The quintessential Irish experience is having a pint, or two, in a local and authentic pub. This was a must for us on our trip, not only for the Guinness—and it’s true that it tastes better and different in Ireland—but for the immersive experience that it is. We found it simple to strike up conversations and felt right at home in the pubs and bars we visited. As an aside, on our first night, we met a couple that lives less than a mile away from us here in Texas. Small world. However, we wouldn’t have ever known without embracing the pub custom of chatting with your neighbor over a pint.
There are a few criteria to observe when it comes to finding an authentic pub. I discovered them in our travel guide and we found them to be largely true:
1. There should be at least one old man sitting at the bar.
2. The barkeep should be well-dressed, as in wearing a button-down, and pretty clean cut.
3. No piped music—pubs flow to the melody of good conversation.
4. No TV at all or a small one, tucked out of the way and reserved for major national sporting events only (i.e. Rugby World Cup)
We ambled into a few places that didn’t meet all the criteria and everything turned out fine. But, when all the criteria were met, it was a different and more welcoming experience.
Here are the pubs we visited with some brief commentary:
White House Bar, Kinsale
I shared info about this joint in my post about restaurants, as we had some pretty tasty food in addition to Guinness and Green Spot. Read about it here.
Sam’s Bar, Kinsale
Sam’s is known for having great live music often. Sam’s was our last stop of the night on our second night in Ireland. It was quiet and cozy with a “snug” area. Sam’s also has a heated beer garden area that we did not visit, but I’m sure it’s lovely. Can’t go wrong with Sam’s if you’re in Kinsale and looking to enjoy a pint and make new friends, or just be left alone with your thoughts. They also have Prosecco on tap if you’re tired of beer.
The Hairy Lemon, Dublin
When we arrived in Dublin we had just a bit of time to kill before heading to our cooking class, so of course we scrambled to find a pub for Guinness and chips. Pubs are in no short supply, obviously, but we still managed to over think the decision. We wound up in a great spot, though. The Hairy Lemon might be a bit on the modern side, but the bartender was friendly and offered up several suggestions for our trip, the pints poured were excellent and the chips were hot and crispy. We intended to visit again for a full meal, but too many options and not enough time prohibited it.
The Long Hall, Dublin
This place, unbeknownst to us, was on Anthony Bourdain’s list and across the street from our guesthouse. It’s rumored to be a favorite hangout of Bruce Springsteen’s, as well. It’s a cool atmosphere—with sort of a 19th century San Francisco saloon feel. The bar staff was friendly and knowledgeable and the pint was poured well. No food, though, but that’s okay. Jack of all trades…master of none.
Okay, so not technically a pub, but pretty cool. The Guinness Storehouse is a 7-level shrine to all things Guinness. It was seriously cool and informative and you get a free pint with your admission ticket, which you can enjoy in the Gravity Bar with a million of your closest friends while overlooking Dublin.
Also not a pub. It’s a wine bar, but this is a food and wine blog. To be completely honest, we only stopped in here because I really needed to use the restroom. After that, we felt obligated to stay for a glass of wine, but I’m so glad we did! We sat at the little bar lining the front window directly across Dame Street from the entrance to Dublin Castle. The bar is also next door to Olympia Theater. It was excellent people watching, and excellent Bordeaux.
Mac’s Bar, Enniskerry
This was the real deal and my favorite pub experience from the entire trip. Joel and I decided to get out of Dublin for the day and headed to the Powerscourt Gardens south of town. The gardens were lovely, and afterward, we needed a snack…and a pint. We drove into nearby Enniskerry, a tiny Irish town, and found Mac’s, which I’ve since learned is a part of the Powerscourt Arms Hotel. Mac’s met all pub criteria. No piped music. Small TV in corner. Well-dressed barkeep. And the best part? Two old men sitting at the end of the bar. The barkeep told us they always stop in when their wives send them into town for milk. They left a few minutes before we did and as we walked out we saw a quart of milk sitting on the bar—insurance for a return trip, no doubt.
Stanley’s Restaurant & Wine Bar, Dublin
I know. But…this place is awesome. Even from the street it oozed a Hemingway-esque sophistication that I couldn’t forget, which is why I remembered to go back and find the joint two days later. Joel and I found a cozy corner booth and each had a glass of 2008 Nieport Vertente. We were stuffed from dinner so couldn’t partake of the food, but they do have a very nice menu and friendly staff, too.