Goodbye Dry January, hello to the best bars in the world

Gemma Tipton finds some of the best places to wet your whistle in Ireland and around the globe


Ahh, pubs. Time was, you hitched your horse outside, walked in (presumably flashing your pistols), spat in the direction of a receptacle and gulped down a glass of whatever they were pouring. Times change. Now you can get a great deal more from your local than a pint or even a preposterously elegant cocktail. These days many bars are doing metaphorical cartwheels and handstands to entice you in, and while we’re all for a bit of no frills drinking, there’s lots here to love. Everyone’s undoubtedly got their own favourite, and we’d love to hear yours, but to celebrate the end of a dry, or otherwise, January, here are a few for starters.

In Ireland

The Close Shave
Barber’s Bar, 19 Lower Grangegorman Road, Dublin 7
Leaving aside spots such as McCarthy’s of Fethard Co Tipperary who are both bar and undertakers (tagline: “we’ll wine you, we’ll dine you and bury you”, what else might you want from your local? “I always thought if I had a bar, I’d love to have a barber’s,” says Chris Darby, who had been both cutting hair, and running bars for more than 40 years before he ignored the incredulity of his friends and opened up this place, where you can get a short back and sides along with your pint of plain. Darby also worked at music venue Whelan’s, so he has great contacts to add to the mix. “Barbering with booze and music, it seemed the perfect idea,” he says. And he’s being proved right: it’s a great spot to hang out, and the kind of place where you end up chatting to random strangers at the bar, which makes for added fun in my book. Currently Darby, together with daughter Sarah, only cut men’s hair (make an appointment on 086 353 5774); but if you can grow a beard, they’ll trim it. Look out for Jazz Saturdays, Open Mic on Thursday, plus an Independence Day for Grangegorman (announcing its secession from Stoneybatter) on March 4th. “I’m loving every minute of it,” says Darby.

Man’s Best Friend
MVP, 29 Clanbrassil Street Upper, Dublin 8
Tucked in just under Harold’s Cross Bridge, MVP used to be a bit of a spit and sawdust spot. In fairness, the décor hasn’t changed too much: the floor has been all polished up, there are a few extra cushions and it’s got a nice laid-back vibe. It’s also got chess, a menu based on baked spuds, great cocktails, and hosts a regular Young Hearts Run Free residency upstairs in aid of the Simon Community ( But even great cocktails and the chance to castle someone’s bishop aren’t my main MVP attraction. On a chilly evening, after a walk along the Canal, my friend and I came in for a welcome drink with Rufo in tow. Yes, MVP is dog friendly, and all the friendlier for it. I had a martini and chatted to the barman about Miracle Berries and their effect on whiskey sours (try them from Rufo stuck to water.

Getting Above Yourself
Sophie’s, Dean Hotel, 33 Harcourt Street, Dublin 2
Dublin may be a low-rise city, but we’ve still got some great rooftop bars. There’s the Marker with their Grand Canal Dock vistas (, but they don’t reopen up top till April, so to get your bird’s eye fix head up to Sophie’s at the top of the Dean Hotel. A pair of swings greet you when the lift doors open, but the real fun is inside the glass box perched on top of the building, as you get 360 views while being sheltered from the elements. When they first opened in 2014, there were blankets and hot waterbottles for those who wanted to hang out on the terrace, but these, undoubtedly now warming many Dubliners’ beds, are offered no more. Instead warm up with all manner of cocktails, pizza and a menu of Italian-inflected food in a classy space. Watching my drink being poured with an eye-catching flourish, I overheard someone saying there once was a bank in the building. I prefer this incarnation, though interactions with either can give you a headache the next morning. Thursday through Saturday it turns into the Highline, with music till late.

Nature on Tap
The Bulman, Summercove, Kinsale, Co Cork
Spoiled for choice when it comes to bars around Ireland with atmospheric snugs, open fires and fabulous food, how do you pick? Many are justly famous; Neachtain’s in Galway is lovely all year round, and many a Dingle winter evening has been spent cozied up in Dick Mack’s, but my overall favourite? For added nature, it’s got to be The Bulman, Kinsale. The food is fabulous, you can get crab salad and oysters, lobster in season or simply fish and chips. Eat them by the fire in winter, and hope for a decent storm to bring waves sloshing against the windows; or, as the weather gets warmer sit on the harbour wall and watch one of the best sunsets in Ireland. I have gone crabbing with my goddaughter – well, she fished for the crabs, I had a glass of chilled white – and borrowed kayaks to cross the water to the little beach behind The Dock, which is, come to think of it, another very nice pub indeed.

