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Pub Club: Dublin's Finest People-Watching Spot Overlooks One Of The City's Most Iconic Landmarks

By James Fenton

June 14, 2018 at 2:11pm


It's good to have a hobby. It's healthy.

With that in mind, a few like-minded lads from Lovin decided to put a little group together, something designed to stimulate the intellect and provide an outlet for good wholesome fun. We 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 the 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.

This time it was the turn of Seán to decide where we would spend a few hours of our time on a Thursday evening and he went with the central location of M.J. O'Neill's on Suffolk Street.

The pub stands guard over the Molly Malone statue outside St. Andrew's church and is a favourite of tourists. But what would the likely lads of Pub Club make of it? Read on to find out...

"You're probably going to see the words 'O'Neill's' and 'touristy' a lot in this piece but for me that's not a negative thing."

by James Fenton

A fully-grown man twerking up against the Molly Malone statue. Not something you see every day but then again it's not every day you're positioned in this delightful window box overlooking one of the city's most iconic landmarks.

For the second sitting of Pub Club, it was the turn of my esteemed colleague Seán Kenehan to choose which boozer would have the pleasure of hosting the city's premier drinking society. Being the cultural fella that he is, he took us right to the heart of Dublin and into O'Neill's on Suffolk Street.

Off we went, with first-time Pub Club guest Jennifer Cosgrove in tow, to be met by a waiting Darragh Berry patiently propping up the downstairs bar while supping on a Guinness. Darragh had just travelled up from Knock Airport following a brief stint in sun-soaked Tenerife, the evidence of which could be found in the reddish glow on his face and arms. Dedication to the cause of Pub Club the like of which we've never seen in our whole month or so of existence.

Given O'Neill's prime location in the city, it's no surprise that it benefits from plenty of footfall and it soon became clear that getting a seat was going to be a difficult task. While the rest of us got the pints in, Seán took off on a table-finding mission before reporting back that there were a couple of options upstairs. Luckily enough, soon after we reached the top of the winding stairs, another group vacated what is probably the best seat in the house. Tucked away in the corner, pretty much out of view from the stairs, was a spot that would fit five or six people comfortably and maybe around seven or eight uncomfortably.

As we settled in, our eyes and ears were drawn to the window next to our table where we could enjoy an eagle-eyed view of the aforementioned Molly Malone and listen to the soft strumming of a couple of buskers going about their work. Who knew a pint of Guinness and an acoustic version of Despacito could be such a therapeutic experience after a long day in the office?

One of the striking aspects on the first floor of O'Neills is a table in the middle with a couple of those 'pull your own pints' beer taps on them that seemed to be all the rage in the late 2000s. I suggested trying them out but after getting the sense that the others thought I was joking, I left it at that.

Still, there was nothing stopping us getting more pints in from behind the bar. As they flowed, so did the conversation. Given that it was referendum eve, us journalists were subject to a media moratorium in work so it wasn't long before we got round to the topic in O'Neill's. Other less trivial issues were also explored such as Jen's everlasting love for Kurt Cobain and the benefits of renting in Rathgar. There may have been some other talking points but as soon as I heard the lads playing the opening bars to Billie Jean outside I stopped paying attention for a while.

After completing a round of drinks, the time was starting to slip by. Seán headed off to meet his folks and the rest of us wound down fairly soon after that. In my eyes, the second meeting of Pub Club was a successful one. O'Neill's seemed to have a constant buzz about it, largely down to the quick turnover of people coming in and out and I could definitely see myself staying long into the evening at that window keeping a protective eye over Molly Malone as she pretty much gets mauled by snap-happy tourists and locals alike.

You're probably going to see the words 'O'Neill's' and 'touristy' a lot in this piece but for me that's not a negative thing. Whether you're surrounded by a few friends or sitting at the bar alone, it wouldn't take long for you to feel comfortable in your surroundings and that is a surefire sign of a grand Dublin spot.

Verdict? 8/10

"The little corner/snug area that we came across upstairs was heavenly. If the last supper had been held in Dublin, JC and the boys would have nestled in here after the feed."

by Darragh Berry

After spending a week in Tenerife, drinking fruity cocktails at €4 a go and supping on local pints which cost €1.50 (and tasted like muck, but for less than €2, I'd drink it out of a wellington boot), I soon realised I was no longer on holiday. A blackboard with the drinks list rests against the wall ahead of me as I waited for the gang to arrive, and as much as it hurt to part with €5.30 for a Guinness, it hurt even more when I went to take my wallet out of my pocket for two reasons:

  1. I was sunburned all over and any sort of stretching or the slightest bit of movement was met with a groan.
  2. That groan slowly turned into a scream when I checked my bank balance for the first time in 9 days.

I couldn't get over the size of O'Neill's. From the outside, it doesn't look like a gigantic watering hole but with all its different areas and bars inside, it's like four or five pubs amalgamated together.

I was really surprised to see the carvery area at the back of the pub. An ideal concept if you were securely positioned for the day but wanted to break up the action, even though, eating is cheating.

It had been over a week since I had a Guinness so there was never any doubt as to what I'd be having (there never really is) but I was pleased to see a variety of drinks chalked down. They had as many craft beers on the list as they did normal drinks and they also had a sign on the wall promoting a new beer, Dublin Pils.

