My neighborhood doesn’t seem to have a modern name, and like most neighborhoods in Dublin, it is identified by the closest pub. There are probably fifteen pubs within a three-block radius of my apartment. For my own purposes I am going to use the 13th-century name for it, The Steyne, though at that time most of it was underwater, and now most of it is merely sodden with Guinness.
In Ulysses, Leopold Bloom muses, “Good puzzle would be to cross Dublin without passing a pub.” That challenge went uncontested until last year, when a geeky teetotaler worked out an algorithm to do just that, successfully not passing closer than thirty-five meters from a bar. The techie admits, however, that he used a mapping program and it took him an entire year to work out this feckless formula. While some might laud his initiative, it seems to me a waste of an expensive education, a capable intellect, and precious bandwidth. I have therefore decided to undertake my own anti-Bloomsday stroll down the street where I’m living and shall stop at every pub I pass along the way.
Calling this a “pub crawl” would be far too pedestrian so we’ll call this a walking-while-drunk tour, which is clearly more sophisticated.
1. Ned’s of Townsend Street
We begin directly across the street from where I am living. In the time of the Vikings, this was the shore, the end of the town and the beginning of the strand, the long sandy bank along the River Liffey. Viking boats had shallow drafts, and so were beached on the shore, not requiring a deep harbor and allowing them to sail up relatively shallow estuaries.
Vikings established a stronghold in Dublin in the 9th century, 300 years after the time of St. Patrick, bringing their hard partying and pillaging with them.
Ned’s sits at the junction of Moss Street and Townsend, one block south of the Talbot Bridge over the River Liffey. The Venerable Matt Talbot, for whom the bridge is named, is the official patron saint of alcoholics, though he himself took the cure in his twenties and lived out the rest of his days north of the river as an ascetic, enthusiastic Catholic, and flesh-mortifier. I have yet to meet anyone in this neighborhood who actually knows the name of the bridge, which opened in 1978 and was, at the time, the farthest downriver of all the bridges. This area is the farthest southwestern reach of the aptly named Docklands, where the old strand was filled in over the years and replaced with quays and warehouses that employed the shoremen and stevedores that were Ned’s original customers. Ned’s is relatively famous; the best way to tell a taxi driver where I live is to say it’s across the street.
Ned’s is an early bar, meaning that under its license, it can open at 07:00. In the old days, when the docks were still busy, you can imagine this must have been a rocking place. These days, it is a little down on its luck, though scrupulously clean. Despite its notoriety, it is the nicest of neighborhood pubs; mid-afternoon finds a group of guys I recognize from the neighborhood hanging out. There is a man from the car dock with a beautiful medieval tattoo, the weekend bartender on a busman’s holiday, and a guy who looks like an unweathered Scott Glenn singing Fats Domino at the top of his lungs. An older man walks in, and the working bartender and the drinking bartender both explain why his usual isn’t available and makes other suggestions. Half-pint of Guinness is slightly tangy = €2.30 (44 Townsend Street, Dublin 2 – 01.677.9507)
Down the Street, under the elevated train tracks, past the alley with the rumored methadone clinic, past the pretty lace-curtained townhouses of College Close, past a few abandoned buildings behind the back of the Dublin Fire Brigade, past the Markievicz Recreation center, past the modern offices of the paper of record (The Irish Times), and across the street is MacTurcaill’s, which is a bar you might want to dislike but you just can’t. Full of sixty-year-old men, with the BBC on the telly, and headed by an extremely pleasant bartender, a lounge, and a carvery (a type of all-you-can-eat buffet, if all you can eat is meat and potatoes), MacTurcaills is a charming pastiche created to resemble an old pub.
MacTurcaill’s is a great place to begin your day trip so you don’t get confused later on since the pub goes by two other names, as well: Hoggan Green and Askell. But whatever you call this watering hole, it’s a perfectly lovely place for a drink. Half-pint of Guinness slightly tangy and bitter = €2.60. (15 Townsend Street, Dublin 2 — 01.679.0981)
From there, past the Long Stone Pub (which has a nice smoking garden and nothing else to recommend it), you pass the memorial to the long stone, a park in the center of a five-way intersection with an ersatz long stone, or steyne, on what is thought to be its original site. The original Steyne was a 14’ high stone that stood on the shore of the Liffey in olden times, signifying the Viking settlement. It was lost or destroyed in the 16th century when the thingmote, the Viking meeting mound, was leveled.
