It's good to have a hobby. It's healthy.
With that in mind, a few like-minded lads from work and myself decided to put a little group together, something designed to stimulate the intellect and provide an outlet for good wholesome fun. I'd initially toyed with the idea of a book club... before utterly dismissing it in favour of just going for pints.
And so, Pub Club was born. This is not to be confused with our local Pug Club, however, which is a very different thing.
When Pub Club comes to order one of our founding members — those are Seán Kenehan, James Fenton and Darragh Berry — must pick a pub that they're familiar with. The catch is that at least one of the other two members must not have been to the chosen pub before. For the inaugural meeting of Pub Club the power was in the hands of young James Fenton and he decided to go for McDaid's on Harry Street.
Having been established way back in 1779, according to the sign out front, the drinking hole has had something of a colourful history and boasts a rep as being something of a favourite among Dublin's literati...
"Now I'm not comparing us to your man who wrote The Auld Triangle or anything..."
by Seán K
Brendan Behan famously referred to himself as a drinker with writing problems, so it seemed fitting that the three lads from the Lovin editorial team should pick the poet's old stomping ground for our very first Pub Club.
Now I'm not comparing us to your man who wrote The Auld Triangle or anything... but then again, why not? As we take our seats at the back of the buzzing establishment, I glance at Jimbo Fenton as he slurps his Heineken, the author of such classics as All 32 Counties Of Ireland Ranked By The Sexiness Of Their Accents and 12 Pubs And Restaurants The Pope Should Visit While He's In Dublin, and I ask myself, could I be looking at the Behan of our generation? That's for the critics (AKA the comment section) to decide.
One thing you need to appreciate from the get-go is that it's a rare treat to get Fenton out for pints, as he generally prefers to be in his slippers and PJs by 7pm on a school night. And when he does venture out he's usually trying to rope you into an evening of Mi Wadi pints and smooth jazz (I'd like to take this opportunity to ask you please stop suggesting that, James).
Not gonna lie, we were already several pints deep before Pub Club even came to order on this particular evening, having just grabbed dinner in the nearby TGI Fridays. Coming from the restaurant with us because they were clearly intrigued by our cool new clique, Éadaoin and Caoimhe from the office also tagged along to our inaugural meeting. They made a guest appearance on the session, if you will. They cameoed in Pub Club.
While Éadaoin remarked that she dug the striking decor, the lads couldn't have cared less... the cretins. I could totally see it though. What with the stained glass windows in the front, all the mirrors and old-timey posters on the walls, the shelves of books and the high ceilings above, the pub has the spacious yet intimate feeling of a church. You could say we were worshipping at the altar of lovely pints... if that weren't such a lame thing to say.
While the vaulting heights above us were impressive, you couldn't help but think all that space could've been used a wee bit more wisely. They could use Dermot Bannon in here, James commented, and I agreed vehemently.
It turned out that is was €20 minimum to use cards at the bar, which caused a distinct spike in our collective outrage. Granted there was an ATM literally 10 seconds from the pub's front door, but complaining was far less effort.
As we huddled around our drinks at the back of the pub, the conversation revolved around topics like the toxicity of Twitter, the truly horrific scenes you come across when hunting for cheap apartments in the Big Smoke, Caoimhe's long gestating article about her home county of Donegal (expect it to arrive any month now) and, of course, theorising about the purpose of the pub's ridiculously high ceilings.
Now I'm not exactly sure when the conversation moved from scintillating discussion to shite talk, but that turning point is inevitable when pints are involved. With the black stuff flowing a little too freely as the evening wore on, I got the distinct impression that it'd be one of those nights where I would be sleeping on the couch to avoid the wrath of the GF. I was proven correct.
Good craic though, so worth it.
"McDaid's is one of those places that you just know has been home to centuries of high-brow, dignified conversation..."
by James Fenton
When the idea of Pub Club was first mooted, I felt I had a lot to offer. Firstly, being the elder statesman of Pub Club, my experience of the Dublin drinking scene would surely come in useful given that Darragh and Seán are still a bit wet behind the ears in comparison (I mean, Seán refers to himself as 'Seán K'... what is he, one of those rapper fellas?)
Secondly, the two boys only moved to Dublin after their university days so my knowledge of my home city's nooks and crannies would surely be of benefit when scoping out potential Pub Club venues.
