Craic is mighty, but traditional Irish pub 'has to keep up'
Food-oriented gastro-pubs, trendy themed bars and craft beer all jousting for business
The Irish Times spoke with those involved in the pub trade at the Irish Pubs Global Gathering conference in Dublin to gauge their impressions of the changing landscape and what makes the ideal Irish pub. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times
Gone are the days of the dominance of the traditional Irish pub, ornate with trinkets and tools from times past, and old men sipping a silent Guinness at the bar.
Increasingly all across Ireland, the traditional pub is said to be faltering, and taking second place to food-oriented gastro-pubs and trendy themed bars in town and city centres.
The Irish Times spoke with those involved in the trade at the Irish Pubs Global Gathering conference in Dublin today to gauge their impressions of this changing landscape and what makes the ideal Irish pub.
Kevin Martin, author of Have Ye No Homes To Go To? The History of The Irish Pub
“The Irish pub is very much an evolving product and it’s going through a huge period of change at the moment, with craft beer, with cocktail bars, with younger people drinking at home.
“I was around the country interviewing people - the amount of them that are closing down. The publican that just sits still now and does nothing is going to die out.
“My ideal Irish pub is where I can meet my friends, it doesn’t matter where it is, because the essence of an Irish pub to me is conversation, is storytelling, is fun.”
Alan Maxwell, beer ambassador, Guinness Storehouse
“A traditional Irish pub is built on the craic, being able to have the chat and conversation with your friends. That’s what it’s all about, coming down and sharing stories.
“I was born in the ’80s so I saw all the Celtic Tiger buzz and, for me, I thought that the Irish pub lost its identity during the boom times.
“But with the crash in 2008, you’ve really seen that we’ve gone back to our roots and what a traditional pub should be. You walk around the city centre now and all the pubs, they’ve got that classic wooden finishing, the old-style writing, and they’re building their snugs again.”
Barry Spellman, managing director, and Paul Sheahan, co-founder,
Barry Spellman: “The Irish pub here has changed. It has a food culture, because Irish people are travelling now further afield than they ever did before and they are into all these different cultures.
“The so-called Irish pub culture stayed stagnant. It didn’t change as quickly as people’s desires, and wanting to see and taste and experience different cultures, so it’s been forced to change.”
Paul Sheahan: “The Irish pubs are always renowned to be the place to go to have a bit of craic - that’s why the Irish pubs are so successful abroad.
“In the States, the Irish pub has definitely changed. When we moved to the States in the mid ’90s, the Irish pub was very much like the Irish pub back in Ireland. It was where all of us immigrants congregated and got together.
“Food has become part of the bar scene... even in Chicago now, they aren’t giving out any tavern licences any more.”
Dave Cattanach, general manager of the Irish Village Complex, Dubai
“People know most of the time that if you go to an Irish pub, the service will be good, the quality of food will be good, and you’ll get the craic.
“I think 80 per cent of the Irish pubs worldwide stick with what was the whole idea of putting it there in the first place - to have a little bit of Ireland in the heart.
“I think what we’ve got is dying out in Ireland, this is what I’m being told.
“It’s a shame that the whole idea of the Irish pub worldwide and its origin and source is struggling.”
Peter Nash, head of strategy development and insights, Tourism Ireland
“One of the successes of the Irish pub abroad is their ability to move with the times. There’s more of a contemporary feel to them.
“I think the better ones are recognising that the consumer wants a food-and-drink offer, and I think the better ones are also recognising that the money is in the food-and-drink offer.”
Emma Devlin, co-owner of Dublin based micro-brewery Rascals Brewing Co
“Dublin is always very different to the rest of the country, where the traditional Irish pub is maybe few and far between in and around the city centre.
“A pub with a good beer choice is number one for me - I can’t think of anything worse than walking in and seeing the usual macro beers and nothing else.
“A cosy bar, that’s what an Irish bar can always offer; a cosy setting with a nice atmosphere and you can sit happily there.”