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29th May 2024

Is the proliferation of faux Irish bars in Dublin a cause for concern?

Emily Mullen

Begorrah catering for the tourist market has some uncomfortable kickbacks

We’ve all seen them, some of us have even been inside them, and others have gone so far as to hand over a week’s worth of wages to have a pint in some of these faux Irish bars. For most of the city’s inhabitants, these pubs appear outside of our consciousness on the periphery, things that exist but without much notice. But perhaps at the root of this unobservance lies the problem. As these pubs have edged into view, appearing past the unofficial tourist borders of Temple Bar and even going as far as to transform traditional pubs into their own image. We’ve begun to notice them, and with this newfound consciousness, we’ve become keenly aware that an invisible line seems to have been crossed.

How to spot faux Irish bars

Faux Irish bars are a familiar sight in the US, the UK, and mainland Europe, but now their neon-lit shamrocks have begun to illuminate the fair corners of our capital. For some visitors it can be hard to distinguish between the authentic and the inauthentic, for locals the difference is as clear as a trip to the opticians. Firstly, location is generally a giveaway. While typically clustered around the Temple Bar area, faux Irish bars have now started popping up across the city, generally beside a new hotel (that was probably built on the site of a since-cleared Dublin cultural institution). The name festooned above their door is another good signifier, inevitably invoking some mythical proprietor  (think Jimmy-Joe O’Reilly’s or Biddy McGinnty’s) or an Irish phrase uttered during the Leaving Cert orals. Their signs are generally made of a cheap plastic material that looks to be temporarily fixed to the front of the place, ready to be whipped down the moment some new passing fad becomes more profitable. Piped-in trad music will inevitably reach your ears as you cross the threshold, only to be met with a splodgy handpainted mural showing a well-trodden scene from Irish mythology, such as Cu Chulainn mid-fight with his mythical sliotar flying. The interior will be decked out in bric-o-brac, mismatched furniture, and road signs that tell you how many miles to Dingle, with the ceilings festooned with spinning wheels, irons and chamber pots amidst the flying brogue.  The operator of the popular blog Dublin by Pub, has noted that these establishments can be identified “mainly by the look of puzzlement on their customers’ faces as they stare in disbelief at the receipt that has just been handed to them by an apathetic bartender. The bartender being someone who wears upon their stoney face, the visible scars of having had to suffer through more shoddy versions of Galway Girl than the CIA would deem it appropriate to subject a renditioned detainee to.”

Authenticity is key

Since time immemorial, Irish pub culture has been at the heart of our communities. A third space outside of the workplace and the home. A place where (mainly) men gathered, told stories, reminisced, played music, did business conspired and hatched plans on the future of the nation. They are totemic places, where the profane becomes sacred and the sacred, profane. 

Misrepresentation of these spaces has been happening across the globe for decades now, and we make our peace with them. After all, we know foreign Irish pubs aren’t accurate because we know the real thing. But misrepresentation at home, by our own people, really sticks in our craws. Throughout time, Irish pubs have been invoked, imported and exported once again. The faux Irish pub is one of the ways that Ireland has been re-imagined for the consumer. It commoditises the ineffable aspect of Irishness and sells it for the price of an eye-watering expensive pint of stout “I think because they [faux Irish bars] give an unfair representation of us,” is the main bugbear of Dublin by Pub, “they show visitors a bad version of something that we do very well. To walk into such a pub and to pass the likes of Mulligan’s or The Palace to do so, would be akin to walking by Thin Lizzy playing Croke Park, fronted by a resurrected Phil Lynott, to go and watch Nathan Carter in a community hall, instead (no shade on Carter).”

Pubs as cultural spaces

Cultural may be a fluid concept, but its essence can be expressed through, fixed, physical spaces like art galleries museums, music venues, artists’ studios and theatres. Culture can mean different things to different people. While traditional Irish culture may feel like it’s reduced to tin whistles, sean nos singing and the one-two-three-step, the reality is that modern culture is more about the fusion of traditional practices, the redrawing of the new with the old and the recasting of national identities. Oftentimes this rearrangement can come about over a few pints – a rant after one too many, that turns into an idea when it’s shared with a commonality of ears that listen to the same tune. Whether we like it or not some of our best ideas have been thrashed out over a few pints. It can be hard for us to wrap our heads around the fact that one of our cultural spaces is also the place where we once spewed up or made a show of ourselves. The place of excess is also the place that leads us to important expressions. Unlike the Romantics we don’t have the English Lake District to meditate, we feel around in the darkened liquored corners to talk and discuss, more like the Parisian salons without the pomp.

