Pubs are as important to Dublin as cafés are to Paris, bridges are to London, and saying “Am yow all right?” is to Wolverhampton. The superb Irish licensing laws – superb when compared to Britain anyway – means that the standard “chucking-out” time in summer is 11.30pm, and a host of city centre pubs have late licences, allowing bevvying to continue all night, in theory. The strength of the Guinness will usually see you off at some point, however. Isolde’s Tower has never closed, to the best of my knowledge. Don’t go there, though.
Choosing a top 10 in this city of cracking pubs was never going to be easy. Dublin – again unlike Britain – has yet to succumb to the temptations of fruit machines, piped music, and pool tables in its pubs. People go to pubs to drink and talk – in that order. The pubs of Temple Bar, and the worrying new trendy pubs such as Knightsbridge and Zanzibar are heaving from Friday night to Sunday night with the “Barnsley brigade” – English stag and hen parties baring their hairy arseholes – but the real quality Dublin pubs in my opinion are best appreciated in the daytime. There are few pleasures equal to pushing back those double doors, smelling the Guinness, ordering a pint, watching it settle, whipping out your Irish Times and sitting back to enjoy the craic. Without further blarney, in reverse order, here is my guide to the top 10 pubs in Dublin.
10. The Brazen Head
The oldest pub in Dublin, and a must for every pub-lover. The only pub in Dublin with a courtyard, and, in fact, the only pub in central Dublin where you can drink outside [but see Lisa Tierney’s update below – Ed]. If the sun is shining – don’t hold your breath – there are few better places to go. With warm fires and welcoming staff, however, this is also an excellent place to visit on a chilly winter’s eve. The Guinness is among the best you will find, and the food is basic but sustaining, and ideal for a session – plates of chips with ketchup, for example. The Brazen Head is divided into several rooms, some big, some small, but all with a great atmosphere. Service is quick and efficient. The pub attracts a mixed clientele, which indeed is characteristic of all the best pubs in Dublin – young trendies, people who have just left work, drunks, tourists, travellers, people out for a mug of tea, locals, country-folk and even priests will be there – all getting on with the business in hand, of having a pint and putting the world to rights. If that is what you want, few pubs can hold a candle to The Brazen Head.
9. Sackville Lounge
A personal favourite of mine, and the only northside pub to make the top 10. It is an oasis amidst the desert of inner-city north Dublin. The only place where you are guaranteed a seat and quick service on a Friday or Saturday night. Pure north Dublin. It looks like it has been transported from the 1950s. The Guinness is exquisite. The bar is tiny, and most nights of the week the clientele consists of men on their own, chatting or watching the television. At weekends the place becomes a little more lively, with an eclectic bunch of drinkers, including actors and groups of middle-aged women out for a session. It seem to be a place for husbands to hang out on Thursday while their wives take advantage of late-night shopping. Fintan, the barman, easily wins the award as Best Dublin Barman. His standards of service are second to none, and he is a laugh. The toasted sandwiches mean you will not have to leave the place all evening. If you fancy a pint on your own or a quiet chat, head for this place. A word of warning for the easily offended – the toilets are disgusting. But who cares?
8. Messrs Maguire
A new pub, serving REAL BEER. Yes, a new trend in Dublin is the brewing, on the premises, of wonderful real ales and this pub, along with The Porterhouse, of which more later, is leading the way. It has bouncers on the door but unless you’re steaming you’ll get in. It is simply superb. The Rusty ale is delicious, smooth, tasty, infinitely more-ish. The Haus lager is equally wonderful. They do not serve Guinness, which is nice. Food ranges from generous bar snacks to full blown restaurant meals. The view over O’Connell Bridge is fabulous. A pub in which it is very difficult to resist the temptation to while away the day – or the week. Clean, a touch on the expensive side, attracting a young-ish but discerning crowd, and likely to be mobbed at the weekends – Messrs Maguire is an excellent addition to Dublin’s range of pubs.
7. The Long Hall
Worth a visit for three reasons – the superb bar staff, again transported from an earlier age, the cracking Guinness, and the mirrors. This is a pub of mirrors – large, small, distorted, clean, dirty. A popular place for an after-work session, and a good antidote to the more trendy Hogan’s, across the road. An ideal stopping off point if you’re heading to Whelan’s or the Mean Fiddler to see a band. Overall, another top boozer.
Like most pubs featured here, this makes a point of being piped-music free. Has a snug and a bell to call for pints. The upstairs bar is probably the finest room in Dublin in which to sit having a pint. At the risk of a cliché, the craic here is always good. There is a piano, and usually someone attempting to play it. So instead of listening to Steps through a jukebox, you’re more likely to get crowds of people singing “The Fields of Athenry” round the old joanna. Can be crowded in the evenings, and has been known to harbour pick-pockets. Nevertheless, any visit to Dublin can only be enriched by a visit to Keoghs.