For many people visiting Dublin, one of the main attractions is the city’s rich literary history. For others, it is the many historic pubs. This is a guide to the best bars in Dublin: places where the visitor can imbibe some of Ireland’s literary heritage along with a Guinnesss.
1. Mulligan’s (8 Poolbeg Street)
Over the course of its history, Mulligan’s, which was founded in 1782, has had an impressive array of customers. Situated in Poolbeg Street in Dublin’s city centre, Mulligan’s was a well-known spot to some of Ireland’s most significant literary figures. Brendan Behan drank here in his time, as did James Joyce, whose story ‘Counterpart’ from Dubliners is set partly in the pub’s back parlour.
Mulligan’s is near the offices of two national newspapers; it has been a regular of journalists from the Irish Times and the Irish Independent over the years. But Mulligan’s has attracted journalists from further afield. John F. Kennedy worked briefly as a journalist in 1945 after leaving the U.S. Navy. An assignment to cover the British elections of that year took him to London, and on a visit to Ireland at this time he reputedly drank in Mulligan’s.
2. The Palace Bar (21 Fleet Street)
From Mulligan’s it is only a short stroll to The Palace Bar on nearby Fleet Street. The Palace, first licensed in 1848, is another traditional bar in the city centre with Victorian style furnishings. The pub’s heyday was the 1940s and 1950s when the Palace was the haunt of poets such as Patrick Kavanagh and Austin Clarke, along with Behan and Flann O’Brien.
Keeping to the journalistic theme, this bar was the regular of Robert Smyllie, then the editor of the Irish Times, who, it is said, practically produced the newspaper from his spot in this pub. The furnishings, fortunately, haven’t changed. The Palace Bar is well worth visiting for the back room alone, wonderfully lit by a stained-glass skylight.
3. Toner’s (139 Lower Baggot Street)
Toner’s pub was first licensed in 1818. Located near St. Stephen’s Green, Toner’s is named after James Toner who developed the premises as a grocers and wine merchants in the 1920s. It still retains a flagged floor, old storage drawers and original pump handles to pull the pints.
Toner’s however goes down in literary history for reputedly being the only pub that the poet W.B. Yeats ever set foot in. His friend, the author Oliver St. John Gogarty, brought him to Toner’s. Yeats, it is said, sipped his sherry and declared, “I have seen a pub now. Will you kindly take me home?” The visitor to Toner’s can be assured that this will not be their reaction on entering this comfortable, friendly and unspoilt bar.
4. Davy Byrne’s (21 Duke Street)
Unlike Toner’s, Davy Byrne’s pub, just off Dawson Street in the city centre, has been quite modernised. Despite the refurbishments, Davy Byrne’s remains immortalised as the pub in which Leopold Bloom ate his lunch in Joyce’s Ulysses. The bar meets with Bloom’s quiet approval, “Nice quiet bar. Nice piece of wood in that counter. Nicely planed.”
More ambiguously, it is also referred to in Ulysses as a “Moral pub.” In keeping with the origins of its literary fame – that famous lunch of gorgonzola cheese and burgundy wine – Davy Byrne’s is a pub that places a good deal of emphasis on culinary trade. Firmly on the tourist trail due to the Joycean connections, Davy Byrne’s is always fairly busy.
5. Last call
The pubs listed above give only a flavour of the many hostelries in Dublin worth a visit by the literary-minded. In Ulysses, Leopold Bloom thinks, “Good puzzle would be cross Dublin without passing a pub” and a fair proportion of these establishments have literary connections. This is to say nothing of the propensity of many Dublin writers, in the 1940s and 1950s especially, to spend a lot of time in a lot of pubs.
On this note McDaid’s, on Harry Street, must be mentioned. This local of Brendan Behan’s was, at one stage in its history, the city morgue before becoming a church, then a pub. To end on a civil, if not entirely sober, note a visit could be made to The Horseshoe Bar in the Shelbourne Hotel. Elizabeth Bowen had afternoon tea here and George Moore immortalised it in his novel A Drama in Muslin.