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“We built this city on debts and booze…”

 

Molly and her admirers...

 

Having only remembered on Thursday previous it was my turn again to choose our route for Sunday, I hastily cobbled together a list of potentials, had a quick scout on the interweb and took a little time to whittle my list down to five. If only we could visit them all; give it time and we will have I guess.  An interesting weekend it was turning out to be with the madcap encounter described by DMcHugh below on Friday evening, a great Punky Reggae Party in Seomra Spraoi later that night, a large slice of luck on Saturday afternoon (many thanks to Ringsend Rose;) and a beautiful Sunday afternoon. What better day for a walk around the city…  Waiting at Molly Malone for the lads, I was witness to streams of tourists pause and giggle at Molly’s… ahem… appendages, funny photos  to be taken back home and talked about, and no doubt the source of many profile pictures on Facebook and Bebo alike. I couldn’t believe it- a queue actually started to mount- I’d say if you stood there with a Polaroid camera and a sign saying “Photographs, €10” you’d be worth a fortune. Anyways, I’m losing the run of myself. A quiet start this week, just the three of us mainstays meeting for the start, to be joined later by Antrophe, DSmith and JFlood.

The Duke, Duke Street

So… first stop. I had decided to cover old territory; Around Grafton Street, we had already stopped off, with varying degrees of success, in Nearys, McDaids, The Bailey, Kehoes and Davy Byrnes. One pub missing from this list, one we should have included before now but neglected, is of course The Duke, on Duke Street. The outside of this pub belies a certain grandeur within; it really is a large premises that you can’t imagine ever being packed, what with the same floorspace in the upstairs bar as down. The end of the milk cup or tin cup final or whatever piece of silverware it was the Manchester Reds and the Birmigham Clarets were battling out for was on the big screen but the barman pointed out that there were a couple of quieter seats down the back or upstairs. (You might have noticed a theme of disdain towards the English Premier League in mine and DFallon’s posts, thats pretty much because we do hold it in disdain, and well, something akin to hatred, preferring to support teams actually on this island.) I didn’t do my duty and write the prices of the pints down in each place but if memory serves, pints here were €4.45 and very enjoyable indeed. A nice crowd in too but well dispersed, such is the lay out of the place. JayCarax led the way and we captured a nice quiet table near the back of the pub. Another venue for the pour your own pint initiative that seems to be popping up all over the place, you wonder if the characters historically connected with this place (It was, for a time, purported to be the favourite watering hole of Behan, O’Brien and other Dublin literary luminaries, and after that, Ronnie Drew and his cohorts) would take to such a thing, I can imagine them pouring and drinking the pints alright, its the paying for them that I’m not sure about.

The Gingerman, Fenian Street

We didn’t linger too long, aware that the night had to end earlier than usual with JayCarax spinning the decks at the The Magnificent 7’s Session in 4 Dame Lane later that night. A nice place this, innocuous enough to be honest, historically important when it comes to Dublin social history but not much you can say after that; A fine pub, with fine pints and fine staff, certainly one that didn’t jump out as being outstanding having lost the characters of old  but I don’t have a bad thing to say about it either.

So we upped and headed out the door, to our next stop which was to be The Gingerman on Fenian Street. The Gingerman, which takes it’s name from the famous novel by JP Donleavy (a Mullingar resident now, strangely enough.) The first thing that hit us walking in the door was the smell, and that’s never a good thing- Close your eyes and you could well be in the Markievitz swimming pool down the road; bleach or chlorine or both… At least its an indication the place is clean I guess! I wasn’t over-awed by this place to be honest, nice and all as it was. None of us ventured a try at their home brew, all sticking to pints of plain at a relatively expensive €4.60. I guess the fact it’s attached to the Davenport Hotel drives the price up. DFallon was happy to see “real, actual books” on the shelves though, after his terrible let down out in the airport. The table opposite us was surrounded by young Trinners types sipping on “min-er-dils;” 7-ups and Fantas all around for some reason, maybe they didn’t trust the drink or were just the athletic type, who knows. Joined on this stop by JFlood, three became four and we headed off after another couple of mediocre pints.