When it was decided that I would lead the way on the inaugural sitting, I was determined to guide the lads in the right direction and given the proximity of McDaid's to our starting point at TGI's, I felt that it was the perfect place to start. It wouldn't take us long to get there and, as was alluded to by Seán, I've been known to try and get home at a reasonable hour these days. But sure, when you're out, you're out.
While I'm by no means a regular in McDaid's, its prime location just off Grafton Street has attracted me in on a few occasions when I've been at a loose end in the city. I've also been there with family a couple of times before and after meals in town and it's never been short of a pleasurable experience.
Now, my Junior Cert history teacher would be the first to tell you that I'm not exactly an expert on the subject but the long and storied pasts of Dublin's finest establishments have always piqued my interest. McDaid's is one of those places that you just know has been home to centuries of high-brow, dignified conversation so it was probably something of a shame when we rocked up discussing which kind of chicken wing sauce had gone best at our pre-pints meal.
Located a mere hop and a skip from the iconic Phil Lynott statue, the first thing that strikes you upon entry to McDaid's is the ridiculously high ceilings. Forget the 'horse walks into a bar' jokes, a feckin' giraffe could sit comfortably in here and sup away at pints for a few hours. That'd be weird though.
The surplus head space began to sound even more appealing as Seán regaled us with tales of cramped apartment viewings he undertook when he first embarked on the rocky road to Dublin a few years back. Just think, he could have been spending his hard-earned euro sharing a living room with four South American students instead of as a founding member of Pub Club.
As a couple more drinks went down, we were more than comfortable on the back sofa of McDaid's cosied up to a small group of like-minded pint enthusiasts who were happy to do a bit of scooching to make room for our party. The pub is a great spot for chinwag at the start of a night out but given the lack of tables it does tend to fill up and become 'standing room only' fairly quickly. It wouldn't take long for the itchy feet to kick in and with a whole host of nearby pubs to check out I don't think I'd be spending a whole evening in there.
Still, the history, interior and of course, the high ceilings of McDaid's provided plenty of conversation topics as we sipped on some lovely pints during our brief stay. A fine choice even if I do say so myself. Now that the pressure is off, I look forward to seeing where my fellow Pub Club members take us on our next adventure.
"For the love of the liquor, we were born"
I've talked about many pubs in Dublin in what has been a fun and beer filled year since I moved up from the West. But when the idea of Pub Club came about, I knew I'd have to up my game. Because, when pitted beside these two behemoths of the Dublin pub scene, I didn't want to get outed as 'The Great Pretender' or 'Spoofer Numero Uno'.
These men have plenty of years drinking experience clocked up compared to myself but I still felt I could go toe-to-toe with them and complete the beautiful triangle that is Pub Club — after all, it was for the love of the liquor, we were born.
You can tell a lot about a pub from the people who are already inside the establishment and although this was an unfamiliar patch of ground for me, I was pleasantly surprised to see a group of people surrender their extra leg room on the couches in order to squish aside to let the five of us sit together, without even having to ask.
When thinking about the atmosphere of a pub, I always ask myself, could I come in here by myself and wait as long skulling Guinness than if I was with a gang of people?
I absolutely could do this in McDaid's. It wasn't too loud meaning the five of us could still engage in the weird and wonderful conversations as aforementioned by the two bucks with ease but as well as this, it wasn't too quiet for you to get lost in your own thoughts if you were here by yourself.
It's got the vintage high-stool style bar which will always appeal to the 'I'm here for a few hours' sort of drinker. And with the various drinks and old Irish memorabilia around the bar as well as that high ceiling (which we chatted about so much, you'd swear it was the fecking Ceiling of the Basilica), there's plenty of talking points to keep you here for more than just the one pint whether you're by yourself or with a crowd — which is the recipe to any good Irish pub.
The Guinness went down like mother's milk for me (which comes as no surprise considering it was included in the Guinness Bucket List for 2018) and I didn't see the fab four complaining about their drinks either.
It's almost perfect and a quiet oasis in what is one of the busiest and noisiest streets in the world.
Almost perfect, if it wasn't for the card machine situation. By the time you'd have to nip off to the ATM, wait for the dollar bills and pop back in to reorder your pint and re-possess your spot, you'd be just as tempted to head somewhere else on that street.
Because entering a pub that only accepts €20 card transactions is a dangerous spot for your wallet.
But, if I had to part with €20 all in one-go in the capital, I wouldn't mind doing it in this spot.
Header image: annemarieob13/Instagram