Landing in Dublin, in a cab to the hotel, the Irish taxi driver (a man from Meath), instantly and genuinely congratulated my husband and me for our President’s honor. Our taxi driver also quickly pointed out that President Obama was “a native son,” being part Irish on his mother’s side a few generations back. Indeed, fast-forwarding to 2011, President Obama tipped a pint of Guinness in the village of his ancestors, aptly observing that they keep the best Guinness in Ireland. In every village he visited and in Dublin’s fair city, the throngs who came to cheer on the President definitely showcased Ireland’s love for President Obama.
To think that President Obama is so proudly embraced by normal Irish folks– when a vocal weirdo contingent in the President’s own country absurdly believe he’s not even born there, and when the President’s own American supporters couldn’t even congratulate the man for receiving an amazing honor– well, that’s why I love Ireland. You don’t have to win the Nobel Prize or be the Leader of the Free World to experience Ireland’s embrace, however. You just need to spend as much time as possible in pubs. Listen to music. Talk to folks. Swap stories. And, of course, drink pints. Lots and lots of pints.
In Dublin, perhaps the best pub city in the world, it’s tough not to overdo the Irish hospitality. There are just too many great places to enjoy a pint while chatting with locals and/or listening to music. To avoid your getting overwhelmed, definitely visit a few favorites (listed below). They meet my criteria for a proper Dublin pub:
- There should be some history or story attached to the pub, one that the barmen and regulars like telling.
- There should be regulars who frequent the pub, not just tourists. There should be at least one regular who had his/her first drink at the pub, or who has been drinking there for over a decade.
- There should be woodwork. Real wood bars, floors, wall panels, etc. All contribute to an atmosphere of requisite coziness.
- The pub should not be brightly lit, and should definitely not have those halogen lights that blind you when you look at them and burn your head and/or ears if you’re too tall.
- If the pub does food, it should not be the pub’s focal point. Rather, the menu should list a few tasty items (soup and brown bread, stew, etc.) to help absorb the pints you’ll have.
- There should be a minimum of those annoying game machines that light up and cling-clang constantly. Not a one is vastly preferable, however.
- Last, but certainly not least, the Guinness should be poured well. The other tap libations should taste like the lines are clean.
The true professional could try visiting these pubs in the order I list them on foot. It’s a great walk if you’re up to it, starting over near Christ Church Cathedral and working your way to St. Stephen’s Green. (Don’t worry. Having to walk will help keep you out of trouble. And, if worse comes to worse, you can always have a full Irish breakfast the next day to sort yourself out.)
- The Brazen Head, 20 Lower Bridge St.
You’d be remiss not visiting the pub that claims to be Ireland’s oldest (purported to have been established in 1198). Lots of music, great soup, and a really fine Guinness in a city of fine Guinnesses. See their Web site for what’s on: http://www.brazenhead.com/
- The Long Hall Bar, 31 S. Great George’s St.
A Victorian treasure, this pub will take you back to a time when gents drank their pints while wearing top hats. With a beautiful long bar and lots of gleaming brass, this may be the classiest historic place to down a few.
- O’Donaghue’s, 15 Merrion Row
With live music 7 nights a week, O’Donaghue’s is true to its place in Irish music history. Catch some traditional Irish music, or “trad,” as it’s known, while enjoying a pint or several. The pub’s Web site has great info to help you brush up on your Irish music education: http://www.odonoghues.ie/
- Toner’s, 2 Upper Baggot St.
This is a fantastic traditional pub, which Yeats reportedly frequented. The poetry continues; I was taught to hurl the very poetic ”toe-rag” as an epithet by a very funny man named Sean late one evening.
Should you ever find yourself leading the free world and winning a Nobel Prize without getting any appreciation from your countrymen for it, take solace. Someone in Ireland claims you as Irish and toasts your success, embracing you as a native son. If your life’s pursuits are less lofty, the welcome you’ll receive in a Dublin pub (after a few shared pints, of course) will be no less.