Opinions are divided and it isn’t just because of the so-called generation gap: some people love ‘old man’ pubs, and some people prefer the glint and glitz of the new. More recently, however, there seems to be a mix of both. Part of this is a business strategy, of course, but most of the time that isn’t for the clientele to know, only to guess.
What is, perhaps, more important is how the new bars ‘feel’ and what they ‘deliver’. There’s little doubt in anyone’s mind that – along with the décor and range of products – if the staff aren’t fully knowledgeable about what’s on offer or not trained enough in good customer service, then customers will quickly move on to another bar. What follows is a selection of new-ish bars that have opened in Ireland – some have found their feet and appear to be staying put.
Others aren’t open long enough to know what their footing is. Each one, however, is a good example of the mindset of Ireland’s latest batch of younger bar owners: naturally, they want to stay in business and make money, but they also want to give their clientele a good enough experience for that all-important end result: to make them want to return. Again and again.
THE VIRGIN MARY BAR, 54 Capel Street, Dublin 1
A new bar providing something that no other has previously delivered is a perfect USP. As Ireland’s first permanent non-alcohol pub (located in a former furniture store), you are promised a unique experience – and, in truth, there are many who don’t like being surrounded by alcohol (or people drinking it). Grab a seat, then, and browse a drinks menu that includes the bar’s signature concoction: the Virgin Mary (an alcohol-free version of a Bloody Mary), which is made with freshly pressed vegetable and fruit juices and fiery, chilli-derived infusions.
JANEY MAC’S, 19 Bridge St, Cahernamart, Westport, County Mayo
What was once a somewhat weathered neighbourhood pub (and which had been closed down for five years) is now one of the West of Ireland’s brightest spots. Westport is a destination town for tourists all year round, and this craft cocktail, gin and wine bar is happy enough to cater to the growing number of visitors. Operated on a split level, with the bar on ground level, and cocktail lounge upstairs, to say the place has been given a new lick of paint is an understatement.
Please visit, janeymacs.com
THE BIG ROMANCE, 98 Parnell Street, Rotunda, Dublin 1
Loosely named after the song by Irish musician David Kitt, and opened as much as a vinyl shop (in April, the bar will host a ‘listening’ party for the Kate Bush album, Hounds Of Love) as a bar, there is a serious love of quality music and craft beer here. The likes of Kinnegar, Cloudwater Brew, Whiplash, and Rascals Brewing are all available on tap. The bar snacks, meanwhile, throw culinary curveballs in the tasty form of kimchi cheese toasties and currywurst hot dogs.
Please visit, thebigromance.ie
THE WILD DUCK, 17/20 Sycamore Street, Dublin 2
Opening a bar directly opposite the stage door of the Olympia Theatre can have its plus points and drawbacks. The former include rubbing shoulders with actors and musicians, while the latter might include getting stuck in the middle of a heated conversation about whether David Bowie was a better actor than he was a songwriter (answer: he wasn’t). Seriously, though, you won’t beat The Wild Duck for its atmosphere, which is complemented by a snazzy cocktail menu and bar food treats that include the remarkable Stevo’s Nemo Burger (tempura of sustainable hake, tartar sauce, beef tomato, and iceberg greens).
Please visit, thewildduck.ie
CRAWFORD & CO, 10 Anglesea Street, Ballintemple, Cork
Crawford & Co is one of a few new additions to the Cork pub scene, and another venture that is housed in a terrific old venue (in this instance, the former Market Tavern building). As well as its bountiful stock of beers, cocktails, spirits and wines, it also has a good sideline in groceries (from selected suppliers in the English Market). This place looks great, as well: tactile wallpaper, lavish planters and upcycled fireplace tiles marry old and new with no small sense of style.
Please visit, crawfordandco.ie
DROP DEAD TWICE, 19 Francis Street, Dublin 8
As Dublin’s only BYO cocktail bar, Drop Dead Twice has been charming its clientele since it opened its VERY yellow doors. The rules are simple: book online, bring your own bottles of whatever takes your fancy, chat with the on-site mixologists as to what rocks your boat, sit back and catch up with your mates. If cocktails don’t do it for you, fear not – Drop Dead Twice has a taproom of over 20 craft beers, as well as canned/bottled beers from here, there and everywhere. Hungry? You’re sorted here, too.
Please visit, dropdeadtwice.com
TRINITY QUARTER, 81 Trinity Street, Drogheda, County Louth
A provincial town such as Drogheda can often bear the brunt of being so close to Dublin, especially when it comes to dining out, but recent opening The Trinity Quarter (located in the former Star & Crescent building) has set a standard that will surely tempt people to stay in the town. With restored drinking and dining areas (a steak restaurant, a cocktail bar, a wine bar, a gin ‘palace’, and a fully heated garden lounge) many boxes are ticked.
Please visit, thetrinityquarter.ie
THE LIGHTHOUSE, 88 George’s Street Lower, Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin
Operated by Bodytonic, which runs Dun Laoghaire’s annual Beatyard Festival, The Lighthouse is, as per usual for Bodytonic’s work, equal parts classy and inventive. While it occupies a large enough space (for the likes of gigs, exhibitions, games, and so on) the same area is used smartly. A major plus for beer lovers is that, via its in-house Brewtonic team, the pub boasts a range of unique craft products. What else to say? Oh, yes – this from its website: “the only thing you need to wear around here is a smile.” You have been duly advised.
Please visit, lighthousedublin.com
IMPALA, 7-8 Liberty Street, Cork city
Cork’s latest bar opened softly-softly before Christmas last, and by now has firmly established itself as the go-to place – especially if you want to bring your (well-mannered) dog for a walk AND buy a drink from one of its 22 rotating beer taps. With a new cocktail menu (by highly respected South American mixologist Raf Agapito) wowing the customers, very cool vintage furniture and becalming low-lit snugs as come-ons for comfort, this one repeatedly hits the spot.
Please visit Imapla on Facebook.
CAFÉ EN SEINE, 40, Dawson Street, Dublin 2
No, we’re not cheating – honest! The name may be familiar to a certain demographic (Café en Seine made its grand entrance in 1993) but following a major refurbishment and reimagination, it re-opened last November. The redesign is fantastic, and while the spaces are larger than large it is impossible to deny the quality on offer. From the singular Street Garden (a sun lounge-style leafy boulevard with a retractable glass roof) to four bars (Grand, Cocktail, Balcony, Loft) this may not be the ‘new’ jewel in the crown, but it’s certainly the brightest – and judging by a recent visit, extremely popular. Read our review here.
Please visit, cafeenseine.ie
Tony Clayton-Lea is a freelance pop culture/travel writer. His primary aim when traveling is to avoid obvious tourist traps, to make sure an intriguing laneway never goes undiscovered, and to unearth the perfect place for people watching.
Stay up-to-date with Tony’s writing by visiting his website, tonyclaytonlea.com.