Where to Drink in Dublin: An Irish Bartender's Guide to Pubs and More
About the Author: John Cummins has been a bartender for nearly 15 years, most of those in Dublin. He is in fact, as the name might suggest, Irish. He is equally fond of drinking Guinness, drinking songs, and telling stories about drinking Guinness and drinking songs. Here's his guide to how to drink in Dublin.
First of all, thanks for visiting my city—the fact that you're here helps keeps me and my friends in beer money. And I appreciate that more than you know.
This guide is intended for newcomers to Dublin and should give you a very rough idea of where to go and what to drink (whilst simultaneously preventing you from coming to harm on your first night). What happens after that is your own business: I take no responsibility for your safety, wellbeing, personal finances, romantic entanglements, hangovers, the stock market or anything else that happens while you're here. If you go home with stories to tell, well, then you've got the idea.
Where To Go...
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It's your first day, play it safe.
Most people find themselves drawn towards Temple Bar. Temple Bar is a dirty, vomit-ridden hole where you'll pay through the nose for sub-standard drinks and service in overcrowded, tacky bars: don't go. Not on your first night at least. Please.
Don't get me wrong, there's a time and a place for the type of entertainment that you'll come across in Temple Bar. These days, the amount of stag and hen parties (you guys call them bachelor and bachelorette parties, I think) at Temple Bar have decreased dramatically, but you're still much more likely to meet fellow Americans, Canadians, and Italians at Temple Bar—Dublin people tend to stay away because of the prices.
One notable exception to the stay-far-away-from-Temple-Bar rule is The Storehouse on Crown Alley, where the staff are friendly, the food is decent and the prices aren't completely outrageous. There's music there seven days a week and I've always been looked after really well. So there, I've said it: don't go to Temple Bar, and if you do, go to The Storehouse.
So you're not going near Temple Bar (right?) but you're just off the plane, the jet-lag/hangover hasn't kicked-in yet and you've a thirst on you like a dehydrated camel so where are you going to go to quench it?
Chances are that you'll be staying fairly centrally. You'll realize quickly that Dublin is a small city and it's possible to walk everywhere. The river Liffey, which runs through the city, provides absolutely none of the water used to make Guinness at the St. James' Gate brewery but it does divide the city into a North side and South side.
Now, there are some excellent bars on the North side of the city but in order to find them, you often have to negotiate dangerous terrain, avoid scumbags, junkies, and the swinging oversized hoopy-earrings of feisty Northside women. For the purposes of this guide, we're going to stick to the South side of the city—there's a greater concentration of good places to go and to be perfectly honest with you, it's far easier for me to give you directions without using the words 'clinic', 'station', 'hospital', 'police' and 'needle'.
So here's a list of places that I like to go when I'm not working.
Bowe's: on the East side of Fleet Street, in that little block between Westmoreland Street and D'Olier Street. The staff are friendly and fun, the Guinness is consistently the best in the city (yes, better than it is at the brewery), there's a real, unamplified acoustic traditional music session on a Sunday night, they have a range of craft beers on tap, lovely toasted sandwiches and a selection of over 100 whiskeys from around the world—really, what more do you want?
The Palace Bar: Also on Fleet Street, but this time on the West side of Westmoreland Street, closer to Temple Bar. This place is great for a daytime pint—it tends to get really crowded at night or when there's a sports game on though, which makes it difficult to get a seat. They have a wide range of Irish craft beers and a good selection of whiskeys, including their own Palace Bar whiskey which you can purchase by the shot or, should you wish to, by the bottle.
The Long Hall: South Great George's Street. Lovely old cozy pub with wonky floors and a back bar that looks like it was made out of some old glittery disco balls. Doesn't open until 4 p.m. most days. Gets crazy-busy on Fridays and Saturday. Definitely worth a visit though.
Toner's: Baggot Street. Another place that crowds up on a Thursday/Friday/Saturday evening. Tasty pints. Also, as the sign behind the bar points out, it's a Museum Bar. I don't exactly know what this means but I like the sound of it.
The Dawson Lounge: Dawson Street. The smallest pub in Dublin. Also the place where you can find me behind the bar. Big enough to hold me, you, and 32 of our closest friends.
Of course, half the fun of being here is finding your own special places. I do recommend stumbling blindly into pub basements you don't know. Good things can come of it.
What To Drink...
You've gotten off the plane, dumped your gear in your hotel/hostel/friend's bedroom, (hopefully) had a shower and found your way to a decent pub without being killed or maimed. Congratulations, you're doing better than most Galwegians, but now comes the true test of your mettle. What are you going to drink?
These days it's perfectly acceptable to drink non-alcoholic beverages in a pub, and no one will bat an eyelid should you request fruit juice or water or whatever. It's when it comes to the alcoholic beverages that you need to be careful. Your order could be the source of much mockery or scorn.