I counted five relatively big televisions on the wall, all positioned nearby me at different angles, the signs of a place that is well equipped to handle an All-Ireland Final Day or World Cup game and that's my kind of place to stay.

A barman had just gone upstairs to open the bar on the next floor and Sean, James, Jen and I weren't long following suit.

The little corner/snug area that we came across upstairs was heavenly. If the last supper had been held in Dublin, JC and the boys would have nestled in here after the feed.

There was a fake Heineken and Guinness tap at one of the high tables and James joked that it was a "pull your own" sort of situation. My head knew he was joking but my debit card was tempted to go up and pull the handle, hoping some magic would appear.

I know what Sean is going to tell you, that this was supposed to be some quick and easy, in-out sort of job. Well he's a Guinness-gulping fecking fibber.

Pub Club does not have a time-limit and there's no way you could care about the time anyway when you're sitting in the comforts of that snug. The more Sean talked about needing to go home because his parents were coming soon, the more I knew he was getting even more comfortable in that chair. It's a classic Irish thing to talk about how you really should be tipping on while you take out the change for another pint.

On my bus journey home, I thought about Sean and hoped that they'd go easy on him when he arrived late but still thanked my lucky stars at the same time that it wasn't me.

Upstairs and downstairs were like two different places. You wouldn't imagine darkening the door too often downstairs because it's just a bit too touristy, and what else would you expect considering its amazing range of drinks and ideal location.

But, upstairs felt like a different bar altogether. Upstairs could easily be transformed into your local. That snug area felt like the equivalent of the booth that Ted, Barney and Co. occupy on How I Met Your Mother.

Another pub clubber took off their L-plates as the talented Sarah Clayton-Lea joined us alongside Caoimhe who was also at the inaugural Pub Club meeting — we should really make her a member. But, thankfully, it wasn't a long-winded session that turned into a night out (even if it lasted longer than the three or four pints that Sean had envisaged), my poor liver and my bank account wouldn't have been able to take it.

I'm not anti-tourists don't get me wrong but downstairs is a bit too much for me, there's only so many times you can hear an American laugh uncontrollably about 'Galway Hooker' before you're just like 'ah here', gulp the remainder of your pint and head for some place else.

I could get fond of the upstairs part though, maybe a bit too fond and if the whole place was like that, this would have all the makings of a perfect-score pub in my eyes.

But, I'm sure O'Neill's isn't going to sacrifice the downstairs style and the hundreds of tourists a day that come in the door just to suit some bollox from the west of Ireland who might rock in once in a blue moon.

Verdict: 8.5/10

"This was to be an efficient, business-like drinking session... three pints, four tops."

By Seán K

I've passed O'Neill's many a time in the past, but honestly I'd never really considered going in there. I wasn't actively avoiding it or anything, I'd nothing against the place, I guess I just subconsciously wrote it off as super touristy and therefore not my scene.

And, after trying it for the first time, I can confirm that it is touristy, but not overwhelmingly so.

This would be a brief assembling of Pub Club, as it was the eve of payday and we all had precisely the price of one round of drinks left in our bank accounts. To further complicate matters, I'd also stupidly invited my parents over to my apartment for the very same evening, so I had to stick to a strict game plan in order to see through this important work outing while also getting out in time to meet my folks. This was to be an efficient, business-like drinking session... three pints, four tops.

Upon entering I was surprised at how spacious O'Neill's is on the inside, we even stumbled upon a nice little beer garden that none of us had tried before. The ground floor was jammers but, after scouring the pub's various nooks and crannies, we managed to secure what appeared to be the best spot on the entire first floor: a corner seat window overlooking Suffolk Street. There was a tourist couple nursing empty glasses in this spot when we first clocked it, so my associates and I were prepared to wait for it to become free, but thankfully they vacated their seats less than 60 seconds after we arrived following what looked like quite a serious lover's tiff. Pub Club prays they've worked things out since.

From this vantage point we overlooked Molly Malone (and tourists casually pawing her) as well as a pair of genuinely talented buskers playing pop hits. Not a bad corner spot for the auld people-watching at all.

On this particular evening we inducted Jen, one of the newest additions to the Lovin team, into the mysteries of Pub Club. As we've only ever had one previous meeting, the induction process did not take long. We'd barely finished our first pints before we were joined by other Lovin teammates Sarah and Caoimhe, as well as our ex-video guy Dave (although it took him awhile to find us due to the great "do you mean the first floor or second floor?" debate).

Looking around at the lot of us, I couldn't help but be struck by what a nice little cross-section of Ireland we represented, with every one of us hailing from a different county: Dublin, Kildare, Meath, Tipperary, Mayo, Waterford and Donegal. Debate ensued about how long you actually have to live in the Big Smoke before you can call yourself a Dubliner, but the jury's still out on that one.

Being right in the corner of the snug, I got to see the constant flow of disappointed customers who rounded the corner to see we’d taken the best spot on this level. Finders keepers, lads.

Eventually I had to face the disappointed faces of my fellow Pub Clubbers, as I had to make a mad dash for a bus back to my flat as the 'rents had managed to get there before me. Not ideal.

This particular experience was slightly dampened by the fact that I had to rush off, but I'd definitely be up for popping into O'Neill's again and settling into that window seat for a whole evening.

Verdict: 7/10

Like what you see? Why not check out the first place we visited in our inaugural Pub Club journey.

(header pic: @marcelo_hrs)


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