Dublin-born poet Brendan Behan described himself as “a drinker with a writing problem,” so it’s no surprise to find the Irish capital offering hundreds of opportunities to whet your whistle. But since many pubs here are crowded with shamrock-hugging backpackers, a little digging is required to sup a great pint with the twinkle-eyed locals.
I’ve quaffed more than a few ebony nectars in Dublin’s creaky-floored watering holes over the years. But for the inside track, I tapped an expert with an admirable record of comprehensive field research.
“I’ve had a pint of Guinness in every pub in Dublin at least four times over the last 10 years,” recalls Mac Moloney, the surprisingly sober author of the Dublin Pubspotter’s Guide: A Magisterial Guide to Every Single Pub in Dublin and County Dublin. His book covers visits to 900 taverns.
“Gaffney’s is a local suburban pub renowned for its Guinness. I’ve never had a bad pint there,” says Moloney. “The staff talk to the customers about sport and the day’s news and if you want a quiet pint they may offer you a newspaper. They don’t serve food and no children are allowed and, from my experience, it’s one of Dublin’s best locals.”
But it’s not his only favourite. In the city centre, the Brazen Head claims to be Ireland’s oldest pub with a history stretching back to 1198. There’s daily live music, superior pub grub and popular Irish storytelling dinners. “The tourists mix with the regulars here and there’s great banter from the staff, making everyone feel at home,” says Moloney.
Since Guinness and toe-tapping tunes go hand-in-hand, he also recommends the Arlington Hotel’s Knightsbridge Bar where traditional music is combined with energetic Irish dancing. “It’s a great show and I always take visitors there.”
Many out-of-towners also gravitate to Dublin’s cobbled Temple Bar area, which is lined with touristy pubs and souvenir shops. I’d suggest a swift walk-through to check out the human safari of stag-nighters taking Instagram photos of themselves in green hats. And if you really need a drink here, the Porterhouse has some passable microbrews.
But my own Dublin favourites for a fine pint of Guinness include the Long Hall with its sparkling Victorian interior, the traditional but often-packed Kehoe’s, and Toner’s, with its wood-lined snug (if you snag a seat here, never give it up). Keep in mind that pubs are often crowded on weekends but comfortably quiet on weekdays – and don’t forget to order, pay for and pick up your pints at the bar.
There’s also one tourist hotspot beer nuts shouldn’t miss. Part of the 1759-built St. James’s Gate brewery complex where most of Ireland’s leading liquid asset is still produced, Guinness Storehouse is a multistorey visitor centre of touchscreens, historical exhibits and vintage advertising posters. Admission includes a pint in the rooftop Gravity Bar, complete with spectacular cityscape panoramas. Also consider its Connoisseur Experience: tastings of four Guinness variants in a wood-panelled private bar.
If you fancy some company on your booze hop, I suggest the entertaining Dublin Literary Pub Crawl (dublinpubcrawl.com). Starting in the Duke pub, bowler-hatted guides – who seem to have just stepped from Waiting for Godot (penned by local lad Samuel Beckett) – weave between several watering holes, regaling you en route with recitations and drinking songs.
But wherever you imbibe, Moloney says Dublin is ever-ready to sweep you up in the legendary craic, which he defines as “banter, slanging, talking, telling stories, joking, fibbing, dancing and generally smiling – usually with a pint in hand. Go into any pub in Ireland and you’ll find people having the craic and encouraging you to join in. We are a very friendly bunch.”
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