Manchester: Literary Locations, Libraries and (Some) Libations

Chetham's LibraryDespite a not-fun health wobble, we managed a quick weekend trip to Manchester recently, for music and literary purposes. As ever when traveling, I have to take a Professional Interest in not just all the unique local bookshops, but in any unusual or historic libraries. And although I spent a lot of time in and around Manchester in the 1990s, nearly everything looks so vastly different now that it felt like visiting a new place. Indeed, apart from the big Waterstones and Affleck’s Palace, so much seemed either completely unfamiliar or strangely uncanny…there was a hint of a memory, but the general appearance in many places around town was (mostly) so different that it felt like a false one.

I won’t dwell too much on the fact that Manchester has a Uniqlo (attached to the Arndale Centre, no less! Only some of the tiling that made it look like a toilet from the 1960s remains!) while we here in Dublin, a European capital, still lack one; while most of what I look for anywhere is a wealth of independent shops, pubs and restaurants, I do go through a lot of Uniqlo basics and rain gear, so I feel the need to stop in whenever I spot one elsewhere. New rain jacket acquired, we enjoyed browsing and tea-drinking at the delightful House of Books and Friends and at Social Refuge, the café inside Queer Lit. But while book-buying was a key part of the agenda (I finally picked up Ghosts of the British Museum), looking at libraries was the main focus.

Inside Chetham's Library: information card about a previous Librarian removed for theftAnd again, despite the considerable time I’ve spent around the area, I’d never made it to Chetham’s Library. It’s all too easy to think of Manchester as springing into existence largely fully-formed during the Industrial Revolution, Roman foundations notwithstanding, as there simply isn’t much (at first glance) to see of medieval Manchester, and finally getting around to taking the tour of the c.1420s building went a long way to rectifying that. The library is gorgeous – not dissimilar in some ways to Marsh’s Library here – and it’s a fascinating tour. I especially enjoyed the notes showing what previous Librarians had got up to – some were bad ‘uns!

Statue of Enriqueta Augustina Rylands in John Rylands LibraryWe also took in the John Rylands Library, and it was heartening to see that there was a queue to get in; more people wanting to do library tourism can only be a good thing, if managed properly. In addition to the beautiful building and core collections, there was an excellent exhibit called ‘We Have Always Been Here,’ exploring marginalised communities and how library and archival collections are never neutral…not news to those of us who have worked in them, but probably something that the broader public needs a lot more education to really understand. There’s to be considerable renovation in the near future, so it’s well worth checking out now to compare and contrast down the line.

While we didn’t get to try as much local beer as planned, thanks to the whole surprise illness thing, I did enjoy a couple of cask bitter and pale ale halves here and there, and a mix of good and less-good non-alcoholic options – the AF version of Track’s Sonoma was very good indeed, and the taproom was lovely. Also lovely was the much-recommended Marble Arch Inn; a beautiful, calm pub ideal for a chill afternoon of cheese boards and those lower-key (and much appreciated) cask bitters.

A half pint at the Marble Arch Inn, with the gently-sloping floor clearly on displayThere was also a musical element to this trip, so there is at least one variable that has proven as constant in most of my past trips to Manchester. In this instance, however, it was to see Wesley Stace, the Philadelphia-based Englishman many of you may have known as John Wesley Harding. This was his first UK tour in many years, and without an Irish date or two, Manchester was our closest option. He put on a great gig in a tiny pub – I hope a good time was had by all, we certainly enjoyed seeing him after such a long gap since our semi-regular shows during our Philly days. We did feel that we were not cool enough to be out and about in the Northern Quarter after the show, though…the whole area seemed to be in good hands with the crowds of hip Young People, so we left them to it.

We also had not realized when we booked that it was the same weekend as the Great Manchester Run, and while I was in no shape to be running a 10K (well, I did do one a week later, and only mildly crashed again after), much less a half marathon, it seemed like such a great time to be in town – oddly, hotel prices didn’t seem to have been pushed up for the occasion – that I’ve penciled it in to my race calendar for next year.

Now that I’m mostly recovered, it’s back to training for the Great North Run in Newcastle later this year…finally, an entirely new-to-me city to explore!

A Eurovision Pilgrimage, with Beer Side-quests

Katie and Lisa with a locally-brewed Eurovision beer in SwedenAt long last, a quick summary of a Eurovision-themed trip to Malmö and Copenhagen, complete with beer side quests – this was rather delayed by life/an unexpected hospital visit/work/some fun travel, but finally, it’s ready for your perusal. While I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Denmark in the past, I’d never had the chance to cross the Øresund Bridge to Sweden, so for a transit nerd like me, this was an exciting opportunity. I set off with my fellow Beer Lady/Eurovision nerd Katie on an early-morning flight from Dublin – we skipped the airport pints in favour of tea – and began the adventure.

