Monday, May 05, 2008

Mulligan's On Poolbeg Street

This one is a must see if you are into traditional pubs. Behan drank here (of course he drank everywhere) and so did Joyce, who set part of a story in Dubliners here. John F. Kennedy also spent time here when he worked in the press; this one has been a big hangout for the fifth estate for decades.
The Mulligans were publicans from 1782 onwards and came to this location (already the site of a pub) in the mid 1800s. Its no longer in their family.
This one is a wee bit off the beaten path, though not by much. Its on the south side of the Liffey, just east of Trinity College, Grafton Street, Temple Bar and all that. Poolbeg is a street you'd miss if you weren't looking for it. As a result this one is quieter then McDaid's or Davy Byrne's which are right off of Grafton. When I visited for a pint there were a couple of fellows at the bar and a young couple sitting in a corner. No music. No TV. No idea that I had not stepped back one hundred years in time. Lots of nooks and crannies and a dusty old sunlight streaming in feel to it.
No idea how it might be on a Friday or Saturday night but if you want a traditional Dublin pub experience I can't think of a better place to start. Its glorious.
Mulligan's website includes a map and some lore and here is another site that has some nice pictures of the interior.


Sunday, May 04, 2008


Oh my this one is a beauty. Like a lot of the old traditional pubs found in Dublin's city centre this one is just off of Grafton Street, tucked away on a quiet sidestreet.
A lot of what I began to expect as I toured these old pubs. Beautiful inside with a wonderful bar, lots of dark mahogony and polished brass. Staff dressed to the nines.
A few little differences to note. You can get yourself a Beamish here which is unusual. I think I found only two or three places that served a stout other than Guinness. The LCBO used to have Beamish until just a few years ago and its one that I miss. Had myself a nice pint.
The other thing - no TV. No music. Just conversation. Even a lot of the great pubs I went to had a TV or two. This place is perfect in its simplicity.
Just a terrific place to sit and have a pint.


Saturday, March 08, 2008

Its Alive! The Stag's Head in Dublin

Not dead yet.
It just seems like it, I mean its only been a year since I posted here. What do you want?? ;)
Problem is that here in Toronto I pretty well go to the same bars when I do get out. I do have a couple new ones to post about, so stick around if you're looking for Toronto bars, but for the next while there will be regular posts here because I have just returned from one of the best, if not the best, cities in the world when you're talking pubs.
I was there for five days and six nights. It was a work trip but I had a weekend in the city and my evenings free. I've been once before.
Its a terrific place. Love it. Its a gritty, dirty, lively, lovely town.
I did some research and had a list of fifteen pubs I wanted to try and hit. In the end, I managed to get to eleven on my list as well as four more. So I did pretty well.
I will do a writeup on nearly every one as nearly each is worth a visit. For the most part these pubs had history behind them. Each was unique in some way. All are close to the city centre. You could walk from the Brazen Head, the furthest west, to Mulligan's, the furthest east, in under fifteen minutes I would say.
God, I love Dublin.
No music in any of these places. A lot of them had a TV or two. It was Six Nations rugby that weekend and Scotland was at Croke Park. Plenty of kilted Scots in the streets and a really terrific atmosphere which I will talk about in many posts.
The first pub I visited on the Friday evening was The Stag's Head, a beauty that dates back to the 1870s and is hidden down a laneway just north of the Liffey. As you walk west from Trinity College towards old Dublin along Dame Street you see the tile pictured above. That's your cue to duck into the alley to your left, then another alley called Dame's Court and there it is.
One of many truly beautiful pubs I visited. Brick exterior. Stained glass windows. A red marble top bar. Dark wood everywhere and all else in deep reds and browns. A quiet place. A young couple, tourists likely, having a pint. Some older folks also enjoying their drinks. At the bar about a half dozen or so rugby fans, Scots and Irish, enjoying one of many drinks they would have that night, I would bet. Your man behind the bar was in shirt and tie and the two lovely women working were neatly dressed in black.
James Joyce was a regular patron of this pub.
Six Nations is terrific stuff. Its a real party - none of the hooliganism associated with soccer. A lot of folks will fly in for the game. A lot more fly in for the party. Indeed a lot of the host city will see people fly over to the visiting team's capital to party there. So there were Irish in Edinburgh and Scots in Dublin and a good time was had by all.
One thing about the Stag's Head and nearly every other pub I visited in Dublin. Guinness is king. I saw Beamish at a few pubs and Murphy's at none. You'll see Harp and Caffrey's and I maybe saw Kilkenney once or twice but I may be wrong. Dublin is a Guinness town through and through. You'll also see your Heiniken, Amstel, Stella, Bulmer's Cider plus Carlsberg and an American beer or two.
I love Guinness and it really is terrific stuff there.
You'll find something to drink - then just sit back and soak it up.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Pints Abroad and The Dog and Duck

