A Tale of Two Pubs
Updated: Aug 4, 2020
My favorite thing about Dublin was the pub culture. Every night, Rachel and I would push open a pair of heavy wooden doors, grab a stool at the bar, and sip a couple of pints late into the night. The scene was so low-key. It made sense to me that "pub" is short for "public house." It felt like everyone's living room. People came to the pub and did their own thing - jamming with friends on fiddles, watching the Euro Cup on TV, talking with the bartender on duty. The pub is so home-like that you don't even get kicked out at closing time. When it's time to lock up, the bartender quietly closes the shutters and locks the front doors so no one can come in, but he doesn't ask anyone to leave. He'll pour you another pint and quietly tell you about his travels in the USA. He'll reveal that he has lived above the pub since 1965, and how Dublin has changed a lot in that time. When the beer starts to hit you and you ask to pay your tab, he'll direct you to the back door that empties onto a side street. It'll probably be drizzling outside - because Ireland - and you will feel a sudden rush of joy as you realize how magical the night was. Rachel and I felt so at home at the pub where we experienced our first lock-in that we finished the night there the entire time we were in Dublin.
If you are looking for your own magical pub experience, I have two recommendations for you. They couldn't be more different, but they do have one common point: they are far away from Temple Bar. I don't pretend to know Dublin well, but I can confidently recommend staying away from Temple Bar in order to experience a more authentic night on the town. Our AirBnB in the Liberties was a perfect spot to explore the tourist sites during the day, and the pubs north of the Liffey by night.
The first pub you should try is the Open Gate Brewery at St. James Gate. It's is Guinness's laboratory for trying out new brews. Guinness says this about the Open Gate:
"There has been an experimental brewery at St. James's Gate for over a hundred years. Now, for the first time in history, its gates are open to you."
First you have to find the basically unmarked door (It says Guinness, but everything says Guinness in this neighborhood) and get past this guy:
You get past this guy by buying reserving your spot ahead of time and thus having your name on the list.
Once in the door, it is made clear that you are in the right place.
Unlike the Guinness Storehouse, the Open Gate is quiet, secluded, and feels somewhat exclusive. Perhaps it is human nature to feel like you are in an exclusive space if you have to be on a list in order to get inside a beautiful courtyard like this.
Once inside, you are presented with a choice of eight novel Guinness brews. You get to choose four for your flight, and your first round is free with the price you already paid to reserve your spot.
Our Open Gate team decided to strategically try them all. I decided to take a not-strategic photo, however, and managed to perfectly capture Rachel and my father's "not ready" faces.
Along with your beer flights you are handed a paper, and the staff asks you to rank your favorite of the four beers you tasted. I was a big fan of the strawberry stout.
It didn't take long to go from glass mostly full...
...to glass pretty much completely empty.
At this point I started to get silly and take closeups of my Open Gate team members.
We also ordered about five puff-pastry-wrapped sausages which were absolutely delicious. This is not a picture of a sausage, though. All of the photos I took of the delicious sausages (and, believe me, I took a lot of photos of these delicious sausages) turned out fuzzy because I was pretty drunk by the time the five sausages hit the table.
The bartenders must have liked us, because after a couple of flights, he brought us out a beer that had been aged in a port barrel. You guys, this was the greatest beer I have every tasted. Maybe we can age all beer in port barrels now?
We left the Open Gate Brewery after a couple of hours, feeling happy, buzzed, and ready to head to the next pub.
This next pub - the one where Rachel and I lived out our first lock-in - was so magical that it made me believe in leprechauns. It is called Hughes Pub. It's in an old building on a dark street behind the Four Courts. I suppose it's not dark during the day, but during the day it is frequented by barristers, and that's no fun. Hughes is pretty dead before 10PM, but from 10AM onward the magic happens.
Hughes Pub is one of Dublin's oldest traditional music venues and you can hear Irish music there every night. Don't expect a concert, though. There is no schedule of bands, there are just musicians who show up with their instruments and start playing with each other. Hell, you could come with your instruments and start playing, too! The regulars who come to the pub to play are known for being friendly and inviting. The musicians often gather in a small nook near the front of the pub and play in a circle. Again, you aren't coming for a show. You are coming for the authentic experience of drinking a pint at the bar while the sweet sound of the fiddle and flute waft over your conversation with the bartender. It is heaven.
Speaking of the bartender - this is Michael. He's actually the publican (Did you know that publican means pub owner?). This is the man who has lived above at worked at the pub since 1965. He exemplified Irish hospitality for me. Quiet and attentive, he took some time to cozy up to us newbies at the bar. When we returned to Hughes on our last night in Dublin after a few days in County Cork, we said, "We love it here. We were here a few days ago and we came back!" Michael responded in a soft voice barely audible over the singing in the room next door, "Oh, I know, I remember you."
He ended up talking with us for the better part of an hour until we decided it was time to head back to our house in the Liberties. Michael let us out the back door of the closed pub, and we headed out into the cold Dublin drizzle somehow feeling quite warm.
Open Gate Brewery at St. James Gate: Thomas Street near Saint James Parish
Hughes Pub: 19 Chancery Street, Dublin, ireland