The trip from Copenhagen airport via train was speedy and inexpensive; the special transit pass covering all travel in and around Malmö during the Eurovision period was most welcome, and while my particular part of Dublin is relatively well-served by buses, it’s nothing like the array of trains, trams and buses available in Copenhagen and Malmö, nor do we have the same wide, clean footpaths and bicycle lanes; perhaps we will, some day. In any event, the trip was a perfect excuse to explore the beery options on offer in the region, and we began with an initial visit to Malmö Brewing Company, located in an old brewery building, appropriately enough. These days, they brew a wide array of the usual hazy IPAs and fruited sours you find in most craft brewery taprooms, but they also have a few more meads, ciders and cocktails than you tend to find in Ireland or the UK. They also serve a BBQ menu – this seems to be ‘a thing’ in Scandinavia at the moment, though I confess I’ve never been a particular fan of BBQ in general – but others were happy enough with the food offering. That said, I did rather enjoy their Tiny IPA – hardly tiny, really, at 5% ABV, but quite pleasant.

In the Carlsberg cellars: Old Carlsberg Porter in a glass with a bottleWe wandered back to Copenhagen to do the Carlsberg tour; while I had previously visited some years ago, it was closed on my last work visit (and had been under renovation for some time), so it was fascinating to go back. I was thrilled to see the horses again, and they have thoroughly amped up the ‘brand experience’ end of things at the Home of Carlsberg – lots of interactive activities that you can save via your wristband, which I geeked out about from a professional perspective, and a surprisingly coherent narrative about Père et Fils Jacobsen, complete with lots of ACTING, and the history of the Carlsberg breweries. We followed up the tour with a tasting in the cellars, which have been beautifully tidied up, and while most of the offerings were fairly pedestrian, the Jacobsen Yakima IPA is always a nice choice, and the Old Carlsberg Porter was lovely. There’s a lot to see and do at Carlsberg, and it’s well worth a visit, even to the most anti-big-brewery person out there – even if just for the horses and the bottle and can collection.

We also managed to find some excellent cask ale at The Bishop’s Arms – one of a chain of English-style pubs across Sweden, with two locations in Malmö. For once, the food was not BBQ, but more standard pub grub, with an excellent burger and chips. And while I had a little taster of a local Maibock – so local it was brewed in the cellars under the pub – it was the English cask bitters I was going for – an excellent and well-kept selection from Marble (which I’ve had even more recently – another story to come), Red Willow and Rudgate. 10/10 no notes.

Katie and Lisa at the Mikkeller Beer Fest, in their finest Eurovision garbIn the midst of the swirl and glitter of Eurovision, we took a bit of time out to head back into Copenhagen for the Mikkeller Beer Fest, because there’s nothing better for your overall well-being than going to a beer festival at 10 am in a week when you’ve barely been sleeping, but hey ho, needs must. Perhaps ironically, I didn’t end up having that much beer…the long queues were all for what I can only describe as Barrel-aged Nonsense or Pastry Stout Silliness, so, with the exceptions of tasters of a few white whales (the Focal Banger from The Alchemist was very nice, just not earth-shattering), I largely stuck to small pours of some really rather pleasant pale ales and low-key dark lagers, with a lot of water – and no waiting! By far, my favourite beers of the festival were Pedes pale ale from Ebeltoft Gårdbryggeri – a Danish brewery I’ve enjoyed before when visiting Odense – and Toska Bryggj, a Scottish ale from OY Brewing in the Faroe Islands. We also stopped in just around the corner from the festival site at WarPigs for (more) BBQ and a surprisingly straightforward bitter called Hogshead.

Adorable mural at Hyllie BrewingUpon our return to Malmö, we also discovered Hyllie Bryggeri, and this was much more to my taste than some of the more hipster-fied options elsewhere: yes, an industrial taproom with some local art flourishes, but a warm welcome and some excellent beers all around. The Hapi Pils, described as a Pacific lager, was absolutely top-notch: crisp and grainy, but clean, and with some flavourful New Zealand hops – a proper banger, and something I would have as a regular go-to, were it generally available to me. All in all, a highly-recommended spot to sit and relax.

In summary, a trip to Eurovision is exhausting – you can see I’ve barely included anything around the shows themselves (though HUZZAH to Bambie Thug for absolutely SLAYING for Ireland), nor the many, many Irish fan meetups we attended in and around the multiple Irish pubs on offer in Malmö, but they were all top class, and we met so many wonderful people on the trip – we Eurovision fans were easy to spot at the beer festival, of course, so it was simple to Find Our People in the crowd. It would be an absolute delight to do it again, ideally in a year with a bit less controversy, though Switzerland is not going to be cheap, nor will their beer selection be as varied, and yet…well, we’ll see what happens next year!

