No one needs to tell you that Dublin is a drinking town. As Ireland’s beloved author James Joyce famously wrote in Ulysses, a “good puzzle would be to cross Dublin without passing a pub.” A good puzzle and also a near-impossible one.
On a recent trip to Ireland, my driver taking me from the airport to my hotel offered up the best advice I’ve heard about getting a good Guinness in an Irish pub. “Walk into a bar and if everyone has a Guinness, it’s a good place,” he said. “If everyone has a lager and only one person has a Guinness, probably not a good place for a Guinness.”
It’s as simple as that. There are more than 750 pubs in Dublin, not including hotel bars and restaurants. Many have the level of charm that’s made the Irish pub one of the country’s most exported cultural institutions. Nearly all of them pour a proper pint of Guinness. All this is to say that it’s easy to find the proper Irish pub experience in Dublin — so long as you avoid the frenzied tourist masses in and around Temple Bar.
If you feel the need to be a part of the never-ending stream of people with a picture in front of Temple Bar and socialize with other travelers instead of locals, by all means, do so. Then leave for a pint somewhere else to enjoy typical Irish craic (banter) in a snug (walled-off section of the pub for small groups).
These are the best non-touristy Dublin pubs to drink at.
1. Ryan’s of Parkgate Street
Located across the River Liffey from Guinness’s James’s Gate Brewery, Ryan’s of Parkgate Street has what is widely considered one of the best food menus of all of Dublin’s pubs. Think wild Irish rabbit, pâté, ribeye, and oysters. It’s attached to and run by an outpost of the F.X. Buckley Steakhouse chain, which was started in the 1930s by high-end butchers (also the same butchers that Joyce’s Leopold Bloom buys his kidneys from in Ulysses). Ryan’s is the pub section of the restaurant and doesn’t have the full steakhouse menu — yet it also lacks the prices that come with a high-end steakhouse.
The pub is a throwback to the detail-oriented design of the Victorian era, with a long wooden bar and opulent wood dividers that separate the bar into sections. Above the liquor selection in the middle of the bar, you’ll find the oldest two-faced clock in Ireland. If you’re looking for something a little more private, there are two snugs perfect for small groups who want to chat amongst themselves. Ryan’s of Parkgate Street rigidly sticks to the Victorian decor, including the match striking plates next to each table that used to be used to light patron’s cigarettes (though smoking is no longer allowed inside).
Where: 28 Parkgate St, Stoneybatter, Dublin 8, Ireland
2. The Long Hall
The Long Hall is another Victorian bar with ornate, yet inviting, decor. It’s immediately recognizable by the white-and-red-striped awning and the, well, long hall in the front section that leads to the proper sitting room in the back. The first bar license for The Long Hall dates back to 1766 while the interior design is from 1881. Another date to keep in mind: 1951, the year women were finally allowed to drink at the bar.
The walls are filled with photographs of royalty from abroad and plaques of excellence. Intricate wood carvings are everywhere you look, including along the mahogany back bar, and it’s hard to miss the gold leaf adorning the bar’s furniture. The carpet (yes, carpet, in the spill-heavy environment of a bar) is itself a piece of art with a bright red hue and golden designs.
Despite its posh interior, The Long Hall is anything but pretentious. On a Dublin weekday night, a couple colleagues and myself got caught up talking with a group of ex-Navy men who were in a whiskey drinking club. The Long Hall was the right place to be, thanks to its many specialty whiskeys from brands like Jameson, Powers, and Tullamore D.E.W. kept in stock.
It’s easy to spot the occasional tourist who walks in looking for a pint and whiskey, but they’re dispersed among the locals and regulars. Also known to make a stop when in town: Bruce Springsteen, Sean Penn, and Rihanna.
Where: 51 South Great George’s Street, Dublin 2, Ireland
Dublin isn’t all old pubs with centuries-old liquor licenses. Dublin is a modern city with a modern cocktail scene, and one of the newest and most notable is Idlewild. Here, you’ll find a well-curated selection of Irish craft beer and innovative cocktails. The main reason to come, however, is for the boilermakers. A dedicated menu of house-chosen beer-and-a-shot combos includes options like the Cork Boi (Powers Three Swallows paired with Eight Degrees: The Full Irish) and the Paint Me Like Your French Cailín (a small Boulevardier cocktail paired with a seasonal Irish red ale). Idlewild is credited by one Irish publication to have brought the beer and a shot to the mainstream in Dublin.
The name, design, and feel of the bar are inspired by the Idlewild Bar constructed in the 1940s when the Idlewild golf course was converted into what is now JFK International Airport in New York City. Irish teamsters and mob bosses were said to be involved in the making of the bar, which in its heyday attracted people like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Marylin Monroe, and John F. Kennedy.
