The bartender at one of Dublin's chicest bars weighs in.
It’s not hard to get a drink in Dublin. Head to the bustling Temple Bar district and you’ll find packs of rowdy tourists in the midst of a pub crawl. On Grafton Street, Dublin’s shopping district, you won’t have to walk far to find a lively pub flowing with Guinness. Not all pubs and bars are created equal, though. If all you need is a pint, any old place will do. There is an argument to be made for spontaneity, of course—Dublin is the only city I’ve been to (besides New York) where you can walk into the first bar you find without any plan other than to buy a drink and still have an unforgettable night. Still, there are a few spots you must visit to understand the city’s pull—its innate warmth and egalitarian atmosphere. Dublin is such an enchanting place that you should give in to its spell; when you finally emerge from the city’s embrace, you’ll never be the same. As one of the many friends I made over a pint informed me, “Everyone who comes here ends up more Irish than the Irish themselves.”
Stephen Tighe is the newly minted bar manager at Lemeul’s, at the Conrad Dublin hotel. Tighe has been working behind bars since he was a teenager. He has a near encyclopedic knowledge of all things cocktail related, but I also once overheard him remark that he can always “find a home” for a stray Guinness. Here are his recommendations for where to drink in Dublin the next time you visit (supplemented by a few of my favorites, as well).
“I really love bars that strip themselves back to the bare bones of hospitality and deliver what the customer wants the way they want it, in warm and inviting surroundings,” he tells me.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention Lemuel's. The newly renovated bar effortlessly walks the tightrope between cozy and classy—its low ceiling gives the space a homey feeling and you'll have to be careful you don't loose yourself in the plush lavender and sage green leather chairs. At the same time, the cocktail menu, which is Gulliver’s Travels-themed, lends Lemeul’s an air of sophistication.
Tighe is currently in the midst of revamping the bar’s menu for March, though he promises it will retain its literary sensibility. The hotel neighbors the Iveagh Gardens, where the staff picks fresh elderflower, blackberries, and thyme which are infused into the bar’s supply of syrups, cordials and bitters.
“Fresh, local and sustainable is really becoming important to Irish bartenders,” Tighe says. “I can certainly see other bars getting on board with wild and locally foraged ingredients.”
Hand-crafted cocktails and elegant decor aside, Lemeul’s has an informal, friendly energy that makes you feel immediately at home. This is not the place you should grab a pre-dinner cocktail with your date—it’s the place where you’ll want the night to end.
Tighe's favorite traditional Irish pub in the city is O’Connell’s, on Richmond Street.
"This has been my watering hole of choice to meet with friends for many years now. I keep going back because of the never changing staff all of whom are family spread across many generations," he explains. "[They] always know what you want and anticipate what you might like to try. It also has a wonderful selection of whiskeys from all over the world at rock-bottom prices."
Here’s how I know Brogan’s, on Dame Street, would fulfill my desire to find the equivalent of a New York City dive bar in Dublin: The local who recommended it to me described it as an “old man bar.” (The bartender served the regulars before my companion and me.) In between orders, he propped the back door open and smoked cigarettes in the alleyway behind the bar. As soon as the rugby match against France started, the whole place filled up with impassioned locals. If you like your bars a little rough around the edges, this place is for you.
At the split-level Palace Bar in the Temple Bar district, you’ll find a much livelier crowd. The lower level offers a more traditional pub atmosphere, but if you take the stairs to the upper level, you’ll find a quieter living room-like space, complete with floor to ceiling book cases and worn carpets. There are only a few tables and a small bar in the corner offers a limited selection of beers, but it is imbued with Dublin’s signature charm and friendliness—the perfect place to spend an evening with your close friends over beers and intimate conversation. The Palace is also unique in the fact that it distilled its own whiskey called the Palace Bar 12. Good luck getting a taste—there are only seven bottles left in the world.