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New Dublin pubs: A ‘staunchly Irish’ cocktail bar, a modern local and a beer fan’s paradise

Upstarts in the capital have a focus on poitín, vibe, acoustics, electronic music and the Irish language

Dublin city is hardly short of pubs. But it is short on licences. This context – where the barrier to entry is high – means the bar scene in Dublin does not experience the same waves as other capitals. There’s often a sense of playing things safe in a city with internationally lauded traditional pubs. Dublin has some of the best pubs in the world but also gimmicks, tourist-focused concepts and copycat generic offerings. So when new places do crop up, how can their integrity be judged? It’s a question of authenticity, community, quality, consistency and atmosphere. Across the city, a new generation is exploring what that looks like.

To tell the story of the emerging new wave of neighbourhood bars with heart and ambition, we’re highlighting an award-winning cocktail bar, a village pub with a passion for culture, a creative collaboration birthing a new bar in an old space, and a beer-drinker’s dream spot. These bars are 1661 on Green Street off Capel Street, Hynes’s on Prussia Street in Stoneybatter, Fidelity on Queen Street in Smithfield, and the upcoming Love Tempo on Thomas Street.

“I’m going to crack this right on cue,” says Dave Mulligan, the man behind 1661, opening a can of his premixed cocktail brand, Little & Green. 1661 is being hailed as the best cocktail bar in the city. Its standard in terms of invention, consistency and service would be lauded anywhere with a legitimate cocktail culture. Mulligan is passionate about one particular spirit. “I’m a poitín guy,” he says at 1661′s next-door premises, the headquarters of Craft Cocktails, his bottled cocktail brand that offered many a pandemic-era salve. 1661 itself is packed on a drizzly afternoon. Its tagline: “Staunchly Irish and fiercely independent.”

“I’ve been in [hospitality] since I was washing pots when I was 13. I’ve done everything: front of house, back of house, events. I had a bar in London called Shebeen. That was where I got into poitín. We had that for three years, then I started my poitín brand, Bán.”

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Outside Ireland, there was international enthusiasm for Bán in high-end cocktail bars, particularly in London. “But I couldn’t give it away over here,” he says. “Nobody was getting behind it. But poitín is our national spirit. It’s rock’n’roll. It has such an awesome history. Whiskey came out of poitín. But it’s just been brushed away, this massive part of Irish culture.” To spearhead its revival, Mulligan felt he had to do “something big” in Dublin.

1661 began as a pop-up bar in the basement of what was Berlin bar on Dame Street. It was a good idea, and also the only viable concept test Mulligan could embark upon. “In London I have mates who open a bar on 25-grand,” he says, “But in Dublin, all the start-up costs are a big barrier.”

“It was so single-minded,” he says of the poitín focus. “Gin was booming – the English national spirit – but you couldn’t give the Irish national spirit away, classic ... But people loved it. We were packed.” With that success, Mulligan decided to move back to Dublin. He found 1661′s space, a former early house, within about 10 months.

Along with its focus on poitín, inventive ingredients and niche spirits, the uniqueness of 1661 is also related to how it shirks a more generic offering. “I didn’t sign any brand deals,” says Mulligan. Brand deals are what bars are paid to stock alcohol brands. This is highly concentrated around two multibillion conglomerates for whom Ireland holds a very specific significance, a relationship Mulligan thinks “people don’t realise ... Diageo’s number-one earner is Guinness. Pernod’s is Jameson, globally ... [Ireland] is their flagship, it’s their home, it has to be in every bar. We make their two top earners.” Sidestepping this marks 1661 out. The bar’s “house drink” is the Belfast Coffee, made from Bán Poitín, cold brew coffee and demerara syrup with double cream and nutmeg.

Earlier this year 1661 set up a pop-up at The Dead Rabbit, a renowned Irish-owned cocktail bar in New York, a remarkable endorsement of the quality of 1661′s offering, considering that Manhattan bar’s reputation. Back in Dublin, Mulligan is brimming with enthusiasm, not only for what the bar has achieved, but also the trajectory he sees for poitín. “1661 is for everybody,” he says, “We’re trying to change people’s perceptions of poitín. It’s a familiar space, but I feel people are surprised by the service, how into it all our staff are. The staff stay in the business a long time, and I think they really love it; no brand deals, no corporate interruption, the agenda is clear: make poitín relevant, get people drinking it.”

On Thomas Street in Dublin 8, Love Tempo is taking shape. The collaboration between Cormac Cashman and Lisa Connell, the team behind club night Mother, and Dave Parle and Stephen Manning, who set up The Big Romance and Fidelity bars, happened slowly, then quickly. Cashman was on the lookout for a bar, so when The Clock on Thomas Street came up, a new partnership was born.

The unifying factors between both teams, says Cashman, are “music, and both of our crowds are sound”. Connell says they all share “the desire to create things for the city”. Their ambition, says Cashman, is to offer “a really gorgeous, fun bar, where you can go for a date, go for a dance, go before you go the club. Good music, good drinks, a fun neighbourhood bar that’s a vibe.”

The bar is hoping to open this month. “Our tagline is ‘Love and time is all we have’,” says Connell, who believes the bar should offer quality and a sense of community. “It’s a pretty intense world. Everyone is getting on as best they can. Your time is finite, your time to be with your friends, out in your city. So we really want to value that when they do come in the door. They’re going to have a really nice time. It’s going to sound good, feel good. There’s nothing worse than feeling cheated by a night out.” Acoustic quality is paramount. “Bad sound can drive you out of a place,” says Connell. They’ve recruited the west Cork-based craftsman Toby Hatchett for the sound system.

