With everyone racing to create the shiniest most modern cocktail bar, boasting that they have the best mixologists in town, we decided to look at the traditional Irish Bars that are the cornerstone of Dublin tourism. These bars are renowned great trad music, a warm welcome and perfect pints. These are the best spots to hit for an abundance of Craic ages Ceol.
The Brazen Head
A sign outside proclaims the Brazen Head as being the oldest pub in Dublin, if not Ireland, and if the date 1198 doesn’t draw you in for a look-see and a blast of mighty traditional/folk music, then nothing will. Irrespective of the date of origin, very few pubs in the world can claim visits by not only Irish revolutionary Wolfe Tone but also one of the world’s most famous writers: Jonathan Swift, who may (or may not) have written drafts of Gulliver’s Travels as he sipped ancient versions of draught Guinness. (See what we did there?)
Where: 20 Lower Bridge Street, Usher’s Quay.
Far be it for us to advise you to get to a pub early, but if you don’t grab a seat here by 6pm you could be in danger of standing up for an hour or so as traditional music of every variety rolls here and stamps there. Between the jigs and the reels, the plain fact is this: if you want to experience the best of Irish music amidst an atmosphere that can swing from energetic to eloquent, then The Cobblestone (a self-styled ‘drinking pub with a music problem’) is the one.
Where: 77 King Street N, Smithfield.
The Auld Dubliner
We all know that Dublin is one of the most hospitable cities in the world, but when it comes to hospitable pubs you’d be hard-pressed to find one as inclusive as The Auld Dubliner. It’s a spacious venue that is home throughout the week to a quiet morning and afternoon clientele and to a banter-filled evening crowd. Music is as staple a diet here as the perfect pints of Guinness and the hearty food. Pop in, pull up a seat and make yourself at home.
Where: 24/25 Temple Bar.
Doheny & Nesbitt
Due to its proximity to the seat of the Irish government, Doheny & Nesbitt is a long-established (1840s) and favourite watering hole of lawyers and politicians, yet the pub’s nickname of ‘The Doheny and Nesbitt School of Economics’ belies its charm, character and flare. Along with being a unique example of Victorian pub architecture (the main bar retains the original counter and fittings from its 19th-century origins), the pub is renowned for its selection of Irish whiskeys.
Where: 5 Baggot Street Lower
Tradition, tradition, tradition – that’s what The Norseman is all about. A pub has been on this site for hundreds of years (1696!), so you might say it’s a popular if not a well-loved place to meet up with friends. It helps that the atmosphere is friendly and helpful, with skilled staff that know how to make things work in everyone’s favour. A particular highlight for those that like to savour a good dram is the range of cask-aged whiskies present, correct and awaiting your approval.
Where: 28/29 Essex Street East, Temple Bar.
For almost nine generations (the pub dates back to 1833), John Kavanagh’s pub is, no more and no less, a textbook example of living history. Because of its location beside the famous Glasnevin cemetery, it has had its nickname for decades. Despite its long life, The Gravediggers looks to the future with the best kind of gastro-pub fare you will experience. The only downside isn’t even a downside: the pub’s policy of no music, no television and no social media presence (except on Facebook) means you’ll just have to pass the time doing what comes naturally in a pub: talking.
Where: 1 Prospect Square, Glasnevin.
The Long Hall
For over 140 years, The Long Hall, named after a chapel dedicated to Saint George in 1181, has served customers quiet (during the early hours it’s a becalming place to sip a drink and read a book) and not so quiet (you know who you are!) amidst what can only be described as a 19th-century Belle Epoque atmosphere. Think meticulously crafted wooden panels, antique clocks, red ceilings and bar stools, gold leaf engravings, ornate art nouveau glass, and all manner of Victoriana fit for royalty. And just in case you were wondering – yes, it serves a brilliant pint of Guinness.
Where: 51 South Great George’s Street.
The Palace Bar
With a reputation for hosting writers, journalists, intellectuals and the occasional chancer, The Palace Bar (which writer Patrick Kavanagh described as the “most wonderful temple of art”) is one of Ireland’s finest examples of how tradition can co-exist with the here and now. It has another reputation, however, and that is as a high-end whiskey hostelry; indeed, its upstairs bar has a very broad range of the tipple, including its own (very tasty) brand. Often overlooked in the scrum to name the best of the best bars in Dublin, do what you can to visit this one (albeit before the rush hour, as you might not be able to squeeze in otherwise).
Where: 21 Fleet Street.
The Stag’s Head
If you’re looking for a firm sense of whatever ‘hidden Ireland’ means, then a visit to the Stag’s Head pub is essential. It dates back centuries but was rebuilt in 1895 by the distinguished architect A. J. McLoughlin, who applied his skills to ensure that the venue quickly gained a status for being a shrine to the art of drink. With the stag as the primary creative theme, the redesigned Victorian bar (with classy mahogany fittings and mosaic marble tiles) caught the attention of many visitors to Dublin as well as residents, one of which was a young Irish writer by the name of James Joyce.
Where: 1 Dame Court.
Visitors to this award-winning pub in Stoneybatter (“a little Williamsburg by the Liffey,” noted The Guardian newspaper) can drink pints of creamy Guinness and experience some of the best traditional Irish music sessions you can find in a city setting. Across the weekend and into the week, experienced musicians have altered the awareness of traditional music as a static entity. It isn’t all about the music, of course – Walshs nabbed the highly sought after All Ireland Pub of the Year 2018 award (as well as winning the Dublin Pub of the Year 2018). Trad music, velvety pints, chats and great service? Sounds like a proper pub to us.
Where: 6 Stoneybatter.
WRITTEN BY TONY CLAYTON-LEA