A Long-overdue Return to Sheffield

Kelham Island Tavern, Jarvis Cocker muralAfter a thirty-year absence, I made it back to Sheffield. My last visit was to interview for the University of Sheffield’s then-top-ranked PhD program(me) in archaeology, and although they offered me a tempting research opportunity, I opted for the bright lights of London and a master’s degree instead…and, alas the powers that be decided that Sheffield no longer needed an archaeology department (even though my degrees in archaeology and library science are *the core reasons* I am successful in a STEM career – because that’s the only important thing, obviously – but I digress).

Red doors at St Mars of the DesertThe purpose of this trip was to attend Indie Beer Feast, where my friend and fellow Beer Ladies Podcast host Christina was pre-launching her book, The Devil’s in the Draught Lines, and to have a bit of a wander around Sheffield in general. While I cannot say I recognized anything from that previous trip, I did meet something of an old friend in a visit to The Brewery of St Mars of the Desert, which was an utter delight. As a long-ago fan of the brewery’s previous US incarnation, Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project, I absolutely adored their Jack D’Or and Saint Botolph’s Town, and would purchase them whenever they surfaced around Philadelphia, which was, to be fair, not infrequent. I especially loved their collaboration beer, KK, a collaboration with Ron Pattinson – one reviewed long before we ever met in person, in 2010 – and so it was a real thrill to see how the Yorkshire edition of things was faring. Things would appear to be in fantastic shape, as the brewery, tucked away on an industrial estate, was hopping early on a Friday afternoon, though it was their first day back open for the season. I had a glorious D’Or Mouse – a descendent of Jack D’Or – and Laska Pils, a thing of Czech-inspired beauty. It was also fantastic to see such a diverse crowd; all ages, backgrounds and genders seemed to be represented, and there was even an adorable dog.

Lisa at ParkrunBut I had to be responsible and only have some small pours, as there was a beer festival to manage later, and a highlight there, for both evenings, was finally meeting so many people I’d only ever known online (or by their books); everyone was truly lovely (special shoutout to Jules and the Hop Hideout crew!). I snuck in a Parkrun as well, and though Endcliffe is a lot more like a trail run than my usual Parkrun stomping grounds in Dublin, it was great to see a different part of Sheffield, and to explore the area a bit. I also got a few sneaky cask bitter halves; one of the Kelham Island pubs I stopped in must have had more beer engines than we have in action in the entire Republic of Ireland (still, to be fair, in single digits).

Christina and her book at Hop HideoutBack at the festival, there were quite a few new-to-me or only-vaguely-known-to-me breweries, and while Torrside may not be a ‘discovery’ to people in the UK, I’d only had a single bottle before, and Abbeydale was a revelation. We get cans from Track nowadays too, but trying them much nearer the source was a treat.

Mostly, though, it was wonderful to see the response to Christina’s book – if you can make one of the upcoming launch events, go for it!

Happy New Year: Some Housekeeping

Weirdo Dublin PubsWelcome to the first post of 2024, and it’s a very brief one – I’ve spun off Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs to its own home, and will be posting those stories over there, but there will be new content here as well, just not quite so specific; apologies in advance if I do things like suggest you sign up for my next #DAM webinar.

So, with that said, head off to enjoy the first post of 2024 – The Ivy House! It’s perfect for a cold day like today…head over there to find out why.

Beer Year in Review, 2023

Beer Ladies at RascalsIt’s that time of year again – the annual round-up of Notable Beers (and some miscellaneous activities) of the Year, 2023 edition.

Things didn’t kick off in the most auspicious way; I began the year with a layoff from a job I was very much enjoying, so the semi-regular trips to Denmark quickly came to an end. Fortunately, I ended up in a new position with relative speed, (after a whirlwind trip with the smaller child to LA for Gallifrey One – an actual TARDIS would have made it an easier journey, but hey ho) and swapped sorties to the office in Odense for one in London. While that meant fewer Scandinavian beers, it did mean more opportunities for theatre and cask ale, so, really, not at all a downgrade. Indeed, cask seemed to be a theme this year with all my beer travels, both here in Ireland and abroad. And while it was infrequently the method of dispensation, nearly all of my favourites this year would have been great served that way (granted, I am guessing on the cold IPA, but we’ll go with it).

Ballykilcavan at BallykilcavanBefore we get on to that list, a few other highlights: we very much enjoyed doing a live Beer Ladies Podcast, hosted by our friends at Rascals, as part of their Nollaig na mBan week – it was fantastic to meet some fans in person, and it was nice to know we aren’t just speaking into the void! There were also some wonderful events, both formal and informal, with the Craic Beer Community folk, but the trip to Ballykilcavan was a standout. Even if you’re not in Ireland, you should be following Ballykilcavan on all the socials for the beautiful farm (and dog) and beer pictures; more about the beer again shortly. Hagstravaganza was the only large beer festival I made it to this year, but it was good fun, and I had an equally good time with a more ad-hoc gathering of beer nerds at a Sierra Nevada event at the Underdog – it was very much a throwback to those early-2000s tap takeovers some may recall from that time. In between those was the recently-mentioned small cask ale festival – again, small but mighty seems to be something of a theme.

