My dad and I both celebrated milestone birthdays this past July, so during his summer visit, we planned a special weekend adventure outside of London to celebrate.
He, Amity, and I took advantage of cheap Ryanair flights to visit Dublin for a few days. It was actually my first experience with Ryanair, and while I wouldn’t quite classify it as pleasant, it certainly wasn’t as nightmarish as I’d been led to believe.
Regardless, it was only a vehicle (transportation joke). With just over 48 hours in the Irish capital, we knew we would only be able to scratch the surface, so we didn’t hold ourselves to any lofty expectations of taking in all the culture and history that the city has to offer. Instead, we focused on what might be the most important cultural establishment of all: the Irish pub.
We did get a few tastings of culture and history over the next two days, but this here’s about the pubs.
We emerged from the airport around midday under heavy overcast skies that slightly muted the colorful buildings and streets, but couldn’t dampen the spirits of those famous Dublin doors.
We were staying in Ballsbridge, a little outside of the main city center, so we dropped our bags and set off on the twenty minute trek into town.
The River Liffey runs through the center of Dublin and its banks are crowded on both sides with perfect Irish pubs. Bachelors Walk refers to the north bank, where some of the oldest and coolest are found. The only problem is that you run the risk of being paralyzed forever by indecision.
We picked O’Connell’s, rather nondescript on the outside, but bigger on the inside (apparently it used to be an old police box bike shop). The bartender and hostess were both really friendly and chatted away while they served us a much-needed lunch and, more importantly, sweet sweet Irish nectar. You’d have been hard pressed to find us without a pint of red or black in hand for the rest of the trip.
Now, the million dollar question is always whether or not Guinness tastes different in Ireland. We didn’t visit the brewery, so I can’t speak to that, but I couldn’t tell a difference between Guinness here and Guinness on tap in London or the US. However, the simple experience of drinking Guinness in Dublin was so worth it. And the Smithwick’s, for whatever reason, definitely tasted better.
The southern bound of the central Temple Bar area, Dame Street was another goldmine of pub life. However, it was pretty quiet during the day, and we spent an afternoon having a few long lethargic pints in place of the nap that I think we all actually needed.
Our spot was called Sweeney’s – there was an entrance from Dame Street on one end and from the smaller Dame Lane on the other end, and the fact that people could really pass right on through gave it a Cheers-y atmosphere that I was happy to sit back and observe until we were ready to get on our feet again. I saw on their website that they advertise as “a drinking pub with a music problem.” That’s a good hook.
We had to check out the Temple Bar, but on our first night it was so packed that there wasn’t a spare space to stand, much less sit for a pint or a meal. We took a lap through and headed on to Farrington’s, just next door. It ended up being a great bet, and with good food, good beer, good Irish music, and a friendly bartender, we were set for the evening.
By far my favorite pub of the trip was The Old Storehouse, which we found by a very happy accident. After our last full day of walking around, we stumbled into the first place we could find that looked like it had the trifecta: food, beer, and space for us.
It ended up being this gem on Crown Alley, one of the little side streets off Temple Bar.
It was perfect.
They were looping an old documentary about Irish pubs (actually, I’ve been meaning to Google that), I had the best mussels I think I’ve ever had in my life, and the black stuff, as they say, was flowing. Actually, I take back what I said before – I think the Guinness did taste better here.
But most importantly, to me anyway, was that they had absolutely fantastic authentic Irish music going the whole time. There was a solo guy playing guitar and singing through dinner who was great, but these two fellas came on after we’d finished eating and were even better.
I really wish I’d caught their names, but I was too busy enjoying the tunes! They looked like they’d just finished up work for the day and come straight to the pub, and seemed to love nothing more than singing Irish folk songs over a couple of pints and chatting with all the happy pubgoers. Like these two!
Irish hospitality is no myth. I don’t think we encountered a single Dubliner who wasn’t friendly – most of them were downright jolly. The bartenders, waiters, and musicians were all happy to chat with visitors, ask where they’re from, and talk about their city. I can’t tell you how many times I heard the phrase “Welcome to Dublin!” said really genuinely by a local to a visitor. And Americans were no exception – they were just as happy to see us as anyone else! That was a bit refreshing, I’ll tell you.
There was a moment when I was sitting in The Old Storehouse, sipping on a pint of Guinness and listening to two native Dubliners sing “Galway Girl,” that I thought I want to live in an Irish pub. I’ve since abandoned that plan, as I see that it would certainly present complications over time, but I’m still holding on to it as a pipedream.
Next up, culture and history… now that we’ve got the important stuff out of the way.
How many times did I say “pint,” “pub,” and “perfect” in this post? I feel like it was a lot.