Traditional Irish pubs sprout in almost every city in the world, and it’s no wonder – the Irish are a gas. In Dublin you could spend weeks drinking pints of Gat in bars once favoured by literary gods, and you’d be an eejit to ignore them. But behind the city’s charming facades and colourful Georgian-era doors there’s also a burgeoning world of cuisine, craft beer and creativity all closely tied to history but forging a decidedly modern, most definitely cool Dublin.
Make for the banks of the River Liffey, the waterway slicing Dublin in two and providing neutral territory over which the city’s ‘dodgy’ Northsiders and ‘spoilt’ Southsiders hurl jibes at one another. Of course, most Dubliners swear they’re above such ribbing, but they’ll still throw a dig or two for a laugh. Before you declare allegiance to one particular side, meet up with the crew from City Kayaking, pull on a pair of oversized plastic pants, slide into a vessel and drench your local guide with questions as you glide between the two. On warm summer afternoons – think around 22°C – you might even spot a few Dubs, as the locals are called, plunging from bridges or just bobbing along with the current.
Jeanie Johnston Tall Ship
Custom House Quay
Despite the plastic protection, by the time you clamber out of your kayak your lower half will be soaked. Even if you did remember a change of clothes (bet you forgot your undies) you won’t want to carry your sodden stuff around all night. Taxi south to the Dean Hotel, your evening digs, dump your soils in your room (resisting the lure of the well-stocked Smeg minibar) and head for the rooftop. After a quick ride on the indoor swings, nip into Sophie’s restaurant for a drink. The space is stylish – think warm metal, marble and gnarly old olive trees – but it’s the rare panoramic view over the low-rise city that’s most arresting. Lock eyes on St Patrick’s Cathedral before heading down the hall to the Rooftop Bar to polish off another tipple.
The Dean Hotel
33 Harcourt Street
Music courses through the veins of the Irish, and a night out isn’t complete without swaying to traditional tunes with your heart on your sleeve and a Guinness in your hand. Avoid the overcooked stuff in the Temple Bar area, aka Dublin’s tourist trap, and seek out the Cobblestone, a classic Irish pub north of the river. This is where the locals go, as well as a smattering of tourists who have caught wind of the craic (fun) that flows here. Each night the pub invites a couple of musicians – fiddlers, mandolin or bodhrán (hand-held drum) players, depending on the night – to share some melodies, and the numbers swell when locals turn up to jam too. Palm over €4.50 for a well-poured pint of the good stuff and settle in beneath the portraits of performers lining the walls.
77 King Street North, Smithfield
A glass of Guinness may feel like a meal, but if you want to survive the evening you’ll need more than a liquid dinner. Despite Ireland’s proximity to England, its cuisine is worlds apart from the infamous stodge once served by its neighbour. Fresh seafood, tender lamb and artisanal cheeses grace the menus and, for a city of just half a million people, Dublin claims an impressive array of gastropubs and restaurants. For fresh local produce, book a table at Fade Street Social by Irish celebrity chef Dylan McGrath and salivate over a selection of wood-fired flatbreads, rabbit and trout, or that day’s choice cuts of chateaubriand, tomahawk steak and Denver roll. Add a side of micro veggies and feast on a modern take on the traditional Irish dish colcannon – this incarnation features vivid-green kale foam and creamy mash scooped from a rustic copper pot.
Fade Street Social Restaurant
4–6 Fade Street
The Irish are famed for their wit and if you haven’t cracked up a half-dozen times since your night began then something must have gone ‘arseways’. For real belly laughs look no further than the long-running comedy club at the International Bar, less than five minutes’ walk from Fade Street. Gander at the traditional pub’s pink granite bar set beneath hand-carved mahogany panelling on the ground floor then scurry upstairs to the dimly lit den serving comedy seven nights a week. Expect gags from up-and-coming acts and, if you’re lucky, a big name testing new tricks.
The International Bar
23 Wicklow Street
Take a break and relish those laughter-induced endorphins at the Bernard Shaw, further south in the Camden Quarter. It may be named for the famous playwright and author, but this eclectic venue is more a multifaceted drinking hole than a thought-provoking literary den. During the day it plays the part of an artsy cafe, on some weekends it’s a flea market and at night it’s a top place to party. Head to a back room where you’ll find a DJ spinning tracks for those on the dance floor or spill into the beer garden adorned with street art where the Big Blue Bus, a brightly painted, pizza-serving double decker, takes centre stage. If you’re lucky nab a seat up top or lounge on the bleachers for a spot of people watching. If you still have energy to burn grab a pool cue and challenge some opponents.
The Bernard Shaw
11–12 South Richmond Street
Now that you’ve dabbled in the city’s pub scene, a hidden underground speakeasy awaits. Getting inside the Blind Pig requires pre-planning but it’s worth the effort. You’ll need to reserve a space online in advance and await instructions and secret door codes to drop into your inbox. Clues will take you past a huge metal gate, down an alley and through a sealed entrance before you descend into a cellar. Once inside the cosy vault, swill a gingerbread daiquiri or, if a martini tickles your fancy, be sure to try one made with ShortCross gin, distilled in Northern Ireland. The head bartender mixes it good enough to floor James Bond so don’t go overboard – you still need to find your way back out.
The Blind Pig
If you’re not too plastered, totter back to the banks of the River Liffey and find the Workman’s Club. Once you’ve passed the bouncer it feels a whole lot like you’ve rocked up at a house party – albeit one with a stage. Performers smash out sets to punters packed to the rafters earlier in the evening, and DJs spin rockabilly, hip-hop and house until the wee hours. Old staircases connect a jumble of rooms and if you need to come up for air the revelry keeps on going up on the rooftop terrace.
The Workman’s Club
10 Wellington Quay
Time to soak up some of the evening’s booze with a serve of that late-night snack loved the whole world over – the humble kebab. Stumble to Temple Bar to join the throng at Zaytoon. At opening time its spits are so big you’d struggle to wrap your arms around them and, after a busy night, hungry party monsters will have devoured up to 140 kilograms of meat. Hover near the kitchen while you wait for your doner and watch the cook pummel lumps of dough into pancakes, toss them into a searing oven, then pluck them out less than a minute later when they’re fragrant and ready to eat. Tuck in and scare away tomorrow’s looming hangover, or the fear as it’s known here.
14/15 Parliament Street, Temple Bar
Etihad flies from Melbourne and Sydney to Dublin via Abu Dhabi.
Book yourself into the coolest kid on the block, the Dean Hotel, where uber-chic rooms start at about US$140. Some pods look out over the open-air nightclub next door, but the blackout curtains and complimentary super-strength earplugs work a treat.
There’s plenty to do in Dublin when the sun is up, too. Check online for more info about where to go in the city and beyond.