We’re walking back towards Westmoreland Street, and the 67A bus, which will carry my friend Shane to his rented front door. Well, the whole house is rented, not just the front door, but you know what I mean. The time-table itself almost suggests we go for a pint. “You’ve a good forty minutes lads, go for one. The Palace is just around the corner”
Fair enough, nothing like time. We spot a large group outside the front and wonder if we’re walking into a packed pub. Alas, these are the smokers. There’s room enough inside to see to it we grab the central table in that beautiful area in the back of the pub, where the faces of many famous Dubliners, both native and adopted, stare down on you. One of them is Flann O’ Brien.
Shane has just picked up his collected works. Brian O’ Nolan, as his co-workers would have known him, looks down on proceedings and would surely be delighted to hear Shane. “I was going to buy At Swim Two Birds for twelve quid…” he tells me, “but they had the entire collected works for eighteen. Seemed a good deal”. The best six quid you’ll ever reach into your pocket for Shane.
Of course, this was a haunt of O’ Brien’s (We’ll stick with that name here), owing to the proximity of the pub to the old offices of The Irish Times perhaps. The pub has a long association with literary figures, and the local journo types. A famous cartoon appeared in Dublin Opinion magazine in 1940 depicting then editor Bertie Smyllie in the company of our friend O’ Brien, Patrick Kavanagh and a few more choice characters. Every social group need their own public house, and there is perhaps no social group more welcome in a pub than a motley crew of journalists and literary figures. You still spot them in here on occasion.
Tonight, the two pints are on Shane. Aren’t pints all the nicer that way? Time passes very slowly, and all around us people are deeply engaged in conversation, with no mention of the World Cup heard. The pub, like any pub of character, hasn’t felt the need to turn into a tatty pound-shop flag display, and almost two hours after kick-off it’s good to see the telly well and truly turned off.
Two pints, a pint a piece, is all we have time for this evening. On the way out I drop them back to the bar, something anyone who spent any amount of time working in a pub seems to develop a habit of doing, and the barman gives thanks. I haven’t been in here in a while, but the atmosphere is just as I remember it on a previous visit, and for a Thursday night there’s a great feeling of ‘we’re nearly there’ from the after-work crew.
I know where I’d be off to Friday night.