Ned Scanlons, Townsend Street

The next stop was probably the strangest of our stops so far on this run. Ned Scanlons (Or just plain and simple “Neds”) on Townsend Street is an institution in itself. They make absolutely no qualms about being a spit-and-sawdust  local and rumour has it that it’s not long since they stopped spreading sawdust on the floor, having recently undergone “renovation” and adding quite a nice beer garden/ smoking area out the back. Now, it would be suicidal of me to criticize this place too much, as a few old friends and work-mates count it as their home-away-from-home but to say it’s “quaint” will do. You can’t give out, the pints ring in at €3.80 a pop. This was no student deal (You get the feeling students would be torn alive in here,) just one of the cheapest pints in Dublin. And a nice pint it was too, served by a jovial barman with his shirt hanging out at the back and looking like he had been indulging in the stock himself. I like this sort of pub, I’m not sure if the others do though. Going to the jacks is like heading into a dungeon, the womens was only added as an afterthought a couple of years ago, and the mens not far before that. Renowned as an early house, Neds is in the same tradition as Kennedys at Tara Street station and certainly one of a dying breed. As four became five, with Antrophe joining us, and inebriation setting in, we started on the short hop to our next stop, The Longstone down the other end of Townsend Street.

The Long Stone, Townsend Street

I’ve already written a bit about this place below but I didn’t really go into it other than discuss the beautiful banners they have hanging on the walls. Aesthetically beautiful, this place and Davy Byrnes probably fight it out for the title of Dublins best looking pub. Although large and imposing,  a lot of work has gone into ensuring that it remains authentic and doesn’t turn into a faceless beerhall. The front part of the pub is anonymous enough, small tables in areas squared off by the couches but when you get to the back of the pub… wow. This area is enclosed on three sides by a natural stone framed staircase on the left,  a large landing area with quiet low tabling to the front and a narrow natural timber staircase to the right . We took up positon next to the ornate fireplace, said to represent Lugh, the norse god of light and heat… or something. We were joined here by DSmith, on his first venture along to the CHTM pubcrawl. As I said, I did a sizable piece on this pub below so don’t want to harp on about it. It’s beautiful to look at, I think pints were somewhere in the €4.60 range and weren’t too shabby. The banners I talked about below, obviously, inspired a great deal of conversation as again and little known facts and titbits of history started to flow and we lost ourselves, yet again. I’ve been here on a Friday evening before and it does tend to get busy, as do most Dublin pubs on Friday, an onslaughtg of office workers from all over the city who stagger from work to pub and merrily home.

Bowes, Fleet Street

Merrily we left this place too, and after a brief run in with an Gardaí Siochána who demanded JayCarax list off what records were in his case before letting us go on our way (a truly comic… or tragic moment, a young man with a suitcase full of records; unheard of) muttering that it must be a quiet night on Dublin’s streets. Last stop, and new ground for us all- Bowes on Fleet Street.

I only realised the existence of this pub a couple of months back, one of the blokes in work telling me of “a fine little shop,  next door to that student kip;” his words, not mine. You could be fogiven for missing the place, the narrow frontage often disguised by the busses parked outside. Attached to Doyles, this place often gets by-passed and forgotten about but not anymore with me. If I’m thirsty and in this part of town, I’ll be sure to drop into Bowes again. Definitely not what I was expecting, having been told that this is an “old-mans-pub,” no spit-and-sawdust nor tobacco stained walls anywhere to be seen, just a quiet, well kept, lovely pub, with  couples chatting quietly over pints and a few more tables occupied by stragglers, quietly reading the days news before joining the Sunday evening exodus out of the city. Pints rang in at €4.50 and were more than acceptable. I don’t know what to say about this place really, I know nothing of its history, I’d never been here before and was relying purely on the recommendation of a friend but I really liked it. It is certainly a “home-y” sort of a place, very relaxed in atmosphere and everyone seemed to be on first name terms with the lady behind the bar. I was delighted to hear a bit of music start up in the other corner, starting off with a lone Uileann Piper, one of my favourite instruments, I’d love to pick a cheap set up but apparently there’s no such thing as a cheap set, the things cost a bloody fortune. If there’s one good thing to come out of this little experiment of ours, we’ll all have the ability to walk through the streets of Dublin and say “I know a lovely spot not too far away” no matter where we are.  I have a feeling I might not be too far away from Bowes tomorrow evening, I might drop in and see if the pints are still as good…

So, the end of the night was upon us, and a communal visit to Supermacs for their snack-box special and we we’re off. Another five pubs down, making it thirty four or so we’ve reviewed already, and many, many more to go.

