Admittedly, we chose a strange time to visit Dublin. First in after covid restrictions lifted, so the crowds were less, but the city had not adjusted back to the usual party pub Dublin. The first half of our stay, there was no indoor dining or drinking. The city had adapted to outdoor seating and most places had plenty. Some streets had been converted into pedestrian-only and large groups gathered outside of popular clubs to socialize. But most of the menus had been reduced, you could scarcely find a bowl of stew. And all of the best whiskey bars had been temporarily closed. A bit disappointing and it took a couple days to adjust our expectations of what we were going to experience. But after we did, we had a fabulous time.
There was delicious Dublin style Guinness aplenty so that was accomplished, and honestly that’s half the battle.
After several days the ban on indoor seating was lifted for vaccinated people so we started to be able to experience all of the amazing old pub atmosphere. But most places that had fully closed remained closed, including my top list of whiskey bars. Luckily in my last couple of days I discovered a real whiskey geek gem and packed in as much whiskey education as I could.
Also interesting was the large Asian population influencing the city. It was common to find Asian groceries and some of our favorite meals were Ramen or Pho. That mixed with the grey skies really gave us a homey Seattle feel.
Walking around town.
Honestly, Dublin wasn’t really that great of a tourist town. At least that is my current impression. The major sites were fairly average. The Dublin Castle was primarily a drab state building. The grey stone churches, not that interesting to me. The parks, though practical and a great respite from the narrow urbanity, not much to write home about.
To me, the best part about Dublin was the pub scene, the people, and the several narrow-laned sections of old town thick with ancient bars and restaurants. There are many buildings with great character and there’s a grey-sky rugged charm about the place that I really liked. But if I only had one day to visit Dublin, I’d start at a pub and end at a pub and in between take an amble through the city center to see the architecture and get the feel. But don’t waste too much of your time on the top ten tourist spots. That definitely wasn’t my favorite part.
Everyone said that the Temple Bar district was a shitty tourist area not worth visiting, and for certain the area between the Liffey and Dame Street especially between the Millennium and Ha’Penny pedestrian bridges was a shit show of drunk tourists and hen/stag parties and glassy-eyed teenagers on the edge of spilling their fish and chips, but below Dame Street and in the areas around Grafton Street I discovered a tangle of cool lanes and pedestrian areas with real gems to visit. Lots of old pubs and the vibe is both old world and hip. Probably one of my favorite areas in Dublin for walking around and drinking.
Pubs and pints.
Dublin pubs are second to none. Cozy dark wood and brass watering holes straight out of the pubs of your dreams with small “snugs” set off in every direction so you always feel tucked away and not too on display. Well known spots bright and glistening on the outside, typically older than my entire country, with names like The Hairy Lemon or The Gravedigger. These kinds of old world pubs are depressingly lacking in the states and though mimicked the world over (you can find an Irish knock-off pub in every major city in the world) nothing can hold a candle to the real pubs of Dublin.
I came into town with a list of the best pubs for beer, for whiskey, for food, but quickly realized this was not a normal time. Lots of disappointing closed signs after walking cross-town to find a specific place. But with an open mind, we started to find other places we liked and some real gems that I wish I had known about sooner.
We stayed north of the Liffey on Capel Street which had become a default party zone. On the weekends it was pedestrian only and was lined with affordable food and pubs. Near the Grattan Bridge you’ll find Pantibar, the primary gay bar in the area, and at night the streets would be filled with my type of folks getting merry. We spent the most time along this area. Also a bit north you’ll find bar 1661, my favorite whiskey bar in Dublin.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know much about Irish Whiskey. The kinds most available in the US are of the common pot still variety like Teeling, Tullamore Dew, and Redbreast. Or the more common blended exports like Bushmills and Jameson. And for sure those are delicious. But with generally a similar character. Sweet, smooth, straight-forward. But what I didn’t realize is the enormous varieties that are not well exported, in particular the single malt and single grain releases, and even a few smoky and peaty ones, with a complexity and broad flavor profiles to rival the neighboring Scotch whiskies that I’m more familiar with.
My first two choices for tasting were the Dingle Whiskey Bar and the upstairs room at the Palace called the Palace Whiskey Temple, both fully closed. But I happened upon this amazing pub called 1661 that specialized in a pre-ban liquor called poitín /po-CHEEN/ which is basically Irish moonshine or “mountain dew”, which can be made from cereals, grain, whey, sugar beet, molasses and potatoes. The taste varies by variety but it generally tastes like a mix between a white rum agricole and a potato vodka. they had 36 varieties and I tried a flight, but their whiskey selection was the best I had seen and clearly curated by a whiskey nerd with all the yummy rarities I had been looking for. My server was also a whiskey savant with endless knowledge of every whiskey, where the spirits were produced, and every facet of its production. Not to mention an impeccable taste in whiskey.
Perhaps I’ll do a separate post of the nuance of Irish whiskey but that would be too long for here. For now I’ll just mention the varieties I tried in Dublin below.
Even though I asked for 4 of the bartender’s favorite cask strength whiskies, the server (a clueless one, not the savant) flubbed my order and I got this “affordable” flight. Which means mostly kinda shitty. The Roe & Co was pretty bad and the Black Corbie was forgettable. The Irishman was fine. The Exclusive Malts was the best of the bunch but I’d say average at best. I was pretty disappointed.
The Knappogue Castle 12 Burgundy finish was the stand out of this bunch, more complex and fruity than the standard release. The Glendalough was pretty good as well. The Dunville Peated is only one of two peated Irish whiskies that I know of but the Connemara Peated Single Malt was far superior with a hammer of earthy peat and smoke if you’re looking to try one.
After my first disappointing flight I asked the same clueless server for another flight that was best of the bar. When the bartender brought 4 more shitty average whiskies I sent them back and explained what I had ordered and he was excited to pour me three new ones. Unfortunately they were full pours instead of half pours so it was spendy but I can’t say I could complain about drinking them. They were all mind-blowing in their own way. The standout was the Dunville’s single cask #1717 and after earning a bit of respect from the staff we all agreed that this was the best of the bunch.
Notes: Dunvilles cask #1717 20 year oloroso and PX finish 54.8% – Rich, complex, deep red fruit, cherry, wood, PX notes, light balanced spice, nutty sherry, almost leather. Very good.
Notes: Liquid Art Beacon Spirits 25 year single malt 48.1% – Light start but complex, smooth, honey starts, undertone of fruit, apricot?, smooth undertone of leather, suede? =), long almost peaches and cream finish.
Notes: Limerick Selection single malt (slaney malt) 23 years old 48.3% – sweet tobacco and leather, this interesting note of mango skin that lingers, cocoa and spice, sweet and dry at the same time, corn sweetness like a bourbon, fascinating. An oak, tree sap note (like eagle rare) appears a bit in.
After establishing that I was into more interesting whiskey, the knowledgeable server introduced me to a series of singe cask Scotch releases curated by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society that seeks out single casks from various producers and bottles them based on taste instead of type. If I get the chance to return I’ll definitely do a flight of these!
Trinity College was an exception to my advisory against tourist spots. There wasn’t much to the “tour” but it was worthwhile to see the original Book of Kells on display there. And then into the definition of a magical library, the Long Room, that inspired the Jedi Archives (it was a direct rip-off), built in 1702.
Day trip to Howth.
About 50 minutes east of Dublin jutting out into the sea is the quaint fishing village of Howth. It’s easy to get to and pretty laid back with a variety of decent seafood joints and traditional food. There’s a cute harbor with a light house. And roads curving up the hillsides painted in bright colors. A nice casual afternoon if you’re into that sort of thing.