The story of my city is told by its bartenders: chatty, perceptive and oft-times world weary. They always know where to get the best pint (trust me, when it comes to stout-there is a difference), the score in the match (regardless of the sport) and precisely what time the pub is likely to get busy (and a good alternative if you are not in a sociable mood).
This is the publican's guide to Dublin (I own L. Mulligan Grocer and W. J. Kavanaghs), a guide to the places we go to drink whisky, speak to other bartenders, relax, hide from the relentless ferrying of plates, drinks, beer mats from bar to table. These are our places. For me, a good pub encapsulates the very essence of what makes us human: the telling of stories, joy, the sharing of food and drink. These pubs remain the beating heart of my city.
The Bernard Shaw
11-12 South Richmond St
The owner of the Bernard Shaw, Trevor is the kind of person to ask 'why can't we?' He took a run down pub and restored it in vibrant colours, then built a stonking beer garden out the back. Said beer garden is a heavily graffitied space complete with rum bar, made from palates, garden furniture and various upcycled materials. There is a pool table and a pizza café housed inside a large lurid blue painted double decker bus. Trevor is the kind of publican who will take a chance on quirky ideas like serving pot noodle as bar snacks and booking cult music acts to play in the back room of the pub. The pub hosts a car boot sale once a month, which in truth is more like a very boozy outdoor picnic. It is easy to see why: when the sun shines in Dublin there is no finer place to be than the beer garden of the Bernard Shaw with a craft ale or tall glass of mint julep in hand.
Tip: Try the Gets My Goat Pizza and cans of Punk IPA while waiting for your game to come up on the pool table.
Bison Bar 10 Wellington Quay
Whether sitting astride the bar stools made from saddles, sipping a whisky sour or horsing into Bison Bar's rib sticking barbeque menu (served on prison style canteen trays), this bar is perfect for a Thursday night of the guilty indulgence variety. They have a southern American style smoker which slowly cooks the meat, brisket, ribs and pork shoulder, cooked for the best part of a day until it is rich, unctuous and so tender it could be eaten with a spoon. The whisky collection is excellent and as you would expect includes an extensive selection of Bourbons and rye whiskeys. There is no craft beer on draught, but the excellent tayberry beer Roisin from William's Brothers is available in bottles. The Bison is part of the larger Workman's Bar and Club, a hipster haven that often features live music and opens long after most other pubs are closed.
Tip: The pork is slow cooked for 13 hours. Order it with a side of burnt ends, a Buffalo Trace on ice, and resign yourself to sending your shirt to the drycleaners to remove the sauce stains.
31 Fleet St
+353 (01) 6714038
'Did you hear?' James the barman asks, cocking his chin in the direction of the nook to the front left of the door, backlit by intricate leaded stained glass, the weak early autumn dusk sunlight falling through and drizzling across the burnished wooden floorboards, 'They are building a schnug' (James is from the West of Ireland and speaks with the customary 'sh' on an 's' sound). Build it they did, replete with dark wood panelling, whisky map of the world, plush baguette seating; the best spot in Dublin to while the hours away talking, drinking and enjoying the hospitality. Bowes also hosts excellent traditional music on Sunday nights, and stocks a fine selection of malts, craft beers and barrel aged whisky cocktails. The service is exceptional. Handily, Bowe's sister pub Doyle's next door has a late licence for those evenings where the draw of another nip of whisky, more chat and anecdotes proves too strong.
Tip: Hard to go wrong here with such a selection, but the Tyrconnell Sherry Finish is gorgeous.