I've been lucky enough to go overseas three times now. In 2002 my wife and I were in Scotland and Ireland for nearly two and a half weeks. In 2005 I was in England for work, spending time in Derby and Leeds but also getting to York for a weekend. And last autumn my wife and I were in London for a week.
Really enjoyed each trip. If I had been paying really close attention I'd have enough material to post weekly here for probably about a year and a half. In our trip to Scotland and Ireland I estimated that we may have visited about fifty different pubs. In that trip we weren't really looking for specific places to go with the exception of the Brazen Head when we were in Dublin. Of course the old riddle about Dublin is how do you cross the city without passing a pub? And the answer, of course, is that you do not - pass them, that is. Between the pubs of Dublin and those that we visited in the south and southwest of Ireland as we travelled about, we certainly saw our share of wonderful spots.
Edinburgh is also full of many terrific old pubs. But in a city where "The New Town" is over two hundred and fifty years old, one cannot help but stumble over tiny drinking holes, many with historical significance.
One never knows what one will get. When in England in 2005 my boss took me on a tour of the Derbyshire Dales, a hilly area in central England. We drove about for a few hours and in our travels stopped in at a couple of ancient village pubs for a quick pint of bitter. Similarily when Jenn and I were in London last fall we took the train to the Cotswolds and spent the day cycling in the countryside. Amongst our stops - a pint at the Eight Bells, a 14th century inn in Chipping Campden.
And the town of York is a great place for pub crawling. I arrived on a Friday at dinner and left on the Sunday afternoon. Took in all of the sites and as many pubs as possible. One attraction in York - a plethora of regional ales. One place I would recommend - The Last Drop Inn, owned by the local York Brewery. Another one I enjoyed - The Hansom Cab - a Samuel Smith pub (this is the brewery that owns it) - but there were plenty to choose from. One big disappointment - the oldest pub in York, The Olde Starre Inn. Unless I hit it at the wrong time, which is possible, I found it to be a real disappointment. May as well have been in a chain pub in Toronto. The Last Drop Inn, seven years old, was far better.
Anyhow, the pictures attached to this post are of The Dog and Duck, in Soho in London. The current Dog and Duck was built in 1897 on the site of the original Dog and Duck, which dated back to 1734. The original was Mozart's local apparently.
We dropped in on a Saturday afternoon our first day in London. Its a tiny little place and definitely worth a look. Very cool.


Saturday, March 03, 2007

A Man Walks Into A Bar II

A quick post about another enjoyable night at McCarthy's last Saturday and why this little place ranks amongst the best pubs in Toronto, in my opinion.
We had two hours of icetime rented at Ted Reeve Arena for shinny so before we hit the ice my neighbour and I dropped by for a quick pint. Saturday nights the bar is kept by Alana, who is quite wonderful, and pours a terrific pint of Guinness. She takes her time and the result is what you would expect.
After hockey about fifteen or so of us made our way back. Now, McCarthy's is not a big place and our arrival filled it up pretty good. While talking to one of the guys and firing back another pint I heard a little bit of fiddle music. With a few F.O.B. Irish roaming around and some Aye Diddle Aye on the jukebox I figured someone had made such a selection but, as I remarked to my friend, the sound quality was excellent. Really clear.
He steps aside and there in the corner were three fellows. Out with the instruments and away they went.
This is commonplace in Irish pubs - my wife and I enjoyed such a show in Kilkenney and the Dora also has scheduled sessions on Thursdays and Sundays.
But its the first I've seen at my local.
Great cap to a fine night.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Vollo Cafe

Just a few words about this little hole in the wall.