There will be some who disagree, but blessed with some of the best pubs in the world, these spaces are a significant part of our built heritage and culture. In this city, we can drink in pubs used by rebels during the 1916 Rising, by trade unionists during the lockout, where prize-winning literature was first drafted and as the site of some of the most significant pop culture moments of the last few decades originated from. They are part of Dublin’s cultural landscape – and as people who inhabit them, we are part-time custodians of them. So, it’s only right that we should do everything we can to make sure that they are retained in a manner that’s befitting to their history. Berlin’s clubs, France’s cafes and baguettes are protected with cultural rights by UNESCO contends Ali Dunworth author of A Compendium of Irish Pints who has travelled up and down the country over the last while researching her book. Dunworth argues that there isn’t enough discussion about the protection of our pubs, with protection orders only enforceable for the fronts of historic pubs but nothing past that. Dunworth questions the creation of these fake bars while pre-existing genuinely authentic bars already exist and are “closing down all the time and no one is protecting them and we really won’t realise until they are gone,” she said.

Expansion rates

While these faux Irish pubs may be highly visible and sometimes openly derided on social media, Donall O’Keeffe CEO of the Licensed Vintners Association [LVA] maintains that they are opening at a lesser rate than we think. “We haven’t seen any marked increase in the numbers of them, I’m not hearing any concerns in the trade or from other publicans about them,” O’Keeffe maintains that these pubs are not a new business concept, and exist as part of a diverse pub scene that’s made up of every different type, shape and size of pub. These pubs are invariably being set up by those familiar with the pub trade, as O’Keeffe says the Dublin pub trade is “very different to the UK where there are thousands of pubs and they are corporates, companies as opposed to family businesses. This is an enormously fragmented market in Dublin, there are very few groups of scale and the industry is definitely characterised by one owner one pub.” Perhaps the numbers are not to be worried about but the manner in which these pubs are cropping up should be a cause for concern. “There’s absolutely no problem with a city having tourist hotspots – all cities do and should,” says Dublin by Pub, who bears umbridge with traditional pubs being “flipped” into faux pubs, “we need to oppose when these are provided at the expense of our actual cultural spaces.”

A threat to Dublin culture?

Some would argue, what’s the harm? It’s a new business after all, trading when the hospitality industry is in dire straights. These businesses are providing employment, fulfilling a role, and giving visitors a place where they feel like they are experiencing a sense of Irishness. What’s the harm if what they are experiencing isn’t exactly authentic? What they are experiencing is a type of Irishness that makes our toes curl. The issue is, that it’s an image of ourselves that we have worked hard to move away from. This open encouragement of it on our home turf, sits strangely with us. Conversely, not all Irish bars abroad are pale imitations of the real thing at home. There have been some incredible success stories from the last few years, the success of New York’s Dead Rabbit and London’s Devonshire are notable, in that they represent more than a fake paddy-quackery typically associated with an Irish bar and instead encapsulate the spirit of Irish hospitality, an intangible thing which marks the difference in being served a drink and being looked after. These examples aren’t pretending to be anything other than themselves. Inside they showcase their newness and cultivate no pretence of fabricated authenticity, they don’t knock edges off IKEA furniture and call it antique.


For Dunworth, the creation of faux Irish pubs isn’t a new thing, “there have always been pubs that have upped the Irishness, especially in Dublin”. What is marked is that at the moment “pub culture is just really hot”, Dunworth cited the poser nature exhibited outside of some Irish bars in the UK, which sees mullets chucking back Guinness trying to locate “the G”. “It’s really cool to go to the pub and people are always going to cash in on that,” she said, arguing that it’s great for these new businesses to exist to revitalise empty buildings and fill it with people. At home, we are also seeming a nod towards this ‘trend’, which sees drinking in pubs as a particularly favourable pastime, where once we would have been wandering around sticky dance floors, now a couple of pints and a chat with friends is a lot more palatable. This trend for pubs is no doubt helped along the way by the success of Guinness (at home and abroad), and Ireland’s star shining bright in many creative fields. Irish pubs have never been more popular and what we are seeing is a manufacturing of them to keep in line with demand. Concerns with following this trend-based approach are that, when the next new thing rolls in, these businesses will be flipped once again, going the same way as doughnuts or burritos did.

On the face of it, following a trend-driven approach also flies in the face of the authenticity these types of pubs are striving to emulate. What makes traditional pubs so great is that they’ve stood the same way for hundreds of years, unmoved by literally everything; gentrification, weather events, systemic historical quakes and a thousand trends. These “mini-museums” as Dunworth calls them, should be protected and preserved at all costs, because when they are gone they can’t be reproduced. A concern for Dunworth is the closure of genuinely authentic pubs that is happening at an alarming rate across Ireland, pointing to the irony of creating faux pubs while genuinely traditional pubs are closing down as a false economy. The majority of these traditional pubs are down the country, far away from the embrace of the canals where we are seeing the majority of these pubs cropping up.

“I think they are just jumping on the bandwagon because pubs are cool at the moment.”

