It’s Friday night, and after a long working week, and what seemed like an even longer train journey from Dublin, plans for dinner and drinks in my final destination, Cork city, have never been met with such urgent anticipation.
After a superbly spicy Southern Indian vegetarian feast at Iyers on Pope’s Quay we pop over the bridge and onto the city’s main thoroughfare, Patrick Street, down a side street and into the newly remodelled The Oyster Tavern.
It’s glamorous and positively radiating with Friday night vibes, I could be in any city in the world right now, but when the friendly bar man responds to my cocktail order with “not a bother girl!” I know instantly that I’m home.
Regarded as Cork’s oldest pub, the curiosity that met the relaunch of this renowned 18th-century watering hole was more akin to welcoming an old friend home, than say, being introduced to a stranger.
Everyone in Cork probably has a fond memory of a drink shared here and were eager to see what changes new ownership, publican and restaurateur Alan Clancy who also owns 37 Dawson Street, House and The Oak in Dublin, and a €1.5m makeover had introduced – we’ve all met that old friend after a long time and not been quite sure of what to make of their questionable new hairstyle…
Corkonians of all ages are settled into the various nooks and crannies, getting into the Friday night spirit, with a drink and an innate rebellious spirit.
Thankfully, staying true to its heritage was at the heart of the redevelopment, and the new look bar has paid tribute to the original venue by restoring many of the buildings original features, including the original shopfront.
Other subtle nostalgic nods include the get-up of those behind the bar, crisp white shirts, slacks and battered brogues, a roaring stove in the centre of the bar set into a red brick hearth, and tarnished mirrors.
But there are lots of new features too. While downstairs candles flicker within the dimly lit room, giving an air of a ye olde tavern, they are complemented by more modern Art Deco style light fixtures.
Spread out over two floors, that 1920’s theme is evident throughout. Think glossy bottle green tiled walls, mosaic floors, and quilted leather booths.
It makes sense that The Oyster Tavern takes full advantage of its location, on the doorstep of one the world’s most famous markets, sourcing its ingredients directly from The English Market traders.
Downstairs this results in a speakeasy-style bar, with a mischievous element in the air – Corkonians of all ages are settled into the various nooks and crannies, getting into the Friday night spirit, with a drink and an innate rebellious spirit.
Upstairs is more a grand, sophisticated affair. Here swanky mustard leather booths dominate the seating arrangements, floral wallpaper boldly flourishes, and the bar is set square in the centre with a pyramid of bottles drawing the eye up to a quirky, bulbous light fixture.
Home to the Tavern’s kitchen, it is upstairs where most of the casual dining dishes are served, but the strikingly designed space is also fast becoming the destination for late night drinks and dancing in the city.
Speaking of food, it makes sense that The Oyster Tavern takes full advantage of its location, on the doorstep of one the world’s most famous markets, sourcing all its ingredients for the food menu directly from The English Market traders.
The simple dishes that have been created by head chef Kate Lawlor, formerly of Fenn’s Quay, let the characters of the market and their top quality produce do the talking.
The same local sourcing ethos spills over onto the cocktail menu, and the three cocktails we order downstairs have a distinct Cork accent.
There’s carpaccio (€8) made with Tom Durcan’s spiced beef, oysters from O’Connell’s fishmongers (3 for €6), Irish Angus beef burgers infused with Tim O’Sullivan’s pudding (€14.50), and weekend brunch dishes have local eggs and Hassets Bakery sourdough at their core (from €8.50).
Tonight we’re here for drinks only but are impressed to see that the same local sourcing ethos spills over onto the cocktail menu, and the three cocktails we order downstairs have a distinct Cork accent.
We sample a Dirty Martini (€12) (the bartender asking ‘how dirty do you like it?’ gets me every time) featuring Noilly prat vermouth, a peaty Laphroaig spray, and olives from the Real Olive Company in the market.
We couldn’t pass up the Bán Again Christian (€11), a curious combination of Bán Poitin and matcha green tea, that packs a punch, and coats the mouth with a zingy lime finish thanks to the addition of egg whites.
Murphy’s Law (€11) might not delve too much into the market’s larder but takes advantage of Jameson Black Barrel distilled in Midelton and is topped up with a head of Murphy’s, Cork’s answer to Guinness.
This old, but also very new, stalwart on the Cork social scene won’t let you down should a thirst need to be satisfied. The bar is open from 12pm to past midnight Monday to Thursday and until late on Friday and Saturday nights.
In terms of food, they are open for breakfast weekdays, brunch at the weekends, and lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday.
The Oyster Tavern has been a gem in Cork for hundreds of years, and though still hidden from plain sight its now shining brighter than ever as the new pearl of the city’s social scene.
The Oyster Tavern,
4 Market Lane,
St Patrick’s St,
T: (021) 735 5677
Erica grew up with a baker and confectioner for a father and a mother with an instinct and love for good food. It is little wonder then that, after completing a law degree, she went on to do a Masters in Food Business at UCC. With a consuming passion for all things food, nutrition and wellness, working with TheTaste is a perfect fit for Erica; allowing her to learn and experience every aspect of the food world meeting its characters and influencers along the way.