And so, without further ado, my ten favourite beers of 2023:

10. Hope Beer Horizon Dark Mild, 3.8% – A collaboration with Craic Beer Community, this was a great way to kick off January of 2023 – start as you mean to carry on!
9. Whiplash Bowsie Brown Ale, 4.5% – I am not in the least bit angry that this seems to pop up on tap (well, nitro) almost every time I go to Fidelity – it’s a wonderful beer.
 8. Bagby Beer Company King of the Britons Bitter, 4.4% – My own personal Best of the Fest from Hagastravaganza was – yes – a 4.4% bitter from California. Loved it.
7. Torrside/Swift Run Pace Setter Table Beer, 3.4% – I love a good table beer, especially one that’s a collaboration with a running friend – I was thrilled to find a bottle at UTOBeer at Borough Market.
6. Harvey’s Brewery Dark Mild, 3.5% – Some things are classics for a reason. It turns out the Royal Oak in Borough is not far from my office, and while there are plenty of lovely things on the Bermondsey Beer Mile, it’s also nice to enjoy a cask mild or two in the relative calm of a cozy pub.
5. Third Barrel Brewing Afternoon Delight Stout, 6.5% – One from the Irish cask festival, and an absolute standout. Dark but hoppy, perfectly balanced and warming for a chilly day.
4. Ballykilcavan Brewery Cobblers Castle IPA, 4.8% – As mentioned, we were lucky to visit Ballykilcavan earlier in the year, and we got to try this before its general release. It’s such a welcome taste – a relatively low-key but absolutely old-school IPA; hazebois be gone.
3. Marble Mild, 4.1% – Yes, another dark mild. No, not remotely sorry. Cheers to the Euston Tap!
2. Galway Bay Brewing Company I Hear You Like IPA Cold IPA, 6.9% – You’d think I would be curmudgeonly about cold IPAs. Instead, I think they are rather wonderful, especially this one. I’ve had to have it again every time I’ve seen it on tap.
1. Ballykilcavan Brewery Endurance Dark Mild, 4.2% – If you know me, you knew this was coming. It’s practically my platonic ideal of a beer, and very much reminds me of Yards Brawler; the challenge for 2024 is to find it on cask.

Happy holidays from Ruby!So, there you have it – the high-level year in review. I left out the gigs (The Divine Comedy, Fra Fee, David Devant & his Spirit Wife, Mandy Patinkin), the theatre (Old Friends, Peter Pan, etc) and some other travels (oh, Vienna!), but some of that is covered here in previous posts – search away.

For 2024, I hope to get in more Weirdo Dublin Pubs, so stay tuned for those after the holidays; we have a lot in store for the Beer Ladies Podcast, and I’m sure you’re all going to be waiting with baited breath for my live reporting from Eurovision…see you in the new year.

Will Travel for Cask (But You Knew That)…

Cask ale and Des De Moor's Cask bookIt’s been a minute, and while we have no new Weirdo Dublin Pub this week, thanks to an epic period of work/kid/theatre/music travel that isn’t quite done yet, I did get to indulge in one of my favourite things a lot last week – cask ale! Just, well, not in Dublin.

The first bit of cask enjoyment was not unexpected: I was on one of my regular work trips to the office in London, and finally managed to squeeze in some evening theatre with Sondheim’s Old Friends* and a Mandy Patinkin** concert, so stopping off at The Harp in Covent Garden was a no-brainer, even it was for just a brief pint. But I have also finally discovered what feels like my Work Local in The Dean Swift – it’s a short walk from the office, beautifully renovated, and it had a well-curated list of craft and craft-cask options, as well as some excellent food (gorgeous pumpkin ravioli!). Having an Irish nod in the name is a nice bonus, and I will most certainly be stopping back in regularly, now that I’ve properly discovered it. I also saw that Whiplash will be pouring their Slow Life stout there, so it’s nice to know there’s an interest in Irish craft beer in the Big Smoke. I’ll be back again in a few weeks…just for a bit of quality control, you see.

A pint at The Dean SwiftBut I also enjoyed that rarest of rare events – a cask ale festival, in Ireland! We used to go to regular cask fests in both Philly and Seattle, and had plenty of good options for local and imported cask, so it was a bit of an adjustment to have essentially none available locally when we moved here (though initially, both The Underdog and The Black Sheep had regular cask offerings – it’s been a very slow return) – but this is old news to any semi-regular readers. Fortunately, the team behind the Mullingar Wild Ale Festival decided to organize a cask festival as well…and a good time was had by all. I think Simon’s write-up is an excellent place to start – he was much speedier than I ever manage to be, but he has some useful insights into why cask just isn’t much of a thing here, as well as some great photos; I neglected to take many myself (and not for any ‘living in the moment social media break’ reasons – just pure laziness).

