Saturday, February 27, 2010

Uncool pubs and off-nights

It's become clear that I really like pubs that aren't cool. The cool ones are busy, and this suggests that lots of people like to go to them, and get packed in like sardines. But that's just not my scene - I need more personal space than your average Dublin venue offers (and this includes sidewalks, shopping centres, pedestrian walkways, and queues, where people stand really close behind you, even if they have several feet of space available behind them).

So, I've been steadily cultivating a list of uncool pubs. Of course, they are cool by virtue of being uncool, but it's all about taste.

For quiet drinks in a cosey old-school atmosphere, there is the Library Bar in the Central Hotel on Exchequer St. It looks like it sounds - bookshelves, old worn-velvet arm chairs, open (gas) fireplaces, and a little bar tucked in the corner. I've seen people reading here on a Saturday night, or opening presents at a little party of six, and generally just chatting. The sandwiches are great, and the academic in me feels at home. The lights are a bit bright, but there is no music, and this means that voices aren't competing for aural space. It's all about the space. Incidentally, the Central just opened a 'gastropub' next door recently, called Gastropub. The food is good, but it's a sardine kind of place.

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Library Bar, Central Hotel, Exchequer St.

A similar venue is the Lord Edward Pub, near Christchurch, above a fish and chip shop. Again, lots of red velvet benches and little wood tables, slightly bright lights. I had one of the oddest conversations I've experienced in Dublin with the bartender that night. My companion and I had picked up some fish and chips from the takeaway below, and brought them up to the pub to see if they were ok with us eating them there (while sipping a pint of course). The bartender quite firmly (but kindly) said he was very sorry, and wished that he could say yes, but he just could not. I asked whether it was because they also served food (we were unaware of this), and he said "Oh no, that's not it at all. It's just that, if you take your dinner over there (pointing to a far corner), and start eating it, sure enough the head on this pint of Guinness will just disappear. It's the oil they use - takes the head clear off the Guinness." Naturally, we were kinda confused. I thought he meant that the oil would travel through the air and attack the poor defenseless Guinness, and my friend thought that he meant the oil from our mouths would remain on the glasses, and affect the next user. We talked to him for quite a bit, practically falling into hysterics, and really, I'm not sure we ever figured out what he really meant. The oddity of that conversation endeared the place to me for good, I think.

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The Lord Edward Pub, Christchurch

The other uncool thing to do is go to an otherwise cool pub on an off night. I find Mondays-Wednesday are good for this, and my favourite place to go is the Front Lounge. It does happen to be right around the corner from my apartment, and it's a queer friendly pub, but at weekends, it's terribly packed. On a Monday night, it's the perfect place to sit with a pint and your laptop and write on your blog about sitting with a pint and your laptop in Dublin...

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The Front Lounge, Parliament St.

In terms of fun factor, however, uncool pubs can also really give it up. Take last night, which had to be just about the most fun I've had in ages. After yoga, I joined a few people at the Mercantile on Dame Street to hear this wacky band called The Sick and Indigent Song Club. (Yes, I did say that I went to a pub after yoga - this was a shocking thing to me the first time I did it, because post-yoga usually screams 'green goddess smoothie' to me more than 'pint,' but I got over this ridiculous Canadian confusion shortly thereafter). The band is great - the lead singer is Scottish, and she plays the banjo, wearing a flower in her hair, and looking very proper, but her expression is fantastically ironic, so you know she is much cheekier than she appears. Their sound is really hard to describe - lots of instruments, and a mix between gypsy, celtic, and chanson. They remind me, in mood, of Les Singes Bleues, who used to play at The Press Club on Dundas West in Toronto, before one of the band members moved back to France and killed our favourite weekly gig. So we were dancing around a bit to the band, but they are too fun to watch, so the real cutting loose didn't happen until the band retired and the DJ pulled out the chart tunes. We tore it up! And this was only possible because...the pub didn't have many people in it, so we could spread out over the dance floor, jump off the stage, and swing around the railings. You know, regular dancing-to-pop in your 30s kind of behaviour.

Love the uncool pubs of the Dubs.

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