How to Have a Grown-Up St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin
A guide to city’s proper drinking spots.
St Patrick’s Day is Ireland’s chance to showcase its drinking prowess to the world. But rather than focusing on quantity - sloshing cheap green beer until you can’t remember why you came to Dublin in the first place – better to focus on quality, perhaps a snifter or two of Irish whiskey or uisce beatha (Gaelic for ‘water of life’) It's lagged behind Scottish rivals for some time, thanks both to the marketing might of the Highland single malts and the closure of many historic distilleries in Eire. That changed when Teeling opened a new still two years ago, the first new operation here in 125 years. Teeling’s new digs are located in the Liberties, historically the site of Dublin’s booze industry; soon it will be joined by three other fresh whiskey-makers - Pearse Lyon (opening summer 2017), George Roe & Co (scheduled for 2019) and the Dublin Whiskey Company (late 2017 or early 2018)
To help navigate Dublin’s drinking scene and seek out the best places to sample some water of life, we turned to three experts. Tim Herlihy, who was born just outside Dublin and is now brand ambassador for Tullamore Dew; erstwhile Dublin bartender Kevin Hurley who now promote Teeling worldwide, and Sean Muldoon, co-owner of Irish cocktail bar Dead Rabbit in NYC, which is consistently named the best bar in the world.
Here are their eight, must-drink spots.
The Palace Bar
Built in 1823, the Palace is the grande dame of drinking dens in Dublin. It’s embedded in historic events from the uprising of 1916, which was reportedly planned here, to Mary Robinson’s successful campaign to be the first female Taoiseach, or president, of Ireland which she began at its tiny snug bar. But Sean Muldoon recommends heading straight through this main room and upstairs to the so-called Whiskey Palace. “These were former living quarters that were converted into a bar in the 1970s, and there are many, many collectible bottles of Irish whiskey locked behind glass doors.” Look for the most famous bottle, marked DWD, or Dublin Whisky Distilling; it’s one of only two known from this pioneering, defunct distillery. That’s solely for show, of course – if you want to sample, however, pick from more than 100 varieties offered by the glass, including the bar’s very own in-house label.
21 Fleet Street; thepalacebardublin.com
The Stag’s Head
In the frenzy of the city center, pause to look for a mosaic image of a stag’s head embedded in the footpath of Dame Street – it’s the signal to slalom into the quiet side street anchored by this historic boozer, named after the taxidermy mounted behind the bar. The three-story, wood-paneled pub has been a cherished local landmark for more than 130 years. “While it’s near the tourist end of Dublin, it’s a local haunt – on a sunny day you can sit on a stool outside and watch the world pass by,” raves Tim Herlihy, “It’s the kind of place you still have to earn your right to find – you’re not going to stumble across it. “ Come for live music like a ukulele jam session every Tuesday night, and of course, its impressive roster of whiskeys, according to Dead Rabbit’s Muldoon. “The bar offers over 70 types of Irish whiskey, including Powers Gold Label served straight from the barrel.”
1 Dame Court; louisfitzgerald.com/stagshead
Fallon’s Capstan Bar
Kevin Hurley draws simple parallels between his distillery’s new home and other emerging neighborhoods. “A lot of people are saying that the Liberties is poised to be the Bushwick or the Shoreditch of Dublin – it’s one of the oldest parts of Dublin, very working class area that’s now going through a huge amount of investment and regeneration.” To experience that newfound energy, he recommends a snifter at this historic pub nearby which was bought by a new landlord, Conor Linnane, two years ago. He’s preserved much of what made the 1911-built long, narrow spot so appealing, and works with Teelings to offer tastings; order a classic toastie, or toasted sandwich, from the bartender as a sustaining snack.
129 The Coombe; Fallon's Capstan Bar on Facebook
Come here, suggests Sean Muldoon, to compare Irish whiskey with the best of the rest of the world: this pub, which dates back to 1880, stocks more than 200 different bottles, ranging from local favorites to Scottish tipples, American bourbon and, of course, Japanese. “It’s very near to Trinity College, and is one of the best whiskey houses in the city, but without the crowds,” he promises, “It’s impossible not to love it.” Look for the easily missed red façade – don’t worry, though, as the interior is roomier than that small door might suggest.
31 Fleet Street; bowespub.com
The Blind Pig
The six-year old Blind Pig was the first contemporary speakeasy to surface in Dublin, just five minutes’ walk from the center of the city. Tucked into a secluded, cozy basement, it’s a craft cocktail haven helmed by one of Dublin’s most respected cocktail jockeys, Paul Lambert. Make sure to email for a reservation before chancing a trip, though, as Tullamore Dew’s Herlihy explains. Hidden behind a false wall, he warns that staff will deny knowledge if quizzed. “The restaurant won’t even admit to have The Blind Pig down there. You come to a wall, enter a pin code they’ll send you after making a booking and then, James Bond-style, the wall retracts to reveal this wonderful candlelit cocktail bar – it’s almost like you’re under a bridge. The whole chaos of Dublin and St Patrick’s Day will disappear.”
18 Suffolk Street; theblindpig.ie
The Liquor Rooms, Inside the Clarence Hotel
This maze-like space in the basement of the U2-endorsed Clarence Hotel was the first Dublin bar to earn a nomination at Tales of the Cocktail, the liquor world’s answer to the Oscars, in 2014. “It led to other bars really pushing the boundaries of the Dublin cocktail scene,” Herlihy continues, “This is a large venue, but it still has this intimacy – the first bar you come to feels like a red and white circus tent, and as you walk in, you hear the sound of ice in shakers and a bit of conversation.” Teeling’s Kevin Hurley actually used to run the bar program here then, and he recommends a holdover on the menu from his era: the Red Leg Rebellion, a whisky-powered riff on the Mai Tai, mixed with falernum and pineapple, then served over crushed ice.
6-8 Wellington Quay; theliquorrooms.com
Peruke & Periwig
A sister spot to the Liquor Rooms, this joint’s baroque name is a nod to the Georgian townhouse’s former tenant, a wig-maker. The exuberant, maximalist interior is a discofied riff on Versailles and the drinks are just as unconventional. “They’re doing really creative, interesting stuff with their concept menus,” says Teeling’s Hurley, “The current menu is based around different styles of music, and all the drinks are inspired by famous songs.” Try a cocktail spiked with one of the house-made shrubs, a sweetly acidic fruit cordial that gives depth to any drink – Wrecking Ball, perhaps, an update of the Harvey Wallbanger listed in the Ballads section or the Trad section’s Born to Rum. Tables are close together, so come ready to chat with a few strangers.
31 Dawson Street; peruke.ie
L Mulligan Grocer
More a gastropub than a craft cocktail joint, this Stoneybatter spot still offers a more rarefied drinking experience than some of the classic boozers closed to the city center. A trio of enthusiastic young bartenders reopened the joint seven years ago, after chancing on the site, an old pub that had been left abandoned and untouched for several years – there were even full ashtrays sitting on the wooden bar. Michael Fogarty, one of those new owners, made whisky his personal mission, whether from Ireland or overseas. “Each main course on the menu is matched with a local beer or cider, while each dessert is matched with a whiskey,” explains Sean Muldoon; try single malts with chocolate or cheese.