Your girl with her wee dimpled mugBut it was a really lovely little festival – all out the back of a pub in Mullingar, but sheltered from the elements. I’d never previously been to Mullingar and cannot claim any real familiarity with it now, but it was a convenient location – on a direct train line from my local station, so a very short walk on both ends. And, perhaps even more crucially, space to sit down and relax, and a generally unhurried pace of events. The only urgency was around grabbing a glass of the Dead Centre Sham Maths, which was correctly predicted to run out early, so after making that my first pour, all was well (and it was delicious on cask, as amber ales should be).

And while I adored having the chance to try some of my usual go-tos on cask – special shout-out to Ballykilcavan’s Bin Bawn Pale Ale – the overall ‘best of the fest’ for me was from Third Barrel, whose Afternoon Delight was a joy – a hoppy stout, very much in the vein of my inaccessible Pennsylvania fave, Troegs Dead Reckoning Porter; I may have gone back for a few. The tiny dimpled mugs were a nice touch, too.

So while I have some cask-adjacent trips planned in the lead-up to Christmas – back to London a few times, and up to Belfast for Uncanny Live – It was so pleasant to have a cask-filed afternoon out that required only minimal travel. Yes, it’s a bit annoying that cask is rare here, but it also makes finding it a bit of an adventure, and that’s never a bad thing.




** I last saw Mandy Patinkin live in about 1991, and we met him after the show; he was absolutely lovely and ‘did’ Inigo Montoya for a couple of starstruck theatre kids who couldn’t have been happier. He also gave us some snacks from the green room, as he was worried we’d skipped dinner for the show. I didn’t hang around to stagedoor after this one, as I’m a lot older/more tired nowadays, but his voice is just as wonderful, and his storytelling sublime.

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: The Gravediggers

Outside The GravediggersIt had to be done.

Although I’m a relatively short walk away, I rarely make it up to The Gravediggers (aka John Kavanagh’s), but as it’s That Time of Year, it seemed only right and proper.

My more usual area haunts (I know) have a few things going for them: they are a bit more directly on the way to wherever I’m going, and they have at least a few local craft beers on tap – and while the first point is more variable, the second is an immovable fact – there is no craft beer at The Gravediggers. Most importantly, my other local spots are not usually full of tourists who have all been told that this is where they will find The Best Pint of Guinness in Ireland. However, sometimes that’s exactly what I’m in the mood for, and as I was walking around the area on a cool, intermittently rainy afternoon, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to stop in for a relaxing solo pint.

A pint by the fireplaceFor those who have never been to The Gravediggers – or, improbable though it seems, have never read anything about it – it’s exactly as you’ve likely heard: the pub is built into one of the walls of Glasnevin Cemetery (only a short stroll from the grave of Brendan Behan, though astonishingly, I couldn’t find much reference to him frequenting the spot – is it the only Northside pub he didn’t regularly drink in, à la The Cat and Cage? I am more than happy to be corrected on this point.), and it has been in the same family since 1833. The plain wood floors and swinging doors divide it into cosy snugs, and the tobacco-smoke-stained walls have certainly ‘seen some things.’ There is no music or television, though on more than one occasion, including this most recent visit, there may be an auld fella surreptitiously streaming a horse race or two on his phone.

Beer Ladies and Ladies of Beer at The GravediggersBut it’s by no means a museum piece – the right-hand side of the pub has more of a lively restaurant vibe, with all sorts of interesting tapas choices; it’s not typical pub grub, and it’s especially great if you’re in with a group. However, on this most recent visit, as it was just me (and I only had time for a brief sit-down), I hit the left-hand door to the bar and took my pint to the back, near the fireplace, where I found a few tourists (yes, even mid-day) as well as regulars. Most importantly, though, it was quiet, with only moderate conversation in the background, and I could properly enjoy my rare alone-time over a pint.

It was a far cry from my first visit to The Gravediggers on a drinky-drinky GhostBus tour some years ago with a group of then-fellow Amazon corporate revellers – I’m sure we were the literal worst kind of group (well, barring British stag parties), though we were largely kept in the back before being popped back onto our bus after another pint, which was entirely fair. I’m sure we were told many tales of the ghosts rumoured to haunt the pub, but I confess my memory of the event is a bit hazy…so I had to Google ‘ghost stories at The Gravediggers‘ – even though haunted pubs and breweries are things that live rent-free in my brain.

There was the typical-in-pubs spooky interference with the electronics – card machines are relatively new here, and there is still no wifi – though I’ve heard similar said of a number of Pennsylvania inns as well when they brought in new-fangled cash registers; perhaps it’s simply part of the long-time publican’s makeup, wherever they are (or whatever plane of existence they are theoretically on). Another story suggests a man in tweed enjoys a pint before disappearing (or heading back into the graveyard?), which seems a pleasant ghost story for a pub.