Ali Dunworth

This targeted marketing towards the tourist trade is arguably something that’s happening in other hospitality spaces if Lucinda O’Sullivan’s recent review of Peggy’s on the Green is anything to go by. Entering into the space formerly occupied by Three Storey on Stephen’s Green, which is now fixed with green and gold balloons reminiscent of a tacky tourist trap abroad, “only short of having the Star-Spangled Banner and the tricolour waving outside” she writes, describing the food as “the kind of fare that gave Ireland a bad name 30 years ago. Ireland’s food is now world-class and we can hold our heads high, but unfortunately, tourists won’t find it here in this outdated “Oirish” takeoff,” she concluded.

Parallel drinking subcultures?

Tourism figures are ballooning for Ireland and indeed Dublin, with 3 out of 5 businesses surveyed by Failte Ireland saying they had more visitors last year compared to the previous. Tourism is hugely important to the country, classified as our largest indigenous industry raking in €5.3bn in 2023. It is the biggest regional employer with a remarkable 254,000 people working within the tourism and hospitality businesses. We have a reputation for drinking, on par with Munich or Prague, and we are keenly aware of this appeal. Dublin’s ‘pub scene’ was cited as the top reason for tourists to visit Dublin, followed by its history, culture, events and then its people, according to residents surveyed as part of the Dublin City Council 2023 tourism report. We are also well accustomed to coming across tourists and see it as a wholly positive thing, in that same report, a whopping 61% said that they interact with tourists and of that number 87% of them said that these interactions were somewhat or very positive, that 92% of those surveyed said that international tourism was good for Dublin.

There is undoubtedly an increased demand for hospitality, but are we seeing businesses close down by the hundreds? The latest figures released by the Restaurants Association of Ireland accounted for 200 restaurants, cafés and other food-led businesses closing in the first three months of the year, with nearly 4,664 direct jobs lost as a result and costing the state €288 million. It’s natural to be sensitive when a new business geared towards the tourist trade opens up when so many of our authentic, established businesses are shutting down. There is undoubtedly a demand for these new types of pubs. The issues lie in them being catered towards a specific trade, which by their essence tends to isolate locals. Will we be reaching the point that countless other cities have hit years previously where tourists head for one door and locals another? Part of the beauty of Dublin is this incredible confluence of different types of people from many walks of life, brought together by a few soft words in a busy bar. Would this compartmentalisation, hamper the land of a thousand welcomes and the tourism machine that lies behind it? That you can sit up in a bar and start chatting with anyone, isn’t that what people say they love about the place? For Dunworth this is not a concern, since there are “different types of tourists looking for different things in the city”, there will always be the visitors who want to put on a shamrock hat, head to a pub with sawdust on the floor for some reason to hear piped trad music and pay double digits for a pint, while there will be others who will seek out the “authentic” Dublin pub experiences. And as perennial narks, would we like it any other way? We’d be giving out if our beloved bars were clogged up and if we had to queue too long for a pint. This split in tourists’ objectives, Dunworth puts partly down to the tiktokification of travel, whereby you’ve nearly seen the place before going to it and you have a very clear objective of what you want to see in any given destination. And it’s true. Just think of the level of research you did online for your last holiday and compare it to what would have been possible a few decades ago. Its businesses that know how to market themselves who benefit from this new dynamic

“The future is bright! Traditional pubs have never been more popular: Fallon’s, The Lord Edward, Grogan’s, The Long Hall and their ilk are all out the door every weekend. Wetherspoons have closed a rake of pubs, nationwide. The Flowing Tide was reopened as a traditional pub and is flying. Thousands of people marched in 2021 to oppose the ruination of The Cobblestone. We just need to bring down the price of a pint and we’ll be laughing”

Dublin by Pub

Cause for concern?

One of the wonderful things about our beloved city that’s far from fair, that’s slung alongside the sides of a stinking river, is the bars, and their diversity. From the dive bars, the rockabilly bars, the country bars and the Victorian bars, it’s in their differences that we see their beauty. The small scale of Dublin is built for roaming, walking from pub to pub, a pint here and a bite to eat there, it’s these differences and the variety that make up the fabric of the place. Homogeonousness is always to be avoided, particularly when it comes to pints.

We are on the whole a welcoming lot, as much as we grumble and groan about visitors, there’s nothing like standing at the bar in your local bar and striking up a conversation with someone waiting beside you. Surely that’s what makes Dublin Dublin, our affability and our capacity for good-naturedness. Surely the preservation of businesses that cater to all, is better than those geared solely to the tourist market, places where no Dubliner would darken the door? These pubs are harmless enough, they cater to visitors who are happy to visit them, the sticking point for people who follow Dublin culture closely is when they cross a line, taking over genuinely traditional pubs and flip them for no good reason, only we suspect to turn a shilling or should we say a shillelagh.

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