Parle says a mistake people make in opening bars is a lack of focus on the obvious. “You have to be consistent. You have to get the basics right: good-quality drinks, comfortable seating ... If you focus on the fundamentals, you can layer on the fun stuff ... The staff side of things is really important; that creates an atmosphere when people walk in.”

Across the river on Queen Street in Smithfield, Parle walks around Fidelity, a beautiful bar that, when it opened less than a year ago, instantly became one of the best in the city. Parle and Manning’s first bar was The Big Romance on Parnell Street, another gem. For Fidelity, they teamed up with the Irish craft beer brewers Whiplash.

Fidelity is a beer lover’s paradise. When the beloved Dice Bar closed, many worried about its replacement. Fidelity has more than held its own. Key to its ambience is the bar’s acoustics. “Every bit of the space, except for the windows, is acoustically treated,” says Parle. The wood panelling is beautiful, but there are hidden elements that also create an atmosphere, and again, Hatchett was drafted in to achieve this. The walls and ceiling are treated with acoustic foam. “We wanted to create a space where you get the clarity of sound with the speakers, where you really enjoy music if you want to tune your ears to what’s playing, or, if you’re deep in a conversation, you don’t have to shout or override what’s playing in your ears. We paid a lot of attention to it throughout the build.”

Another aspect is the bar’s astonishing tap system. It looks beautiful, but there’s also a lot more going on beyond the visible design. “We can control the temperature of each line individually,” says Parle. “We can serve a lager as cold as we like. We can have a cocktail on draft and have it pouring through at a certain degree, or pour a red wine coming through at 18 degrees. Each individual temperature can be manually set, and each beer poured at optimal temperature; imperial stout at 12 degrees, or nitro stout at four or five degrees. We’re really proud of the system.” Fidelity is hoping to expand, with a new cultural element planned for the space, which would be another welcome addition to the neighbourhood.

At the start we were doing an Irish-speaking night, with a euro off your pint [when you order in Irish], and I just thought, Let’s do it seven days a week

—  Natasha O’Flaherty of Hynes'

Smithfield and Stoneybatter are spoiled for choice, with excellent and eclectic pubs such as The Cobblestone, Frank Ryan’s, Walsh’s, The Glimmerman, and more. A stroll from Fidelity to Prussia Street in Stoneybatter brings you to Hynes’, run by Natasha O’Flaherty and Jakub Galka, along with manager Sean Stephenson.

O’Flaherty, from Connemara, has worked in hospitality since she was 14, and had a job in Grogan’s before the pandemic. “Everyone thinks there must be a pub in the family, but there isn’t.” Her boyfriend, Galka, who is originally from Poland but grew up in Arklow, Co Wicklow, and studied mechanical engineering, had never pulled a pint before they opened the pub together, when the offer to run the place cropped up during the pandemic. Since then, even in a crowded field in Stoneybatter, it has offered something new: electronic dance music parties in the beer garden, a focus on the Irish language throughout the pub, a dog-friendly policy, traditional musician residencies, Guinness 0.0 on draft, cocktails and a homely atmosphere. This eclecticism has led to the bar being nicknamed Hotel Hynesifornia by some regulars, given how difficult the friendly atmosphere is to leave once you enter.

“We love music,” says O’Flaherty. “I love techno, house, but also I’m an Irish speaker and I come from a family of traditional musicians and sean-nós dancers. So we do trad nights, and we have DJs in. The language is my side.” Galka interrupts, “My Duolingo streak is going well!”

They are reverential about the quality of pubs in the village. “It’s hard to step into Stoneybatter with all the great pubs around here,” says Galka. “We’re the little kids up the block!” says O’Flaherty. “We’re very lucky with our customers ... It’s very Zen. Lovely people, easy-going. We have older regulars, and a lot of people in their 40s, 30s, 20s. We have a perfect mix, and it’s just what I wanted opening a pub; a mix of all ages, all kinds of different people.”

This mix is working. Hynes’ has a customer base that straddles older locals sipping pints at the bar, the neighbourhood’s large LGBTQ+ population, traditional music fans and artists. A unifying force is the Irish language. “At the start we were doing an Irish-speaking night, with a euro off your pint [when you order in Irish], and I just thought, Let’s do it seven days a week,” says O’Flaherty. “I’d say 30-40 per cent of the customers coming in are Irish speakers. I’m not just talking Irish people, we’re getting different nationalities coming in speaking Irish. And then people who don’t speak, who learn. One week you might explain a bit to someone, and the next week they’re in saying, ‘Ba mhaith liom pionta Guinness.’ People talk about the Irish language dying away. It isn’t, especially in Dublin. There are a lot of Irish speakers in Dublin.” It’s one of the cheapest pints of Guinness in the city as a result: €4.90 when you order as Gaeilge.

When a customer compared the atmosphere at one event to the old Bernard Shaw on South Richmond Street, “My heart kind of skipped a beat,” says O’Flaherty. “That was an iconic pub, the Bernard Shaw on the southside, it really was. I’ve heard it a few times since then. It’s such a nice thing to hear.”

What can customers expect when they check in? O’Flaherty considers the question, “A mad Connemara woman behind the bar?” “Just good vibes,” says Galka, smiling.