Further Afield

Secret Spot
Bryant & Mack Private Detectives, 87-89 Rose Street North Lane, Edinburgh, Scotland
Ever since I went through the secret door in a Japanese restaurant in New York to discover Angel’s Share, a hidden cocktail bar, I’ve been a sucker for mysterious hostelries. In Los Angeles, No Vacancy at the Juniper is discovered through an anonymous looking hotel room, with a few tricks up its sleeve (and no, it’s not fair to give the surprise away).
Disguised as an old-fashioned private detective’s office, Bryant & Mack is a laid back but smart speakeasy type affair, off one of the grottier of Edinburgh’s laneways. This adds to the atmosphere once inside. The menus come in a sealed envelope marked CONDFIDENTIAL, while CASE CLOSED is stamped on the plain brown envelope containing your bill. Is that too much of a gimmick? Not if you’re prepared to get into the spirit of the thing – and speaking of spirits, they’re cocktail experts too. Channel Raymond Chandler or get all femme fatale while hatching your plots. Tel: +44 131 225 8225

Pure Gold and Smoking
Beaufort Bar, Savoy, The Strand, London
Maybe it’s not for everyday (it’s definitely not for everyday) but if the odd bit of gilt-edge decadence inspires you, then ditch the guilt and head for the Beaufort Bar at London’s iconic Savoy Hotel. The little, but definitely not quieter, sister of their famed Art Deco-style American Bar, the Beaufort, was lovingly restored and reopened in 2010 with £38,000 worth of gold leaf adorning the walls. Scraping away at it is definitely not the done thing, so feast your eyes instead on its gloriously witty cocktail menu. It comes in the form of a pop-up book, with hand drawn illustrations of the people and places that have inspired the drinks. Choose a Never Ending Story to celebrate Ernest Hemingway with rum and crème de cacao, served on top of a copy of The Old Man and the Sea, plus a smoking cinnamon stick (in place of a cigar) on a silver ashtray alongside. The Beaufort may well be decadent, but you still can’t smoke the real thing here. Go on the first Sunday of the month for their cabaret evenings, where glamorous burlesque spills everywhere from 7.30pm – for just £30. Reservations essential.

All in the Name
The Irish Times, Grote Markt 38, Antwerp, Belgium
While I’d be tempted to nominate Gemma’s at the Bowery Hotel in New York’s Lower East Side for this spot, it’s really got to be The Irish Times Pub. Owner Colin Mooney chose the name because he’s always read the newspaper, and after setting up the first one in Antwerp in 1996, two more followed in Hasselt and Charleroi. As they like to say, they were in Charleroi before Ryanair…
The Antwerp bar is in a charming pedestrianised area, just near the cathedral. Walls are papered with old copies of The Irish Times, bought at an auction in Dublin back in the 1990s, so for those old enough, there’s a few choice memories hanging around. Furniture comes from John O’Connells in Dunshaughlin Co Meath, and there are more than 20 Irish whiskeys on the list. Tables out on the terrace are great for people watching, while inside is ideal for pretending you’re still back home. They don’t stock The Irish Times, but free WiFi means you can read your fill online, which is all very well till you spill your pint and don’t have a newspaper to hand.

Lofty Heights
Salon de Ning, Peninsula Hotel, 700 5th Ave, New York
New York abounds with great bars, and competition is stiff, so the best ones really up the ante. The Salon de Ning is on the 23rd floor of the Peninsula, and has one of those roof terraces that makes you feel like you own the city. Watch taillights cast a red glow down 5th Avenue as you soak up signature cocktails, such as the appropriately named Bird’s Eye, a pepper-infused tequila muddled with raspberry and lime. Inside it’s got a 1930s Shanghai vibe, while outside is more Hampton’s resort, which can make it tricky to dress for, but once you’re up there you won’t care. Prior to being reincarnated as Salon de Ning, it was known as the Pen Top Bar. Once, thinking martinis could cure jet lag, I accidentally tipped the waiter $1,000. He returned with my bill: “I think you’ve made a mistake, Ma’am,” he said tactfully. “I assure you I haven’t,” I replied, in my best Somebody’s Mother voice, usually reserved for when I’m feeling insecure or utterly in the wrong. He was very kind about it and I’ve had a soft spot for the place ever since. From a certain angle you can see Trump tower. From another you can happily ignore it.

Decadent Health
Bar OCCO, The Dylan, Keizergracht 384, Amsterdam
It depends what you’re in the market for, but if you were persuaded to take a Dry January into February and beyond, Amsterdam could be the ideal spot to experiment. I’ve always found non-alcoholic cocktails a little thin, there’s something (obviously) missing, but at Bar OCCO, which is one of those charmingly chic canal-side spots that you can’t help wanting to investigate, they’ve taken to cooking up their very own alcohol-free gin. Their VirGin is poured over Fevertree tonic so you can keep your end up, while the boozier of your pals are tucking into their wine version of high tea, or working their way through a list of inventive cocktails in a bar that is all brick floors and vaguely modernist brass light fittings in classy Dutch style.

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