And is it The Best Pint of Guinness in Ireland? Well, I’d argue that it’s no different from the one you get at The Hut in terms of quality of tap lines and care in pouring, but it does have a lovely atmosphere – especially during the Samhain/Halloween season.

Where: John Kavanagh’s The Gravediggers, 1 Prospect Square, Glasnevin, Dublin, D09 CF72
Access from the city centre: Buses 4, 9, 16, 40, 122, 123, 140
Food: Tapas and coddle
Sport: No
TVs: Not a one
Music: Not a thing
Family-friendliness: Often a mac and cheese tapas option!
Pub-crawl-ability: Medium – about a 10 minute walk to the main Phibsboro pubs, including The Botanic, The Brian Boru, The Bald Eagle, Doyle’s Corner, The Hut and The Boh
Haunted: So they say…
Local sites of note: Glasnevin Cemetery, National Botanic Gardens
Other notes: So, why so few photos of such an iconic pub? Well, it just seems like it would be, frankly, weird, to be taking more than the odd photo or two…it’s more for enjoying the pint itself vs photographing the pint…and I say that as someone who can be very extra about photographing a pint…

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: The Botanic

Outside The BotanicWe’re back to normal Weirdo Dublin Pubs service this week, and we’re back in our normal Northside haunts (so seasonal!) with a new entrant to the field: The Botanic. Previously known as The Botanic House, this lovely early-20th-century pub had been dormant for some time, but it’s now very much back open, and very much back on theme, even if its name has been very slightly truncated.

As I walk past the pub quite frequently on my usual meanderings, I had often wondered about its history, and have more than once fallen down a rabbit hole, looking for information – it’s a handsome building, with ‘AD 1913’ confidently displayed over the door. The small bits and pieces I have uncovered in this rather cursory digging are that The Botanic House re-opened in 1914, and that the current building replaced a previous incarnation (or two? Or more?) from the 1850s – there’s clearly more to get into there. Its more recent experience, though, has been rather more episodic – it closed in 2014, after more or less a continued century in business in the current site, re-opened after a renovation in 2018, then closed again with Covid restrictions in 2021, remaining shuttered while others around re-opened – until a few weeks ago.

Chili and a pintI’d seen the flowers outside (see? A THEME) and the new signage appear not long ago, and had been making a point of heading in that direction more often to keep an eye on things. We tried popping in shortly after they officially re-opened, but it was absolutely slammed – likely a good thing – and so left it a few weeks, before making reservations to give it another try. An ideal opportunity presented itself with the smaller offspring’s birthday, as The Botanic’s Instagram leans heavily into social media-friendly large milkshakes, desserts and cocktails – she was exceptionally keen to try said milkshakes and cakes (though more on that in a moment).

A view toward the main barWhen we duly arrived for our booking, the floral theme outside continues everywhere inside, and to good effect; given the proximity to the National Botanic Gardens and at least 100 years of the old name, there’s no harm in leaning all the way in with the plants; it’s very colourful and well-executed, and it complements the broadly-Edwardian interior well. Most importantly from my perspective is the beer lineup, and it’s rather respectable: several Rye River and BRÚ taps, plus some Galway Bay options, in addition to the usual suspects. As mentioned, the wildly Instagrammable cocktails also looked rather tempting (well, many of them – I’ll pass on some of the more candy-themed options, but there were plenty of perfectly reasonable choices), but the real standout was the food. I had an excellent chili – something that isn’t always well-interpreted in Europe – and there’s a good mix of other choices beyond the typical pub menu, from sirloins to stir-fry. You could even eat in a reasonably healthy way, and then undo it all with a big dessert (cough) – and again, there are the mega-milkshakes, which proved so filling that the birthday girl couldn’t manage a separate dessert.

Pretty dessertMy only complaint was that the service was very slow in terms of initial ordering or getting refills (though the food came quickly), and the waitstaff didn’t seem to be very knowledgeable about the beers on tap; for example, it seemed to be a surprise to them that they had more than one IPA, or more than one kind of beer from the individual breweries, and we had to remind them several times that we’d ordered drinks, but I would put that down to everything still being quite new.

