As promised last week, we’ll be visiting a number of Galway Bay pubs in this series; while one of the things I really enjoy about their various bars is that each has a bit of its own character and style, I’m particularly lucky that one of my favourites happens to be a relatively short walk away from my now-home – something of a happy accident. Let’s rewind.
I first encountered The Black Sheep on a work trip to Dublin in 2016; at the time, we were living in Seattle and had no plans to move (again). I recently came across the old WhatsApp group that was used to coordinate post-meeting sustenance and frivolity. In those conversations, I saw The Black Sheep described as ‘kind of like Brave Horse‘ – the now-shuttered bar in the middle of the Amazon campus where people would go to extend their desk-crying sessions over a pint – and also as ‘one of those hipster beer places, but more Irish.’ However, I was also warned that it was ‘far from most other things’ and that the area was ‘kind of sketch, but no guns, so all cool!’ Thus prepared, I set out with a small group of fellow Amazonian beer nerds after a long day of meetings, looking at the ‘trek’ from the offices to the supposedly ‘sketch’ Northside of Dublin as quite an adventure.
If memory serves, there was mild disappointment from some in the group on the nearly-complete lack of ‘sketch,’ but everyone was very pleased to find The Black Sheep had something for everyone in our group – cask ale (sigh – more on this in a moment), some good Galway Bay beers, a guest tap or two that catered to other tastes, and possibly the oddest nachos I’ve ever come across – the chips on the night were certainly not made from corn, but whether that was a case of ‘the kitchen ran out and improvised’ or whether that was the recipe at the time, I cannot say – jumping ahead briefly, I am pleased to report the current state of Black Sheep nachos is very different – in a good way! On that occasion, we sat at one of the big tables on the Cask Corner (sob! again!) side of the pub, but I made a firm mental note of the comfy couch by the window and the bar seating on the other side, and immediately made plans to return on my own a few days later. For the record, Untappd tells me that on that initial visit, I had a White Hag Little Fawn and Galway Bay’s own Pilot 014 – Dortmunder Lager.
As planned, I stopped back in for a solo pint on the couch before heading home, taking in the Father Ted wall decorations and the usual tin brewery signs, I thought about what a thoroughly pleasant pub it was, and that this was somewhere I would visit regularly if I lived nearby. As that was not even a vague idea, I thought no more of it, but continued to make a point of stopping in on subsequent work trips – the fact that it was not especially close to the Amazon offices, but was quite convenient for Chapters Books may well have played a part; once again, Untappd let me know that in March of 2019, I had some lovely cask pints – from Kirkstall, in this case – over some newly-acquired books. And then, later that year I got the unexpected offer to take a new role in Dublin and, well – here we are.
While we initially lived south of the river for a year – a combination of a pandemic, a relocation agent who refused to believe that we actually meant it when we said we were ‘city people’ and the ongoing housing crisis in Ireland, when we finally had the chance to move to the Northside, we took it, our landlord from the old house telling us, in all seriousness, that we were ‘so brave,’ notwithstanding. (Some Southside Dubliners have a very skewed idea of what happens once you cross the Liffey – it’s a thing). While we had not planned it, we ended up only a few minutes’ walk from The Black Sheep; although it’s not quite close enough to be our local, it’s a very easy sell to head in that direction.
When pubs could finally re-open, after the last of the major Covid restrictions were lifted in January of 2022, The Black Sheep was the first place I headed to get a pint at the bar (again, for the record, a BRU Xtra Pale Ale and a Weights + Measures). Sadly, a combination of Brexit and all things pandemic meant that the Cask Corner did not return to its full function…I give it a bit of a sad look and a sigh each time I’m there, but I am always hopeful that it may, at some point, go back into at least partial use. But even without that, there is much to enjoy at The Black Sheep: the standard Galway Bay beers are always in tip-top shape (I am especially partial to the aforementioned Weights + Measures as well as the Bay Ale), and the guest taps have been varied and interesting, featuring other Irish breweries as well as some international options.
And I have to say, again, that the nachos are the real thing now – although sister bar Taco Libre has closed, some of the skill that went into their excellent chips and guac has settled into The Black Sheep. I am always a fan of the halloumi fries, too, and seem to find an excuse to get them at every Galway Bay location.
Also worth noting is the absence of televisions; for the non-sportsball fan, The Black Sheep can be an oasis of calm when every other pub is full because ‘the game’ is on. And while there are many times when I do want to go see whichever ‘the game’ is on, it’s nice to have alternatives when it’s not your sport or team – or just to have that relaxing solo pint.
That couch is still a very comfortable spot, and it’s wild that I can simply walk there any time.
April 2023 update: Cask Corner lives again! Keep an eye on The Black Sheep’s socials on Thursdays – there’s a lot of good stuff headed our way.
Where: The Black Sheep, 61 Capel St, Rotunda, Dublin
Access from the city centre: 10 minute walk, 46 bus, Luas Green Line
Food: Galway Bay standard pub grub menu
Music: You are safe here, fellow Gen Xers
Family-friendliness: Kids’ menu, always a welcome at the usual times
Pub-crawl-ability: High – all of Capel Street is right there, from early houses like Slattery’s to other Galway Bay pubs like The Oak and The Beer Temple on Dame Street if you keep walking…also a short walk to Smithfield and beyond…
Local sites of note: Capel Street, Chapters Books, Wolfe Tone Square, Jervis Centre, ILAC Centre, 14 Henrietta Street, King’s Inns
Only by the absence of cask ale, unless anyone has a story to share CASK IS BACK!
Other notes: Everything is on a single floor – no need to trek to a basement toilet; excellent bottle list
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