If conversation and conviviality were an Olympic sport, there is no question the Irish would sweep the medals in most if not all Olympiads. The arenas where they hone their skills are the pubs and nowhere in Ireland is there a wider choice of pubs than in Dublin. Thus, it has taken an enormous amount of research, and ocean capacity as the Chinese would say, for me to select my four favorite places to hoist a pint or a jar in Ireland’s fair capital city. The list that follows is in no particular order and was developed using no particular standards other than I like to spend time in each of them and they are all quite different from one another. Simple as that.
O’Donoghue’s Pub, 15 Merrion Row
If you like me are a fan of traditional Irish music, there is no better place to be on a Dublin evening than this ancient pub just a block off St. Stephen’s Green. The walls are filled with drawings and photos of famous Irish musicians. The stools near the front window are filled with less famous ones hoping to become famous. In the old days, they played for beer and cigarettes. Since the smoking ban, their wages have been cut in half but they still come. If they ever paint the smoke stained walls or refinish the worn floors, the place will lose all its character. Prepare to be crushed up against other music lovers and thoroughly entertained!
Davy Byrnes, 21 Duke Street
Recently I wrote that the greens at Scotland’s Panmure Golf Club were like a James Joyce novel, impossible to read. Well, here is the place where Joyce did a good deal of his writing. In fact, in Ulysses he refers to Davy Byrnes as the “moral pub”, a reference like most of the rest of the book I fail to understand.
Moral or not, the place calls itself “Dublin’s Original Gastro Pub”. I haven’t been around long enough to verify its originality but I can tell you I haven’t found a better place for seafood pub grub.
Maybe that’s the reason Joyce writing meanders so much. The poor man was distracted. Write a bit; eat some prawns from Dublin Bay. Write some more; sample the local oysters. Scribble a line or two then back to the fish & chips. Difficult to maintain a clear line of thought even without the pints required to wash down the seafood.
The Horseshoe Bar, Shelbourne Hotel
Many years ago on a cold, rainy February evening I walked into the Horseshoe for a pre-dinner warm me up drink and there sits Keith Richards from the Stones with two young women less than half his age. The women had so many body piercings I’m not certain they could ever make it through an airport metal detector. He was a walking, talking poster boy for the ravages of substance abuse. Made Willie Nelson look clean and healthy.
But I digress. The real point of the story is that everybody who is anybody eventually ends up at the Horseshoe Bar during a visit to Dublin. It is the place to see and be seen. That makes it the perfect place for me and my fellow nobodies to sit in a corner and celebrity gaze. But I’m still having trouble recognizing the English footballers and the Irish hurlers.
The Oval Office at Shanahan’s on the Green
Ever wonder what happened to the rocking chair President Kennedy used on Air Force One? It’s in Dublin encased in glass behind the bar at the Oval Office. The walls are adorned with memorabilia signed by every American president of Irish descent. The sound system plays Sinatra, Bennett, Clooney et al. The bartender serves up a wicked martini.
Ordinarily when I’m overseas, I avoid quintessentially American bars and restaurants like the plague and go for the local flavor. But I make an exception for the Oval Office because it’s simply too cool to miss whether it’s located in Dublin or Detroit. Ditto for the steakhouse above.