Is there an Irish person anywhere in the world who doesn’t hold dear the memory of treasured trips to the sweet shop? Concocting a motley mix of powder-coated candy pink bonbons, slick sticks of black liquorice and sherbet saucers and skipping down the street weighed down by your paper bag of treats, those were the good old days.
In Killarney, that iconic gem is Reidy’s, an institution and former grocery cum bar which won a place in the hearts of the young and old. With sweet jar-lined shelves, a liberal approach to measures of both the sweet and spirit kind and a reputation for serving round the clock, locals knew they could sneak in the back undetected, and what happened in Reidy’s stayed in Reidy’s.
The Kerry town itself has evolved over the years, moving with the times. Some things are better preserved, however, and while the vintage snug in the heart of the ever-changing Main Street has changed hands in the last year, taken over by well-known publican family the Sheahans, stepping inside the door is like stepping back in time.
Headed up by Niamh Sheahan, a sympathetic but stylish revamp both of the decor and offering of this town landmark, which is listed in National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, has resulted in it becoming undisputedly the hottest ticket in town. Queues out the door are as common a feature here as cucumber lined gin goblets and punters have come from far and wide – Enda Kenny and Brendan Grace, to name a few – to sample the wares of Reidy’s.
Exposed stone and open fireplaces flank cosy nooks and crannies, and two entrances lead to different outcomes – one to a quaint coffee shop serving Insta-worthy flat whites and treats from their in-house bakery, and the other to the original bar where many a paddy-capped reveller saw day turn to night over a creamy pint or ten.
On this visit I have cocktails on the brain, so my partner in crime and I cosy in to one of booths towards the back of the bar, which winds its way back to a fairy-lit cobbled courtyard which has already earned a reputation as the go-to for a lively trad session and even a brush dance of an evening. In fact, live music is a staple feature in JM Reidy’s, with at least two acts a day coaxing the crowds to burst into impromptu sing songs.
We start our evening with fantastic intentions – a quiet catch up over a cocktail – but the menu arriving before us almost laughed in the face of my planned restraint with so many temptations. The commitment to having a drink, singular, went utterly out the window upon hearing that the head mixologist Dermot is ex-g hotel and dedicated to taking their cocktail offering up a level – who were we to resist?
Kicking off proceedings with a Mrs Reidy(€10), a gin-based tipple named after the former proprietress, I was pleasantly surprised by its sharp, almost lip-puckering zestiness owing to lashings of grapefruit and Kerry’s own intensely flavourful Dingle Gin.
While a G&T will never be my order of choice, this cocktail could convert the most ardent gin avoider, topped with a dusting of spiced pink peppercorn to make the Mother’s Ruin sing deliciously. This potion is a best-seller, and I can see why.
From sour and sharp to sweet and seductive, the Bon Bon(€10) is a good time in a glass, ruby red and lip-lickingly nectarous and perfectly balanced with a frothy egg-white crown. This isn’t your run of the mill sweet vodka cocktail, but rather a stylish sip with an edge from fresh rhubarb syrup.
I’d be lying if I said my measure of a cocktail list was anything other than the classic Old Fashioned, and I was both pleased and apprehensive to see my very favourite variation of this bourbon beauty – a Smoked Old Fashioned(€11) – on offer here.
I needn’t have worried and couldn’t have been happier stretched out in the cosy snug sipping on a perfectly pitched, subtly hickory scented Jameson Black Barrel treat, which was up there with my beloved Exchequer’s version. Reidy’s may be a sweet shop, but the disaster that is a sugary Old Fashioned is not on the menu here.
On the topic of whiskey cocktails, Reidy’s Whiskey Sour(€10) is crafted with Pogues Irish Whiskey, and will leave you smiling like Shane McGowan counting the royalties from Fairytale of New York.
If you’re not a fan of the shaken or stirred concoctions, Reidy’s has an extensive G&T menu and no eyebrows will be raised when you specify your chosen tincture and tonic. Their Irish whiskey collection includes West Cork Distillery finished in rum casks, Writer’s Tears, Yellow Spot and Dingle Single Malt amongst many others, so settling in for an evening in the heated outdoor snug with a dream dram sounds irresistible.
Full disclosure: I may have returned the very next day for brunch, and thankfully my feeling that Reidy’s will become a firm favourite was cemented with a menu as tempting as their cocktail list. I’m sure my most recent visit won’t be my last – whether it happens to be for a Chickpea Tofu Vegan Bowl or a Smoked Old Fashioned, or both, for balance.
Whether you stroll or stumble out of Reidy’s, you’ll be left with sweet memories of a one of a kind pub, cobbled with character and charm. Retro without regressing to the sickly sweet cocktails of early stabs at mixology, cosier (and infinitely more stylish) than a hot chocolate in a onesie by the fire, JM Reidy’s is doing something very rare indeed – managing to be both original and true to its roots.
Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake Off and am passionate about discovering and creating delicious things – I can sometimes be caught in the act on TV3’s Six O’Clock Show or RTE Today. Working with TheTaste allows me to satisfy this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting. Follow me on my pursuit of deliciousness.