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They say it’s a fine line between genius and madness and I reckon Behan made a good attempt at finding the middle ground.

Now here’s a good one; I have few heros (or, as Public Enemy said,  “Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps,”) but I unashamedly pronounce Brendan Behan one of mine. Never one to be shy, he announced freely in the media that he was an unavowed and unabashed communist. Now, I suppose this was likely to draw some deal of attention to him considering the second Red Scare was in full swing in 1957. What you wouldn’t expect is for him to be bugged by MI5. But bugged he was, as records released today show and I’d love to hear some of the recordings as the man himself was pronounced as “A little mad, or a little drunk” by the officer investigating the case. We, of course, know that he was a good dollop of both.

Mona Lisa

An Fear féin

It was a call to Barbara Niven, editor of Communist Party of Great Britain’s paper, the Daily Worker that attracted MI5 attention. The MI5 officer consistently misspells Behan’s Christian name as Brandon in the transcripts.

“He said he had his mother with him. Did Barbara understand him? Barbara said she did not understand him. Brandon said he was going to give a subscription to the Daily (Worker) for a year.”

“Barbara said that was wonderful. Brandon said he understood that canvassing was very bad. Brandon said could he call around to see her. Barbara said she was very busy as she was writing something which had to be finished by that evening.

“Brandon said he wanted to give the money to her himself and he wanted to see her because he was a first-class man and no one would call for him. Not even his own class would talk to him, he said,” the officer wrote.

“He said he had got the embassy working for him. He hoped that they would get him a plane.”

“He wanted to go home to Ireland where he lived. His brother Brian had dragged his name in the mud by his interview in the Daily Express,” the officer wrote, adding, “I assumed Brandon was either a little mad, or drunk.”

As well as songwriters and storytellers, the Behan clan were always great painters and signwriters.

I can only imagine a high paid civil servant sitting in a top-secret office somewhere in London trying to decypher the conversation; was it some form of uncracked code? Who is “mother“? And what of this “embassy“? I wonder how long it took them to realise the man was just twisted and leary. They say its a fine line between genius and madness and I reckon Behan made a good attempt at finding the middle ground. And I doubt many will disagree.

(Míle buíochas le mo dheartháir Liam chun fáil airteagal seo.)

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“Come on; stall down here, we’ll get cans in, head to a pub, and then hit Dancehall Styles,” I say. “Grand, but meet me up in The Flowing Tide for one first” he says. Do we make it to Dancehall Styles? Not a chance. The Flowing Tide on Abbey Street has the ability to put the goo on you for a night on a bar stool. It’s a great spot, just off O’Connell Street but it somehow manages to avoid the majority of the ‘five-around-one-pint-of-stout” tourists that places like The Oval and Murrays seem to attract in abundance. Pints at a nice price too, at €4.15, unusual considering. The barman is a gent too, though I remind myself not to get on his bad side.

The Flowing Tide, by Sarahjoh, from Flickr

I was here one afternoon with my brother, ingesting a couple of quiet ones before we legged it down to Connolly to catch the train home. There was just the two of us and the barman, swapping small talk and watching the wrestling on telly, laughing and cracking jokes about it, when all of a sudden, two thirty-something blokes, straight from the office, and pretty hoi-polloi, strode hurriedly in. Without looking at the barman, one nasally whined “Hoi, stick on two Heino and the last race at Cheltenham, good man.” Christ. The barman, without taking his eyes off the telly said “Nah, lad, we’re watching the wrestling.” The two “Heinos” didn’t know where to look, eventually said “you can cancel the Heinos,” turned heal and left. I didn’t know where to look either, I nearly spilled my drink with laughter. So, moral of the story, don’t cross the barman with the moustache…

Anyways, great little spot; with the theatre across the road, you often get well known faces dropping in- Mick Lally (Miley from Glenroe) is a regular, though he’s a little worse for wear these days to be honest. But he wasn’t there tonight, just myself, jaycarax and a few locals. A couple of pints later and it was obvious that neither of us would have the energy to make it to see our friends in Worries Outernational. What we could do is get the grub in and head for another couple of quiet ones elsewhere.