Not really a pub but if you like beer then check it out.

At the corner of Dundonald and Yonge (east side of Yonge just south of Bloor), you might pass this place a thousand times without a second glance.

I know because I have. And I am not the only one.

One of my best friends works a couple of streets down from Vollo. Last summer a friend of his said they should meet here. He walks in and gets what I call "The Book of Beer", the menu - literally hundreds of beers - from imports that I have never heard of to craft beers from tiny breweries all over Canada.

Any type of beer you could think of is here.

So my friend, after having multiple orgasms, picks himself off the floor, wipes his brow and asks the waiter how long they have been open.

"Uh, seventeen years," is the reply.

As I said, you could walk by this place a thousand times ...

And on top of it its just a terrific place to have a drink. Quiet. Cool.

Great little place. If you like your beer (and if you're here I presume you do) then get in there and have one or six.


Friday, February 02, 2007

The Cloak and Dagger

My family was out east for a couple of weeks in mid January and I was able to get out quite a bit. Unfortunately since their return work has been crazy and I haven't been able to post much either here or at my other blog.

Anyhow while many of my nights out were spent at my favourite haunts - McCarthys, the Dora and The Only, I did get out to a couple of places I have been before - the Auld Spot and the Cloak and Dagger and a couple that I have not, the Embassy and Vollo.

While the last two do not fit the usual pattern of what I have been talking about here I am going to post about them soon because while the "traditional pub" is the focus here, I think any place with great beer and a great vibe deserves attention.

And the idea of this blog, if we go back to it, is to tell people about these places.

Anyhow, the Cloak and Dagger. Another great place. Out last night with my usual drinking buddy at The Only and we both agreed that this place and The Only both ranked in our top five. Part of the attraction of the Cloak and Dagger for me is the location. On College Street, just outside of Kensington Market, close to Chinatown and the College Street strip. Our company was training three young fellows from Dublin this past June and I took them out a few times. We came here and The Only as well. Truly one of a kind places. They loved both.

Like The Only and McCarthy's this place is small. You walk in and there are a handful of booths on the right hand side. Really big booths, as in you can fit eight people I believe, and reasonably comfortably. At the back on the right is the bar, across from it a few small tables. Then a small private room in the back. It was remodelled a few years back - there is a little more space but its still a pretty intimate spot.

Like The Only a totally eclectic crowd. Your hippies and hipsters rub shoulders with punks, couples who live up the street and the old fellow mumbling into his Molson Extra Stock at the bar.

And, oh yeah, twenty three beers on tap, if I recall correctly. Not even going to try and recount what they had when I was there. They pour a nice Guinness. They had a fine bitter there when I was there last. Rest assured that like the only we're talking a roster that is nearly all local and regional beers. Just terrific terrific stuff.

One note - I went with another member of the Oilogosphere, Chris!, who lives in the area and gets there quite often (or at least more often then me) and he made a good point - when they have live music, which is quite often, its a difficult place to have a conversation due to the size of the space. So beware that if the live music isn't your bag.

Anyhow, great place. Great.

A couple of quick housekeeping notes - I'd encourage anyone dropping by who is familiar with any of these spots to comment on their experiences there. A really good example of what I am looking for is a comment on McVeigh's where commenter Jeff talks about his own experiences at the pub. While I get out as often as I can, with two youngsters, let's face it, I'm not getting out as much as I used to. Feedback on what I am saying is welcomed and encouraged.

Secondly, upcoming will be our first post from outside of Toronto. Unfortunately I hadn't thought of this blog idea until after I was in London in the fall but one of the things I want to do is get posts from out and about. Anyhow, a great friend of mine just returned from the bizarro world that is Las Vegas. He was there for work and then managed to get a few days in to check it out. He found a place that might work for anyone who is in Vegas and just wants a break from the weirdness that is the Strip. So keep an eye out.