It should be obvious that drinking alcopops—overpriced, low-grade alcoholic drinks that have been super-saturated with sugar and chemically treated to ensure they don't taste like alcohol—will not endear you to your bartender. Perhaps more importantly, if you're not English, don't "drink English". Drinking-English seems to be an affliction. It's really a terrible affliction. Mixing alcopops with lager or port, poisoning pints of stout with blackcurrant cordial, putting lime cordial into everything or just generally asking for silly drinks. No. No, no, no. For the love of God, leave your drinks alone.
And while I'm at, you Yanks need to hear something, too. This may come as a surprise to you but Irish Car Bombs and Black And Tans don't exist in Ireland. Yeah, we know what they are but we never drink them. Two reasons: Firstly, those names come with memories that most of us would prefer to forget; Google it. Secondly, they're vile.
For those who drink more respectable things, remember: Pints are better than glasses (halves). This isn't a macho thing—it works out much cheaper to drink pints rather than half pints. You would expect that a half pint of beer would cost about half the price of a pint of beer. Not so. For example, the place I work in charges €4.80 for a pint of lovely, creamy Guinness whereas if you were to buy two half-pints, it would cost you €5.40. Remember, boys and girls: buy in bulk!
Of course, feel free to disregard the above rules if you wish. I'm a bartender—I don't really care what you drink as long as you leave me a nice tip. Do I judge you based on what you drink? Yeah, little bit. Will I ever recommend that you drink, say, a pint of Budweiser when there's something like an O'Hara's Pale Ale available? Nope. Am I going to lose any sleep over it either way? Nah.
How To Order Your Drinks...
By now you'll have noticed that the bar is a busy place and it's likely that the staff have become something of a blur. There may be a lot of people waiting to be served or even just trying to get to the bar.
Your behavior at this point is critical to your continued well being. Ordering drinks presents most difficulty to visitors to Dublin but with this handy guide, you should have no difficulty obtaining what you want with the minimum of fuss.
Know What You Want: If you're just going to the bar to get yourself a drink, this shouldn't be a problem. If, however, you have a round to get, make sure you know what it is before you get to the bar. If you don't know what you want or only know half the order, you slow me down. That means the rest of the people in the bar will have to wait longer for their drinks. This makes them angry. And then they tip me less. This makes me angry. Please don't make me angry!
Attracting The Bartender's Attention: Waving money, your hands, or shiny objects is just rude. Whistling or clicking your fingers will get you thrown out. See above about making me angry.
Ordering: Always order your stout (Guinness) first—it takes longer to pour than everything else and needs time to settle. Your friendly neighborhood bartender can be getting the rest of your drinks, or serving someone else while it's doing this. Also, be sure to order all your drinks in one go. Just because you can only remember two drinks at a time doesn't mean that's all I can remember. Even when significantly hungover, the chances are that I'll remember more drinks than you—this is my job, after all!
Tipping: Some guidebooks say that people don't tip bartenders in Ireland. This is untrue. It's certainly not the same as some cultures such as in the States where a tip is obligatory but to say that we don't get tips or don't accept tips is absurd. If you feel like you've experienced good service and want to tip me, I certainly won't say no!
About The Locals: We're generally a friendly bunch. Come talk to us. We won't bite. Well, we might, but only if you ask nicely.
You have a choice when the pubs close. You can either go somewhere else to drink more (club/late bar) or go home. There are many nightclubs around the city that will happily cater for your every depraved want, and the best way to find somewhere that you'll like is to ask your bartender. We're like a walking, talking guidebook, so you may as well make use of us!
If you feel like you've had enough for the night, we'll also be able to tell you the best way to get to your (or someone else's) bed.
At some stage (usually about half an hour after the bar closes), if you are still on the premises, I'll probably ask you to leave. This is for two main reasons: first, it's the law and I don't want the cops on my back. Second, I want to chill out for a bit and maybe go for a drink myself somewhere when I'm finished. I can't do that while you're still here. See above about making me angry.
Occasionally, if I find that you have a dazzling personality, your wit and intellect knows no bounds or maybe if I just like your hair (I'm a brunette man, myself), I might invite you to stay for a while. This is known as a lock-in. It doesn't happen very often and never happens if you ask me for one.
I hope that you can handle this part yourself, but I would not be giving you a proper guide if I didn't tell you to watch out for The Nitelink: a night-bus service offered by Dublin Bus serving a limited number of routes. They run from the Westmoreland Street/D'Olier Street area of the city and it costs €5 to go anywhere within the city limits.
To avail of this service, you need to know exactly where you're going and be either very brave or very stupid. Over the years I have witnessed some bizarre things on Nitelinks and unless I absolutely have to, I avoid it like the plague. Expect fights, vomiting, drunks, men who've spread a kebab liberally around their faces, and just general unpleasantness. Since the deregulation of the taxi industry in the city, it has become much easier to get a cab at night and so the Nitelinks, once a necessary evil, are now the sole preserve of the mentally unstable.
Well done! You've survived your first night in Dublin. Maybe you have no money left, you're black and blue, you smell funny, and it took you twenty minutes to find the keys to the door, but at least you have a story to tell, right?
Get up in the morning, shake off the hangover and get ready to do it all over again. I'll be waiting for you.