The Bull & Castle
5-7 Lord Edward St
There is something immensely satisfying about drinking beer from a stein. It puts one in mind of being a Viking warrior or a lederhosen clad German. The Bull and Castle, and its manager Geoff are incredible champions of Irish craft brewing and local beer. They have rotational taps, an egalitarian move which shares the exposure amongst the breweries and also ensures customers always have something new and interesting to drink. The whisky selection at the Bull is also carefully chosen, mainly Irish. Their whisky tasting trays afford the opportunity to sample several styles of Irish whiskey, including the unusually peated Connemara. The tray itself, was hewn from oak by manager Geoff. The Bull also does great food, steaks in particular, as the pub owned by famous Dublin butchers, the Buckley family. This is a great pub for visiting with a group, lederhosen optional.
Tip: Steak and Irish Red Ale. It doesn't get much better than this, followed by a Green Spot Single Pot Still nightcap.
Celtic Whiskey Shop
27-28 Dawson St
The Celtic Whiskey Shop is not a pub, but without it, most of the bars included in this guide would have a rather more limited selection on their whisky lists. Scottish Proprietor Ally Alpine is a passionate envoy for whisky, both with and without an 'e'. The shop itself is Tardis-like with a seemingly impossible number of bottles, not just of whisky, but gin, brandy, rum, wine, beer and all manner of strange and wonderful elixers. If the Celtic Whiskey Shop doesn't have what you are looking for, they will almost certainly beguile you with a particular kind of magic that means you will leave with an interesting bottle under your arm. Winners of the Icons of Whisky, the Celtic Whiskey Shop commands 'do not miss' status for a visitor to Dublin. There are regular tastings, daily pourings of whisky and some really special house bottlings.
Tip: Try to get hold of the Aon and Do: Irish for One and Two, the first wine barrel finished offerings from Celtic Casks, the CWS's own label. Really gorgeous.
77 King St North
The music sessions at the Cobblestone are the kind people come to Ireland looking for and so rarely find. The bar is easy to find in Smithfield, across a cobbled market yard from the LUAS stop. The space is deceptively spacious with as many as four sessions going on at any one time. The front bar has spots permanently reserved for 'players' where the music is traditional Irish folk. The back room hosts regular acoustic nights, as well as monthly 'Back Room Sessions', a show case of original acts. As the night ambles on the smokers in the tumbledown garden are moved to tune while puffing away under the inky Dublin sky. It is magical to be a part of this impromptu music session under the stars, it brings a thrill to the evening, a sense that anything might happen. On the thirst quenching front, the bar supports many of the country's craft breweries with an eclectic range on tap. The whisky selection is good, with a firm Irish bias and the service is attentive and fast.
Tip: Get chatting to Tom Mulligan, the towering proprietor with a long memory and a rich history of nurturing Ireland's musicians.
3-5 Exchequer St
Smoky vapours dance over the whiskey encased in a vial on the bar in front of me, ready to be poured over a large ice ball in a heavy bottomed tumbler. The Exchequer's housemade smoked old fashioned: inspiration for many a late night google search: 'buy oak chip smoking gun online' and 'ice sphere press cheap'. The bar has an exceptional cocktail offering which makes entertaining viewing if you nab bar side seats, but watch out for errant blowtorch flames! The food here is some of the loveliest gastropub food, skirting the line between comforting nostalgic grub and modern Irish cuisine with perfect precision. The drinks offering is contained within the 'Ledger of Liquor', a tome the Exchequer purportedly stumbled upon and republished. Imagined folklore aside, this is a great menu, with serving tips and whimsical handwritten notes.
Tip: Everything that owners Ian Tucker and Peter Rock do screams of quality and craftsmanship. Grab a seat on the chesterfields at the back and try whatever takes your fancy.
28 Essex St East
There is not much that would drag me into Temple Bar, the cacophony of novelty horns, screeching hens' and stag parties and diddly-eye music pouring from pub doorways irks me. The lure of Farrington's will do it everytime though: a bottle of craft stout and a glass of Redbreast 12. The bar is large, airy: all stripped floor boards and hand chalked menus. There is often live music and a decent range of food, with each dish helpfully paired with a craft beer. The bar is named after one of James Joyce's more unfortunate characters, the subjugated Ulsterman Farrington who pawns his watch to pay for a night in the pub where he doesn't even manage to get tipsy. By sharp contrast a fob chain would go a long way in his eponym, where the prices are reasonable by Temple Bar standards. The bar has made a massive effort to embrace and promote craft beer and whiskies.
