A Dublin pub crawl: 'We are currently recruiting customers'
THE NOTICE IN the window of The Last Water Holeon King Street North, Dublin could be a mantra for every struggling pub across the land. “We are currently recruiting customers,” it reads. Once inside this delightfully grungy bar, there are other signs of a pub desperate to drag in the punters: free nibbles – forlorn wooden dishes of peanuts and dried banana slices – grace th0e tables of a pub that at 9pm on a Friday night is playing host to a grand total of five customers.
A gig later in the evening is expected to draw a crowd but, for the moment, the bar’s customers include a woman with a dog at her feet and two Lithuanians who come here for the Svyturys beer. On busier evenings the clientele is bolstered by students from nearby Bolton Street along with regulars at the bar’s comedy and music nights.
Sitting at a table is John Geraghty, the creator of the new website publin.ie, which lists the best pub deals on alcohol in more than 200 Dublin pubs. 0“It’s basically a site that tells you where the cheap drinks are. I’ve spent the past year doing the legwork finding out about special deals, which most of the pubs now do,” he says.
Geraghty was a pub-crawl guide for a couple of years and tonight he is taking The Irish Timeson a brief tour of Dublin bars.
Dublin Does Fridays is the slogan of the initiative currently being run by the Licensed Vintners Association to attract the after-work crowd back into the capital’s hostelries. Geraghty thinks they’d be better off spending the campaign money on subsidising pubs on Friday nights so that prices could be temporarily lowered.
“From talking to people and from my own experience the price of drink is crucial. Pre-drinking, where people drink cheap supermarket-bought alcohol at home for hours before going out, has become huge,” he says. Robbie, the manager of tThe Last Water Hole, joins the conversation, confirming that things are difficult in the trade. “You do whatever you can to get the customers in the door,” he says.
We move down the road to one of the newest pubs to open in the city, The Black SheepInn on Capel Street. This is the sister pub of Against The Grain on Wexford Street, a place where craft beers reign supreme. There are net curtains on the windows, horsey pictures in gilt frames on the walls and no TV. The pub doesn’t serve Guinness or Budweiser but a range of beers with names such as Trouble Brewing, Metalman and Galway Hooker. You can get food here with gastropub touches.
It’s busy tonight and the conversation is loud, apart from two men with heads bent over a game of chess. A young woman called Holly is ordering a drink. She says she actively seeks out venues like this that are catering to a crowd that want more from their pub than a pint of the obvious and a packet of crisps.
Across the river, despite the band playing Galway Girl, the atmosphere in Farrington’s in Temple Bar at around 10pm is more lowkey and the bar man confirms it’s quieter than usual. It’s mostly tourists but in one corner a man with a plastic bag of beer bottles stands surreptitiously opening them with his teeth.
Three 20-something women from Tallaght are sitting at a table “trying something different”. It’s the first night in a long time they haven’t been “pre-drinking” at home before heading into town for a club where they buy one or, at a push, two drinks.
“It’s very unusual for us to be out in a pub this early,” says one. “We probably drink more at home and are a bit more sensible coming out like this. We’ve realised that even though the drinks are cheaper from the supermarket we probably spend the same money as we would on a proper night out because at home we drink far more.”
Next stop is O’Reilly’s Sub Loungeon Tara Street, which Geraghty has chosen because, with pints at €3.30, it’s the cheapest place for drink in Dublin. It’s 11pm but the afterwork crowd haven’t gone home yet.
When we sit down we talk to a student from the National College of Ireland who just got his exam results and has been out drinking since 1pm. “You definitely come out looking for the cheapest drinks or you drink at home. My sister brings her friends over before they go out to nightclubs and you can’t see the table for the bottles of vodka and cartons of cranberry juice,” he says.
Incredibly we get a seat in the snug in Kehoe’soff Grafton Street, where two female friends from the midlands get chatting to a group of tourists from Finland. The place is buzzing.
The barman here says they are in a better position than most Dublin pubs.
“We are a brand. People want to come here because of the name. We are involved in the Dublin Does Fridays campaign, giving out free food in the after-work hours, but to be honest we don’t need to do things like that to attract people,” he says.
Our final destination is McGrattan’s Café Baroff Baggot Street. It’s around midnight but some of the after-work crowd are still here, playing pool in their suits alongside students engaged in a barmat flicking contest. A DJ plays 1980s tunes and there is an afterwork party in full swing. This bar offers something for everyone and crucially has a late licence.
“I think what we’re kind of seeing is that people are becoming more choosy in where they drink and aren’t just turning up to any pub any more,” says Geraghty, assessing the night. “They’re going to places for craft beers, for cheap prices and for pubs with a reputation. If a pub has one or more of those things I think they’ll do well. If they don’t, they are probably going to struggle.”