All told, it feels more on the ‘restaurant’ side of the fence, but I would be curious to wander over some less-crowded afternoon for a post-walk pint, though now that I know there’s a good chili available nearby, I may struggle to pass that up…

Where: The Botanic, 22-26 Botanic Rd, Glasnevin, Ireland, Co. Dublin, D09 AK26
Access from the city centre: Buses 9, 16, 40, 46A, 83, 122, 140
Food: Gastropub, with so many desserts
Sport: Lots of sporting options
TVs: Many televisions, but well-placed so as not to be overwhelming
Music: Live music Friday & Saturday nights; the soundtrack our visit was a little MOR for my personal taste
Family-friendliness: Very child-friendly, with an extensive and more-interesting-than-most children’s menu
Pub-crawl-ability: Medium-high – very handy for all of the main Phibsboro pubs, including The Bald Eagle, The Brian Boru, Doyle’s Corner, The Hut, The Boh, The Back Page and even a short stroll from The Gravediggers
Haunted: It was accidentally involved in an entirely unrelated kidnap case in 1917, so maybe!
Local sites of note: National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin Cemetery, Royal Canal, Dalymount Park
Other notes: Reservations seem to be a must on weekends at the moment

Weirdo Guide to (Some) Kilkenny Pubs: A Weekend in the Country

Kilkenny hurlersWe’re back in my busy travel time of year, so this week, it’s a quick selection of pubs from Kilkenny, rather than anything more local-to-me in Dublin. And I’m sure Kilkenny residents will rightly point out that these are all touristy in one way or another, but hey, you have to at least tick some of those off the list when it’s a flying visit. I was only in town overnight to catch Fra Fee singing Sondheim (AND LIZ CALLAWAY WAS THE SURPRISE GUEST – my fellow Sondheim nerds will understand the all-caps here – normals, feel free to move on*), so beer was not super-high on the agenda, for once.

Inside Kyteler's InnBut that said, I had a few hours free after a nice lunch with friends, and some poking around the various museums and historic sites, so I had to at least make a stop in at Kyteler’s Inn, which leans all the way in to its association with Dame Alice Kyteler, the subject of one of Ireland’s very few witchcraft trials in 1324. Not coincidentally, this is the date given for the foundation of the pub, and while that seems a bit too good to be true, we do have good documentation for Dame Alice owning the property (among many others, in her varied marriage-and-land-acquisition career), and it does seem genuinely ‘old’ – though I would guess more of the rambling pub is more of 15th century-and-onward date, but I would happily believe bits, at least, are older and have been reused. We have, naturally, covered Dame Alice and her unfortunate servant, Petronella, who was the one who ended up in the flames after Dame Alice fled abroad (Petronella now has a restaurant named after her, so, um, yay?) in a previous (AWARD-NOMINATED) Beer Ladies Podcast episode or two, which always gives us an excuse to re-bust the alewives/witches myth, but this was my first visit back to Kyteler’s Inn since a quick lunch there during some version of Covid protocols.

Well, she got that signAnd while it is absolutely in the tourist camp – I mean, that cat logo and the €7 pint – I can’t fault that in any way; you gotta get a gimmick**. And I’m here for the rebadged O’Hara’s Red Ale as their house Witches Brew, which is clearly designated as such for The People Who Worry About That Sort of Thing (you know who you are). My only knock on the place – beyond the proliferation of North American accents – that many of My Countrypeople in one place always makes me a little nervous, but more on that in a moment – is that the tour-bus numbers make it a little too busy to have especially attentive service; I would absolutely have purchased one of the incredibly silly t-shirts if I’d been asked, but after my token pint, I never could catch anyone’s eye again, despite sitting at the bar. That said, I wasn’t planning to linger, so it wasn’t a terrible hardship.

I had a quick walk into the Smithwick’s Experience, just to check it out, but I almost immediately backed right out when I heard louder-than-usual Boomer American Men in Caps confidently declaring that this was where they made the beer that’s ‘just like a red Guinness‘ that ‘you can’t get back home’ and as the conversation was about to turn to ‘socialism,’ I had to flee. I wouldn’t mind doing the tour at some point (I am curious if they show off or describe anything about the medieval abbey that was here), but feel I’d need to go with friends who don’t have my accent, just to provide a sort of buffer.

Tasting flight at Sullivan'sAfter more pleasant strolling and some actual relaxation in my hotel, I ventured back out for dinner, this time, to Sullivan’s Taproom (‘established 1702’). They have considerably expanded their covered outdoor seating since our previous visit, and it’s a thoroughly pleasant spot, with a variety of nooks and crannies in the Craftonia style, and I saw A Thing I don’t think I’ve ever seen in this country – Young People being asked for ID before being served drinks. You can order via QR code or go to the bar, and while I know some are not fans of the QR code approach, as a solo diner/drinker, it’s very handy – no worry that your table will disappear if you need a refill. And while I’m not an unabashed fan of all of the house-made offerings at Sullivan’s – barring the red ale, which is very pleasant indeed – they do a lovely tasting tray, and the guest beer lineup is very good indeed. On my visit, there were options from Third Barrel and Bullhouse, to name just a few, and the pizza is excellent; all in all, a successful pre-theatre stop.

