmer’s cider here and the guys got glasses of Green Spot Irish Whiskey. It's a perfectly acceptable Irish pub, but didn't capture my heart because the music made it feel more like a club than a pub.
We experienced this pub in the circa-midnight hours, so maybe not at its best - or perhaps in fact at its very best? I'm not sure. We met up with a friend in the far back of the pub, and the staff was shutting down the back of the bar section by section. As soon as we settled into a new arrangement, we got uprooted. We finally found a "safe" section that wasn't closed and were able to get a drink. We stuck to the taps since it was our last stop, but this pub also had great cocktails like a gin and tonic made with whole juniper berries and a slice of cucumber. We were only there for a short time, but met lots of friendly people. Particularly for the hour we visited, there was lots of mingling going on among the single folk. Of note is also that this pub visit occurred within 24 hours of Trump's "grab them by the pu$$y" comment surfacing, and every Irish person we met was already cracking jokes about it. "Hey guys, do you have a tic tac?" We had a good time here, but I think if we'd gotten their a little earlier we would have gotten to experience it with a little more lively. With portions shutting down behind us, it felt like closing time for sure.
The Dawson Lounge
This little pub boasts that it is probably the smallest pub anywhere, and has a capacity of about 20 people. It's downstairs off Grafton street, and has a low ceiling a small bar. It's a bonafide pub with a variety of beers on tap and Irish whiskey, but is more of a novelty bar. It's really small, and not recommended for anyone that has ever felt claustrophobic. When a couple of groups file it one after the other, you wonder if there is enough oxygen for everyone in the room!
Not My Favorite
With endorsements by every tour book and trip advisor, Oneills showed promise as a contender for top gastro pubs on our trip. We grabbed a corner table and reviewed the menu, loaded with tantalizing meal options: venison stew, shepherds pie, prime rib roast...We made our way to the food station and the enchantment fizzled. The food was prepared in big batches and slopped onto plates by an eastern European staff. Not a knock against the eastern block, but just not the authentic, made-to-order Irish cuisine we were hoping for.
We wrapped up dinner and headed upstairs to await the music, which was meant to start at 9pm. Around 10:15 the band finally put their beers down and made their way to the stage. They incorporated some Irish dancers into their set, but only the 6 tables right around the stage could actually see the fancy footwork. We tried to follow on the video feed, but the quality was bad and the shot didn't follow the dancers.
Just outside the pub is this statue of Molly Malone, the fishmonger of a popular Irish song (and unofficial Dublin anthem) about a young girl who sold cockles and mussels by day and was a part-time prostitute by night. The band actually played this song, so it was cool to see her statue as we made our war down Grafton Street.
We’d gotten tickets for the rugby rivalry faceoff between Leinster and Munster, two Irish provinces that have both won the Heineken Cup (Europe’s premier competition), and for our pre-match pints we went to Slattery’s. The pub is just a few blocks from the Aviva stadium, and 2 hours before kick-off it was already filling in with sports fans. Like many pubs, the facade is unassuming. From the outside, you might guess the pub can fit about 50 people, but then you go in and it keeps going, and going, and going... The music was a mix of 90s American rock, and if the TVs were showing American football rather than Irish soccer I could have been tricked into thinking I were back in the US. A few knocks against Slattery’s are that our Guinnesses came in plastic cups rather than glass, they failed to deliver on their promotion of a free pint of Guinness for rating them on Google, and they charged our credit card in dollars vs euros even after we’d made a point of asking them to run it in euros. The exchange rate is currently about 1.11 dollars to euros and that’s the rate you pay if you use your credit card directly in euro. If instead the credit card is run as dollars, the credit card processor converts at an unfavorable 1.17, which can add up depending on the size of the tab. Aside from those annoyances, it was a great place to grab a few pints before the game for its proximity to the stadium and sport clientele.
Woolshed Baa & Grill
It's almost unfair to include this on the Irish pub list, because aside from being an alcohol-serving establishment in Ireland there's nothing Irish about it. But, for an American sports fan living abroad, it's a great place to find yourself on a Sunday with friends watching NFL football. The upstairs bar swarms with Americans, clustered around TVs and projections showing their hometown teams. Everyone wears their jerseys and with the smell of wings and sound of fans yelling at their screens, it's hard to believe you're not in the US. The bar also have soccer matches on, and they dedicated a handful of screens to the Ireland vs. Moldova World Cup match that we'd all placed some sports bets on at the nearby Paddy Power. Since I'm not a huge fan of American football or noisy, crowded bars, this was not my favorite of the pubs we visited.
And a final dishonorable mention goes to Sam's, literally next door to 37s - where we started our Saturday night out. We started to head in and were intercepted by the bouncer, who informed us they were only accepting people with reservations. This was his indirect way of saying we weren't allowed. Jesse had been there before, and suspects we might have been turned away for our attire. Well, I don't want to give my business to a stuffy place like that, so I'd like to close this pub review by saying FU to Sam's!