Find the entrance to Idlewild underneath a small neon BAR sign. The door itself is immediately recognizable by the stained-glass pattern with a Diamond P design in the center, a callback to Powers Irish Whiskey, which once owned the building and bottled the first commercially produced mini bottles of liquor here. Inside, there’s a mix of tall communal tables and comfy couches. A fireplace and too many books to count give it a cozy feel, while a large disco ball in the middle of the main room shows the bar doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Where: 14 Fade St, Dublin 2, Ireland
4. John Kavanagh, Gravediggers
John Kavanagh, popularly known as Gravediggers, is out of the way in north Dublin. It’s worth the cab ride over for the most peaceful pint in the city.
The bar gets its nickname from Glasnevin Cemetery next door. It shares a wall with the graveyard, and mourners and cemetery workers have frequented the pub since it opened in 1833. It’s been in the Kavanagh family for seven generations and has its fair share of ghost stories. The only thing you’ll be thinking about when drinking here, however, is the perfect pint of Guinness. There are no TVs in the pub, and singing, dancing, and phone calls are expressly forbidden — and the ban is taken seriously. Proof in point: When band members from U2, The Dubliners, and others pulled out their instruments in the bar after the 1984 funeral at Glasnevin for The Dubliners’ lead singer, then-owner Eugene Kavanagh told them they’d have to pack up their stuff because no music is allowed.
The wooden benches and tables that form small, open-faced snugs verge on austere. About the only decor you’ll find on the walls are patches from police departments around Dublin and the world and newspaper articles about visits from Anthony Bourdain and other lovers of good drink. There will be locals sitting at the short bar (often with a dog or two) as well as a smattering of people who’ve come to check out what, exactly, made Bourdain love this bar so much. What you won’t find is a crowd of tourists other than the occasional Dublin ghost hunting bus passing by.
Along with beer and whiskey, there are small plates served every day but Sunday. Keep in mind that it’s cash only and pay your respects next door after your pint.
Where: 1 Prospect Square, Glasnevin, Dublin, D09 CF72, Ireland
5. The Beer Market
Yes, Dublin is a Guinness town, and yes, you should have as many pints of the stuff as you can. Yet it’s also a good idea to check out the local craft beer scene that’s cropped up in recent years. The Beer Market is a bar owned by Ireland’s Galway Bay Brewery and has 15-plus beers on tap from local breweries, as well as from international brands like Sierra Nevada and Founders. You won’t find a single line of Guinness, but try the house-made stout.
Beer Market holds a special place in Dublin’s beer scene. As much as 90 percent of the beers on tap can only be found at the bar. It’s across from a portion of the Old Dublin City Wall that still stands and is next door to St. Audoen’s Catholic church. Beer Market is one of the few bars in Dublin that serves only beer, no liquor, and is the perfect place to avoid the Guinness-chasing tourists.
Where: 13 High St, The Liberties, Dublin 8, Ireland
6. The Cobblestone
The Cobblestone attracts a mix of customers, but the vibe is authentic Irish. The out-of-the-way pub is small and made smaller by the live music that plays every night and attracts a crowd. Find Cobblestone in Smithfield, one of Dublin’s oldest neighborhoods. The Mulligan family that runs the bar has played traditional Irish music and attracted musicians far and wide for decades. The bar is still family-owned and run and describes itself as a “drinking pub with a music problem.” Make sure to come early for a spot.
Where: 77 King St N, Smithfield, Dublin, D07 TP22, Ireland
7. John Fallon’s The Capstan Bar
John Fallon’s is about as local a bar as they come. There’s been a bar on this plot of land since the 1600s, and it was a favorite of the workers from the Powers distillery when the brand produced all its whiskey in Dublin. It’s been through a lot over the centuries. There have been fires and secret meetings, times of hardship and changing economic conditions. Still the bar stands, and on any given day you’ll find locals sitting at the bar talking with the bartender and watching a horse race or sports match on one of the two small TVs.
The small space looks like what all of the “traditional Irish pubs” around the world are going for. It’s a decidedly working-class haunt, with light wood fixtures and a small snug in the front corner just big enough for five people to sit comfortably. Photos of regulars adorn the walls next to poems and letters they wrote to the bar.
Stop here for a snack along with your beer and whiskey. The ham, cheese, and tomato toasties (basically an Irish grilled cheese) are soul-warming on a brisk Dublin day when served alongside a small bowl of warm tomato soup.
Where: 129 The Coombe, The Liberties, Dublin 8, D08 NP52, Ireland