Barfly: The Harbour Bar, Bray, Co Wicklow

A fantastic hodgepodge of experience: scruffy, wild and elegant

I counted 58 swans in the harbour in Bray. It's a remarkable sight and from the Dart out of Dublin it's the first signal that you're in another place entirely. The Harbour Bar is the next one. It's not surprising that Lonely Planet once voted this the best bar in the world. It possibly has everything a tourist could imagine they require, but remains solidly local just the same.

The snug, the live lounge, the bar, the upstairs rooms, the big, open beer garden in front: there really is somewhere for everyone, but it doesn’t have the off-kilter feel of a superpub. It’s simply the result of evolution and natural growth and, it seems, giving people what they want. Locals talk about it with that familiar confidence that comes with knowing they’ve made the right choice. They’re comfortable here and know you will be too.

There’s a band doing a soundcheck in the live lounge and fans are already gathering to watch them in action. A group of women is celebrating in the yard under the stripped awning, with heaters all around. Two old men are smoking and laughing beside them while the conservatory, with its sofas and wing-backed chairs, is a huddle of after-work chat. It’s early, but the main bar is already full of locals while the snug is still quiet, with the day’s newspapers spread out on the table for reading.

It’s a hub of the community. Tin-whistle classes, music sessions, film screenings. It’s dog- friendly, family-friendly, gay- friendly. Flowers overflow from window boxes. A moose head watches the stage, the fire waits to be lit. There are candles and patterned carpets and angels and atmosphere and life. It’s a fantastic hodgepodge of experience. Scruffy, wild and elegant all at once. A true destination pub.