We’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.
But 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.
And 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.
After 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