Tip: The pork chop with apple sauce pairs beautifully with Connemara Single Malt.
1 Prospect Square
+353 (01) 830 7978
This pub is what pubs in Ireland are like. That reads like a tautology but it isn't. The Gravediggers' is the soul of what makes an Irish pub: what countless 'Oirish, begorrah & bejaysus' pubs around the world are grasping at. There is no TV and no music- just conversation, soulful, heart-wrenching, humorous, irreverent, controversial, revealing and (it being Ireland) weather focused with alarming frequency. The bar is as it has always been: a slow steady parade of wooden stools distressed by the trousers of their many occupants, grooves worn in the bar counter by many a leaning elbow, and a carefully embossed frontage which cameoed in James Joyce's Ulysses. The one change in recent years is the closure of the fabled hatch through which the gravediggers of the adjacent Glasnevin cemetery used to obtain a pint or two. Other than this, the slow march of time has had little effect on the Gravediggers, established in 1833 by the current owner's great great Grandfather.
Tip: Chat to the auld fellas at the bar. Incredible anecdotes.
L Mulligan Grocer
'No Guinness?' sniffed the man in front of my newly varnished bar counter, a counter which two weeks previous I had seen for the first time, covered with a thick layer of grime, cigarette burns and pints abandoned. 'Be closed by Christmas'. It was July. Such was the reaction to our decision to eschew Guinness, Heineken and Budweiser and support flavourful, hand crafted beers. It is something, as craft brewing develops in Ireland, that we are proud we had the gall to stick to. Mulligan's is in Stoneybatter, an enclave five minutes canter North West of the city. We believe that Irish produce is special, and worth celebrating. Our menu is seasonal, fiercely local and changes every week. My business partner Michael Foggarty is responsible for our extensive whiskey/whisky selection. There is a Grocery section on a Saturday, a tribute to our name, and a time when a pub was often a bonder, bottler, grocer and an undertaker too!
Tip: Sit at the bar and order a tasting board and chat to the many brewer regulars while sipping their fine wares.
51 South Great George's St
+353 (01) 475 1590
Drinking in the Long Hall sometimes feels like drinking inside a disco ball, albeit a fine, vintage disco ball, well-crafted and inhabited by an interior designer with a penchant for crystal and cut glass. This pub is visually stunning, and despite the kaleidoscope of heritage list protected mirrors which, at a wrong turn can expose the reflection of a week of closing shifts written in the shadows under ones eyes, is actually an incredibly restful place for a mid-week pint. The range of whiskies here is brilliant, especially on the Irish front and the barmen are well trained and passionate. I love the old school service standards, such as the bar man suggesting you take a seat as he will bring your pint over when it is settled. It speaks to a forgotten time and a care for the craft of purveying libations. A lovely pub.
Tip: Try owner Marcus's favourite whiskey Power's Johns Lane alongside your pint of Guinness: the classic Dublin combination of 'pint and a wee one'.
The No Name Bar
36 South Great Georges St
This bar has no name, and thus, as is usually the way with these things, is known by many: the Secret Bar, the Snail Bar, The Bar with No Name. Nothing in Dublin is really ever called by its given name, so in my estimation this doesn't matter much. Upstairs is one of my favourite spots to sit and admire the breath-taking Victorian architecture of Dublin, albeit from a height not normally frequented. Here I fall in love with Dublin over and over again, whether over a Bloody Mary at their top notch brunch, or sipping a perfectly executed Manhattan. The whisky list is well chosen including the oft-elusive Yellow Spot and the bar staff are knowledgeable about their quirky spirits selection.