By then, the adjoining lands of the Abbey of St. Mary de Hogges had been repossessed in the Dissolution of the Irish Abbeys and its buildings demolished and re-purposed as bricks for the rebuilding of Dublin Castle. Its remaining lands (Hoggan Green) along with those of the Abbey of All Saints, formed into the lands of Trinity College, founded during the reign of Elizabeth I, which is now just across the way; hence the names of the previous bars. And the bar that overlooks the ersatz Steyne is Doyle’s which is a lovely pub, or rather combination of pubs , (they have five bars and a live music room upstairs). There is a friendly, sleepy bartender and a group of regulars that wouldn’t look out of place at any elks club in Pennsylvania. Perfectly tasty half-pint of Guinness = €2.60 (DoylesInTown.com)
4. Chaplin’s (and Messrs. Maguire)
Turning north, there’s Chaplin’s, on Hawkin’s Street. On weekend nights, this seems like a super lively place for some fine craic* (or crack, who knows with these kids today), but in the mid-afternoon, it’s remarkable mostly because there’s a guy at the end of the bar who looks exactly like an elderly Leprechaun.
I needed to fill my leap card (Dublin’s version of a MetroCard), but the newsstand on the corner didn’t take credit cards, so I stopped at Messrs. Maguire on the quay to get some cash. Billed as the “home of Dublin’s finest craft beers,” it’s in a spot that has housed some form of a tavern since 1808. The other half of the building was originally the home of the Dublin Library Society, followed by a rope and hemp dealer, and eventually a tavern, as well. They have snacks, as well as a full menu, and the service is professional. I had a beer there too, before topping up my card and resuming my mission. Half- pint Guinness is decent = €2.40 (Chaplin’s, 2 Hawkins Street, Dublin 2 – 01. 677.5225) Half-pint Guinness is completely fine = €3.00 (MessrsMaguire.ie)
[*Craic – lively gossipy conversation.]
This neighborhood has been in renewal since the 14th century, and the choices and compromises throughout the years are everywhere: cobblestone streets being restored in front of 1960s architectural mediocrities that are slapped in between early 20th century churches built to resemble the Romanesque replicas that they should’ve never pulled down in the first place. Years of being on the frontier outside the city walls were succeeded by years of grinding poverty, only to be succeeded by years of profound neglect.
The brief burst of the Celtic Tiger was only enough to throw up some fantastic modern buildings that are now interspersed with abandoned overgrown lots and deserted buildings. Around the corner, heading east on Poolbeg Street, is Mulligan’s, one of the oldest bars in Dublin, across the street from a shabby miniature model of the Lever building.
Ah, Mulligan’s — my favorite pint so far anywhere in Dublin, and possibly the true reason I set off on today’s mission. It’s a great place to end the day. Originally a shebeen (informal venue), it was formally incorporated in 1782, the year the U.S. and Britain signed the preliminary Treaty of Paris, and has existed, mostly unchanged, since. Over the years it has attracted most of the glitterati of the Irish literati, and is one of the bars mentioned in The Dubliners — an actual Joyce mention is the ultimate signifier of any pub in the entire city.
The building looks a wee droopy, with its same pub, lounge, and commodious backrooms that have hosted the brightest luminaries of the literary and newspaper scene. The Irish Times is but a block away, but back in the periodical heydays there were several other publishing houses nearby, as well as shipping offices, The Old National Theater, the corn exchange, and the quay.
This was JFK’s local pub when he worked in Dublin for the wire services after World War II, and who could doubt the provenance of a bar that served not only Joyce and Behan, but also a Kennedy?
The bartenders are gruffly friendly, the black stuff is divine, and the clientele is a pleasing mix of Dubliners and tourists behaving nicely. I settle in to write some notes, and have another. (half-pint of Guinness was utterly delicious = €2.55, Pint €4.50. — John Mulligan, 9 Poolbeg Street, Dublin 2 — 01. 677.5022 — while the pints are certainly the best, their website is worth a glance as it’s the pitiful thing you’re likely to see sober —Mulligans.ie)
Five things? Well… this was actually seven bars, and eight half-pints of Guinness, over the course of about four hours. I think it’s an appropriate homage to the Irish that I couldn’t help but meander.