A Dublin Literary Pub Crawl
By Richard West
“He hinted of pubs where life can drink its fill.” (Patrick Kavanagh)
I propose a change in exercise routines, from jumping to conclusions, skipping bail, and prematurely crossing bridges. Instead a literary pub crawl that combines aerobics, limbering up the intellect, and weight lifting glassware. And where else but Dublin, a city that honors writers like no other. No surprise considering the Irish capital’s A List: Goldsmith, Swift, Sterne, Wilde, Joyce, Shaw, Yeats, Beckett, Heaney, the last four Nobel literary laureates. And there’s the current hall of famers: Banville, Toibin, Doyle, Enright, O’Brien.
At the turn of the millennium, Dublin native James Joyce’s “Ulysses” was voted the greatest novel of the 20thcentury. No surprise (except to Proustians), but raising eyebrows was his “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” ranked third. Number 1 20th-century short story collection? Joyce’s “Dubliners.” All of the above, except Yeats, loved their locals.
“Good puzzle would be cross Dublin without passing a pub,” wrote Joyce in “Ulysses” (which he called his “mistresspiece”). We won’t try. Instead we start at one of the city’s oldest, The Palace Bar, 21 Fleet St., est. 1823. Original fixtures: mahogany fittings and carvings, long bar, brass fixtures, a cozy snug near the entrance. Upstairs, a smaller bar, candle-lit tables, a man’s portrait with the words “Now Read On.”
Downstairs in the rear, a splendid, high-ceilinged room with vaulted stained glass skylight and a large wall with portraits of the famous patrons who stopped by to hoist a pint– the master Joyce, the poet Patrick Kavanagh who came with solar regularity, playwright Brendan Behan, novelist Flann O’Brien, the late Seamus Heaney–and discuss their manuscreeds, listen to the regulars’ wit: “Stingy? He’d peel a potato in his pocket rather than share it”…”Aye he was poor, didn’t have nails to scratch himself”.
Outside the Palace Bar’s entrance, look to the sidewalk. There a plaque of Kavanagh and his haunting verse staring up at you:
“To be a poet and not know the trade,
To be a lover and repel all women;
Twin ironies by which great saints are made,
The agonizing pincer-jaws of heaven.”
And so to our second stop, pootling past Trinity College, down Grafton , turning left at Duke Street to perhaps the most literary one of them all, Davy Byrnes Pub, est. 1889. “He entered Davy Byrnes. Moral pub…nice quiet bar…nice piece of wood in that counter. N icily planed,” Joyce wrote in “Ulysses”. Davy Byrnes where the novel’s protagonist, Leopold Bloom, had his noon gorgonzola sandwich and glass of burgundy while ignoring Nosey Flynn. Today, murals of Joycean Dublin, one with founder Davy Byrne on a throne; hand-painted, stain-glass ceiling, the main room lined with black banquettes and tables.
Come in for a lubricator. Stay awhile and literary chit-chat’s not long coming: “ah, the old saying, Swift was Sterne and Sterne was swift [witted]… Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot,’ the play where nothing happens twice”. Bills itself these days as “Dublin’s Original Gastropub.” Indeed good salmon and perhaps a bucket, make that a Beckett of clams. 21 Duke St.
Stop No. Three, Neary’s Pub, est. 1890, a writer-actor’s hangout, the stage door of the Gaity Theater being opposite Neary’s rear entrance. A favorite of legendary drinkers, playwright Behan and Kavanagh, small, a separate women’s entrance (no longer enforced), no telly, live music Thursday nights, 7:30-9:30. Four working gas lamps inside, red velvet curtains and seats. Note the original two-arm lamp brackets aside the entrance. Good reviews for the chicken breast salad and on-tap Franciscan Well beer (“crafted for character”). Excellent Irish whiskey selection—“whiskey keeps the reason from stifling,” wrote Behan. 1 Chatham St.
Last stop the legendary Doheney & Nesbitt, 5 Baggot St. Lower, est. 1867. Popular with G. B. Shaw, Kavanagh and Behan, J. P. Donleavy (“The Ginger Man”) while in town. The quintessential Irish pub—snugs, mahogany, aged wooden floor, original counter, ornate-Mache ceiling. O’Hara’s Irish Pale Ale on tap, Whiskey Corner with its own bar in the rear. Rugby on the telly. Stay awhile, it’s the embodiment of Swift’s “old wood to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to converse with…”
We end our literary pub crawl with a fresh pint of Guinness, that priestly beer with its anthracite nectar and Catholic collar of solid froth, remembering the famous verse of Flann O’Brien’s “A Workman’s Friend”:
“When money’s tight and hard to get
And your horse also ran;
When all you have is a heap of debt-
A pint of plain is your only man.”