Sin É, from properpint.com

So, after a quick stop off in the Peoples Kitchen on Capel Street (worth an article in itself- good asian food at half the price,) we headed as far as Sin É on Ormond Quay, pleasantly surprised to find that on Sundays, they do €3 pints of Guinness. I was hoping there wasn’t a reason for the pints being €3, but other than them being served in non-branded glasses (a bit of a pet hate,) you couldn’t complain.

Sin É: I really don’t know what to make of it. It tries to attract an “in” crowd, but bars like that are generally, well, a bit crap to be honest, but this place does well in that the staff are proper spot-on, the music is always good, and the punters are sound too. It’s frequented by Irish and non-Irish alike, a lot of backpacker types, alongside a couple of locals propping up the bar. Nice place it has to be said I guess. We stayed for a couple of their nice €3 pints before I realized the night was getting on and I had work bright and breezy in the morning. A right pain in the arse as we had just settled ourselves into some nice seats just inside the door. Ah well; not a bad evening, nice and cheap, not to be scoffed at in these times, the pints and the food came to less than €30. Well worth a try again sometime!

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Master at work…

As told to me by a gentleman of high standing in a local hostelry a couple of weeks ago…

McDaids Bar has always done a brisk passing trade, being off one of Dublins busiest streets, while at the same time maintaining it’s regular and staunchly loyal customer base. Now, this story is set in the late fifties/ early sixties, and Ireland at that time was not awash with cash, and this regular and staunchly customer base was not shy of asking for a couple of half ones to be “put on the tab,” or of looking for a way to cadge a pint or two.

On an Easter Monday, sometime around the turn of the sixties, the owner of the bar decided to take himself and some close allies on a trip to the races, leaving the bar in the not so capable hands of a new, young (and very naïve) barman. Away he went on his jolly way, and not long after he was gone, one of the locals (who, as the story goes, was a notoriously nice man, but a terrible one for not having two shillings to rub together,) spotted his chance for a day on the gargle. A carpenter by trade, he still had his toolbelt on him when he came in the door. Up to the bar he went and asked the barman for a pint of plain and a Créme De Menthe. The barman, only in the job a couple of weeks, looked nervously around him before saying, “I don’t think we have that sir.” “Oh, sure of course ye do. The boss keeps it down in the cellar; to keep it cool.” The barman looked around him undecidedly but deciding rather than face the wrath of the boss for annoying a regular customer, took the chance, swung open the cellar door and darted down the ladder. Not wasting any time, the carpenter hopped the counter, slammed the door shut and drove several six inch nails into it, fastening it shut and promptly started dishing out the scoops.

Needless to say, word travelled fast that McDaids were having an unwitting free bar and the place very quickly filled up with Dublin’s finest. Whiskey and Porter were being thrown across the counter at a ferocious pace, with little to be seen of money passing the other way. Of course, our carpenter friend drank his fill and promptly scarpered…

So, after a grand day at the races, a few shillings up and all the happier for it, the landlord turned off Grafton Street and started up Harry Street, towards where his pub was, and still is, situated. He was only too delighted to see the place full to the gills, people staggering around outside and inside. I’m sure he thought all his dreams had come true… Until he got inside… And recognised none of the people behind the bar. With a roar, he made his way through the fast-emptying pub and got the strangers out from behind the taps. With the pub now empty at this stage, he noticed the cellar door crudely nailed shut, and heard the feeble knocks that emanated from within. He took a jemmy bar to it and managed, after a time, to prise it open. Upon opening it, a very dazed and anxious looking barman hauled himself out of the hatch and asked “No Créme De Menthe then?”

As with all Dublin stories, I’m sure this one has sprouted legs but sure who gives a toss. These stories are the ones that will soon disappear unless we tell them, and keep re-telling them…

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