Dublin absolutely scared the shite out of me when I was younger, a thought that I laugh at now. When I ask my friends, 'would you ever move to Dublin?', some reply that it's too intimidating. I tell them it's not really but I understand how they feel about the capital because I once felt that way too.
And, that feeling meant that going to Dublin on my first night out was both an exciting and slightly scary experience. Before this, the furthest I'd ever stirred for a night out was Athlone. But, myself and one of the lads were heading to the Kings Of Leon in Marlay Park and we were now, just about, of age to have a few treats for ourselves.
We got the train from home to Heuston and managed to somehow navigate our way to the quays.
You know when the bus or Luas is full and you just go for the first spare seat you see? I have an awful habit of doing that with pubs and restaurants in places I'm not familiar with.
I lied to my friend, told him I had heard good things about this spot, he believed me. I was just delighted to be in a fixed place where we weren't lost.
Fitzgerald's situated on Aston Quay, is where we ended up and we hopped on two stools beside the bar.
My sister - who had lived in Dublin for about five years at this stage - told me about all these lovely places that we should go to and had even mapped out routes for us from the train station.
We, of course, categorically ignored each and every suggestion. If we were going to take on Dublin, we'd do it our own way.
We were starved so we ordered pints and food. It's a long time ago now but I still know what I ordered. It was Guinness Stew. I know because I remember thinking at the time, 'I'm drinking Guinness and I'm eating it too, this Dublin place is just a different world'.
And no, my life has not gotten anymore exciting since then either before you ask.
My sister quizzed us on our whereabouts. "We're on the Quays somewhere, Fitzsimons or Fitzgibbons, it's Fitz something," I said. I pressed send, took a sip out of my Guinness and thought, this Dublin thing isn't that bad at all.
A phone call came through straight away: "Darragh, you need to get the fuck out of there. The Quays is so rough," she explained before going on to characterise every sort of person one might see down there.
I thought, this one is tapped, so I turned off my phone and told her later on that I was "saving my battery".
And, to her credit, she had a point. The next time I was in Dublin - I was going to a football game - myself and a gang were headed for this pub which I had raved on about and as we headed in the door, two men were battering the living shite out of each other just outside the building to the right. I'm not going to lie, I turned to them and said 'fuck this', shat the pants and headed towards Grafton Street .
But back to my first of two times ever in this pub. The food was lovely, the drinks were on point and the people inside the pub were friendly and struck up conversations with us and were dying to find out where we were from because as they rightly stated, our voices weren't north or southside.
The banter was never anything more than friendly with the people inside, even if some of them looked a little rough around the edges. I got funny remarks about my skinny jeans but I got the same remarks in my local so it felt like a home away from home anyway.
I couldn't quite figure out why my sister was so adamant to get us out of there. Maybe she just thought I'd be so naive as to get myself into a heated argument about football with some fella who'd kick me all the way to the Liffey.
I can't believe she'd think I'd be that stupid, to start an argument about Dublin and Mayo in one of the most COYBIB pubs in the capital.
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And it's such a shame. It was so long ago (I'd say, maybe 5 years) since the second and last time I stepped foot inside that place and my only memory of it now is being told that it was dodge central and to get out as quickly as possible.
And I know from firsthand experience that that is not the case.
It had my favourite kind of interior set-up. I always love to see a few high stools at the bar, you never know who you'd end up talking to and what sort of story they'd tell you. It's compact and felt very homely. It had a small bit of music in the background as well as Sky Sports showing some Man United game from the mid-90s.
And I wasn't the only one to feel that homely vibe. The old boys at the counter must have been regulars because they felt safe enough to leave their pints unattended and their change beside them as they went to the bathroom or out for a smoke.
And sure, if the auld boys were as scary and rough as my sister had said they would be, I wouldn't dare tamper with their spot at the bar anyway.
But, those same "scary" auld boys were the ones telling us tales and helping us plan our route to Marlay Park. It's hard to know if anyone would have been as friendly if we had headed somewhere in the city...
It's definitely a standard case of not judging a book by its cover, even though, anytime I drive past Fitzgerald's now, my initial thought is "oh that's the rough pub on the Quays", instead of "that's the really nice pub where I had my first day out in Dublin all those years ago". It's probably well overdue but I need to go back there once and for all and make the latter thought a solid one in my mind forever.
Side note: With all my lying about saving my battery, my phone did eventually go dead at the concert as did my friend's. We managed to find our way back into town and spotted a little nightclub called Dicey's. The rest, as they say, is history.
Extra side note: We both got lost immediately in Dicey's and had no batteries to find each other.
We should have just went back to Fitzgerald's.