I had a very quick post-show pint (well, really, two glasses) at Cleere’s Bar, which was just across the street from the Watergate Theatre, and was obviously the spot for the creatives, too – it was nice to be able to give a quick ‘great job, loved the show’ and then let them enjoy their evening (and it was a fantastic show), and while there weren’t many craft options, it was nice to grab a Murphy’s as a bit of a change, and it had a very welcoming, traditional pub vibe.

All told, Kilkenny is a lovely little city for a quick break; I know there are a few other craft-supporting pubs I didn’t have the chance to get to, but it’s always good to leave something for next time. I’ll drink to that***.



*sorry/not remotely sorry

** still not sorry

*** everybody RISE

Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs: The Brickyard Gastropub

The Brickyard signThis week in Weirdo Guide to Dublin Pubs, we’re not just crossing the Liffey – we’re going Far Away, to the suburbs (though still via public transit – we’re not monsters here). While I had been told by many people that The Brickyard was a must-visit, not just for the beer selection but for the food, as someone with a violent aversion to most suburbs, I had not made my way down there in the nearly four years we’ve lived in Dublin. And, to be fair, it’s a very accessible suburb; indeed, the pub is situated right above the Luas tracks, only steps from a station.

Although I had not previously actually visited, I have been using their beer delivery service, Yards & Crafts, ever since it launched, as they have always had an excellent selection of beer from Ireland, the UK and beyond, including their own label, Two Sides, originally a collaborative effort with the recently-shuttered restaurant 57 The Headline (though in that case, they should be re-opening in a new form in the not-too-distant future). And while that part of the business is winding down – it sprang to life during the Covid shutdowns – the Brickyard Gastropub itself has recently undergone a major renovation, and the attention to detail is evident; it’s a bright, open space with a variety of seating options, both indoor and on the covered patio.

Hops. In a cage.Now that I have finally visited, I was rather regretting not having experienced the previous look and feel, simply for comparison, but what is there now very much reminds me of some of the places we used to frequent in the Philly area, especially TJ’s Restaurant & Drinkery. Both spots have an emphasis on great craft beer from near and far (plus the usual macros for good measure), and an excellent and varied food selection – yes, the usual burgers, but also a changing variety of other options – as well as a similar exposed-brick decor. The other obvious similarity is that both are in relatively far-out suburbs, but with handy train connections – the broader unprepossessing exterior doesn’t give an obvious hit of what’s inside until you’ve made your way past the ‘shopping centre’ surrounds and find the ‘semi-industrial with hops’ look inside.

I was finally motivated to make the trip down to The Brickyard for their Oktoberfest offering – one with real pretzels, a rarity around these parts. I know few people want to hear my Grand Unified Theory on why all pubs the world over should always offer soft pretzels (not hard pretzels, which are garbage), but I will say these more than met with my approval. And I was certainly not disappointed in the beer offering; indeed, it’s probably one of the best in Dublin. I especially appreciated the attention to detail on the beer menu, separating out the low- and no-alcohol options (of which there were many – more on this in a moment), as well as gluten-free choices and useful broad categories beyond that would appeal to the beer newbie and jaded expert alike. In short, they make great use of all 27 taps, with a wide range of styles and strengths. This is not the spot you find 25 basically-identical hazy IPAs and a Guinness, and thank goodness for that.

At the barBut back to the impressive non-alcoholic beer list for a moment; our Beer Ladies Podcast episode this week is on the topic of ‘sober-curious,’ – both mindful drinking and simply drinking, well, less. Having such a great lineup, including the brewed-with-a-unique-NZ-yeast Dot Brew Non-Alcoholic IPA, but also a no-booze sour, hefeweizen and some lagers and stouts, really offered something for everyone, whether they were off the drink for the evening, or just choosing to swap a ‘real’ beer for a non-alcoholic one on the odd round. Given the relatively long trip back into town for me, I liked the idea of being able to keep things on the light side, while still enjoying some good flavours – and having a real choice in that regard was a lovely novelty.

All told, this is the sort of place that would absolutely be my regular spot if I lived nearby, but now that I know it’s very much worth the trip, I will certainly be back. I mean, the Luas is free, right?

Where: Brickyard Gastropub, Ground Floor, North Block, Rockfield Central, Dundrum, Dublin 16
Access from the city centre: Luas Green Line – no walking unless you are incredibly ambitious
Food: Gastropub, with many specials
Sport: All the sport! Sport for all!
TVs: So very many TVs!
Music: Felt explicitly targeted as a specific GenX sub-group; so much early ’90s indie joy
Family-friendliness: Lots of families, and a thoroughly welcoming atmosphere
Pub-crawl-ability: Low – this is the suburbs, after all – but you could hop the Luas back toward the city…
Haunted: Perhaps in a sort of late-stage capitalism, Municipal Gothic sense
Local sites of note: Dundrum Town Centre, Airfield Estate
Other notes: Walk-ins only, unless your group is large