Tip: Since the smoking ban came into effect in Dublin the quality of a bar's outdoor area is as important as the indoor. The smoking area here is large and sprawling, crowned by a large circus tent which billows overhead staving off the changeable and often squally Dublin weather. Best seats in the house.
The Palace Bar
21 Fleet St
My toasted sandwich is of the doorstop variety: thick granary bread spread thickly with shaved ham, spiced relish and layers of tangy farmhouse cheese. It is my day off and I have stolen away to the Palace Bar, to drink cups of strong tea, write my overdue copy and once done, a whiskey reward. I like to fancy the ghosts of the many writers who drank here encouraging me on; the pub has long been the haunt of writers from the nearby Irish Times, as well as Dublin's literati. Willie, the third generation of his family to run this bar, enquires if I would like more tea or something stronger. I would. This typifies the service at the Palace, attentive never intrusive. The sandwiches are exceptional, but the Palace is first and foremost a purveyor of libations, many and varied. It supports the emerging Irish Craft brewing market and has an impressive array of Irish whiskeys, including their own single cask bottling from Cooley Distillery, the revival of a long tradition of pubs in Dublin bonding and bottling their own whiskeys.
Tip: The Palace's own whiskey is a delight.
Vintage Cocktail Club
15 Crown Ally
I have lived in Dublin for seven years and still, if I didn't know about this place, I would never have stumbled on it. Down a cobbled street in Temple Bar, nestled between tattoo parlours and a vintage clothing shops is a black door, three small letters embossed in gold 'VCC' and a door bell to the left. The bell is rung, a hostess emerges and I am brought back to the 1920s, or at least it feels that way. The décor in this place is gorgeous, a cross between your granny's front room and a prohibition gentleman's club. I am almost swallowed by a plush armchair as I peruse the impressive tome of a menu. When the cocktails arrive, they are serious business, well-crafted with house made infusions, hand carved ice and each in a carefully chosen glass. I repeat: 'hand carved ice'. Such is the VCC's commitment to Dublin's imbibing pleasure. This is the perfect special occasion bar (or a 'what the hell it is a Tuesday and I feel fancy' bar.)
Tip: The VCC does a lush brunch on the weekends with boozy accompaniments optional.
WJ Kavanagh's (Little Kavanagh's)
4-5 Lower Dorset St
Little Kavanagh's is the only pub in Ireland that has a full time cellar man. At one time, every Dublin pub had someone responsible for cleaning lines, conditioning kegs and overseeing the quality of the pint. This is where the notion of 'a good pint' and 'a bad pint' came from. As large corporations bought up swathes of breweries this role was rendered obsolete by centralised quality assurance teams. Declan cares for Kavanagh's five cask ale engines, and directly sourced casks, with fervour and zeal. The pub is committed to reviving the tradition of cask ale in Ireland. With similar passion the staff infuse gin, concoct food pairings, smoke and cure meats. There is a full menu and each dish is matched with a beer and, where appropriate a whisky. The whisky selection reflects the owners' own personal tastes with Japan, Scotland, Ireland and North American whiskies jostling for space.
Tip: Catch 'Little Talks' each Wednesday at 7.30pm, a series of talks by a different food producer, brewer or distiller every week.
Walsh's is the most wonderful of things: a local pub at the heart of its community. The dark wood, worn leather bar stools, seamless bar service all speak to the many nights of good craic the bar has stood witness to. On Tuesdays the bar fills with the rich sound of people catching up over rich and creamy pints of stout and farmhouse cheddar at Cheesey Chewsday, where wedges of cheese and general banter are passed about the chatty cluster of Stoneybatter-ites. It is a great place for first time visitors to Dublin to escape from the city centre for a while. There is a lovely snug to nestle into and toast being a Dubliner (if only for the day) with a well-served pint of Guinness or an Irish Pot Still Whiskey.
Tip: If the snug is occupied, pull up a stool at the bar and settle in for the night.