Tastings School - In Dublin, fair city

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In Dublin, fair city

Dublin is established as a beer drinkers' paradise. But now the money's rolling in and the city's being transformed, where can you still get a decent pint? Andrew Marshall reports

Little has changed since Joyce penned his classic novel, and despite the increase in European-style cafes and restaurants, the city’s 800 or so pubs are still the hub of social life; a place to meet friends, to laugh, relax and enjoy a pint. Dubliners sum it all up in one word – craic.

In Ulysses, Joyce described the characteristic ambience of Dublin pub life so successfully that his characters may be fictional, but they are based on a multitude of people that he found in the pubs throughout the city.

Many remain outstanding examples of the tradition, which Joyce immortalised in his works, and throughout the years have retained their down to earth atmosphere – one that many contemporary premises spend hundreds of thousands of Euros attempting to artificially create.

Dublin abounds with old-style traditional establishments where you can enter a stranger and leave as a friend.

A short stroll from Temple Bar’s cobbled streets is the Palace Bar (21 Fleet Street), often said to be the perfect example of an old Dublin pub.

This small and unpretentious pub has fame vastly out of proportion with its size.

Step into the beautiful snug with its mirrors and wooden niches in which many a historic meeting has taken place or the backroom (also known as the intensive care unit) with its high ceiling and ornate stained glass, where literary stock used to gather.

Flann O’Brien and Harry Kernoff were regulars, and the Palace Bar became one of Dublin’s great literary pubs. An advertisement published in the Where To Drink Guide 1958 adorns the wall and says “Internationally famous also for its intellectual refreshment.” Untainted and unspoilt by the passage of timethat’s the Palace Bar.

Another pub virtually unchanged over the years is John Mulligan’s (8 Poolberg Street). Established in 1782, and long been reputed to have the best Guinness in Ireland, the assorted regulars are considered experts on the subject. The pub also featured as the local in the film My Left Foot.

Known among regulars simply as Grogan’s, Grogan’s Castle Lounge (15 South William Street) is a city-centre institution and a favourite haunt of painters, writers, bohemians and alternatives. From the street, not much can be seen through the lace curtains, but once you go through the door it’s like stepping into someone’s living room.

One peculiar feature of Grogan’s is that drinks are a little cheaper in the stone floor bar than the carpeted lounge even though they are served from the same bar. The actor Brad Pitt became a regular here to help him soak up the Irish atmosphere, while working on the movie Snatch.

Granted the James Joyce award for being an authentic Dublin pub, O’Neill’s (2 Suffolk Street) has existed as a licensed premises for more than 300 years, long before the street on which it stands was named Suffolk Street. There are five separate bars and numerous alcoves, snugs and crannies all of which attract a different clientele and age group, from students and lecturers at nearby Trinity College, busy city traders to the lovers of arts and theatre.

Other pubs worthy of note include Dublin’s oldest, the Brazen Head (Bridge Street), Brogan’s (75 Dame Street), a wonderful oldstyle bar with the most photographed pub window in Ireland, the full Victorian splendour of The Long Hall (51 South Great George’s Street) with its ornate bar and elegant chandeliers and the Patrick Conway (70 Parnell Street) established in 1745.

Countless new fathers down the years must have called into this true classic for a celebratory pint of Guinness, since it’s situated right across the street from the Rotunda Maternity Hospital.

One way to learn more about Dublin’s pub culture, history and its literary associations is to take the ‘Literary Pub Crawl’ which begins at The Duke (9 Duke Street). It’s a guided tour by Irish actors who perform humorous extracts from Dublin’s best-known writers in some of the city’s best-loved drinking establishments.

An excellent and organised pub-crawl, the actors remind you that Dublin’s literature has always been constructed out of great jokes.

“We were a band of unemployed actors doing entertainment in pubs. It was a natural fusion of the two ideas and a great way of legitimising the pub lifestyle,” says Colm Quilligan one of the founding members of the tour.

“I’ve had quite a few famous people come along including Kathy Bates, Brian Donahue and Liam Neeson.” After performing a short excerpt of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in the Duke, Colm says: “The cost of the tour is € 10 for adults and € 8 for students. We are now going to the Old Stand for some quality drinking time. This is the only Dublin pub you will pay to leave.” What would the city’s pubs be without that other essential ingredient – Guinness stout?

No visit to Dublin is complete without the pilgrimage to the Guinness Storehouse (St.

James’s Gate) where you’ll discover all there is to know about the world famous beer including the brewing process, advertising, cooperage and the Arthur Guinness story.

After you have seen how Guinness is made, its time to taste the famous product. Hovering above the roof of the Storehouse is the epicentre of the world of Guinness – the Gravity Bar. With a complimentary pint of ‘liquid black gold’ in hand and incredible 360º views out across the streets of Dublin it’s the perfect position to contemplate James Joyce’s puzzle...