Chasing literary ghosts in Dublin often leads to one thing: a pint of stout. In Ireland, the public house—or pub—is an extension of the living room and for centuries has served as a gathering place for writers seeking inspiration, commiseration, or simply distraction from the demands of the blank page. Lucky for readers and travelers, many of these institutions remain much as they were when James Joyce or Oscar Wilde crossed the threshold to scribble or relax over a drink or two. Read on for 8 of the best (be sure to designate a driver if you plan to drink alcohol).
1. Davy Byrnes
Dublin’s most famous pub with ties to literary greatness just might be Davy Byrnes, which appears in James Joyce’s groundbreaking novel Ulysses. It was here, just off pedestrianized Grafton Street, where fictional Leopold Bloom stops in for a glass of Burgundy and a gorgonzola sandwich. If that weren’t enough lit cred, some people believe that Samuel Beckett lived upstairs for a time. Today, the pub is among the sites at the heart of the country’s annual Bloomsday celebrations: Each year on June 16, Joyce fans don historic garb and gather at Davy Byrnes to revel in Joyce’s legacy and prose.
The recently renovated pub is among the most refined on this list. The bar is marble-topped, the red banquettes plush, and the seasonal oysters always fresh. Want fresh air? Outdoor tables offer a great place to watch the city stroll by.
Info: 21 Duke Street, Dublin 2.
Not far from Davy Byrnes and just off Grafton Street, McDaids has a different kind of charm. This traditional pub—rumored to once have been the city morgue—has no marble or plush banquettes, but its stained-glass windows and well-worn wood interior are just as inviting. This centrally located pub has been a favorite gathering place for thirsty writers, from poet, novelist, and playwright Brendan Behan (of Borstal Boy and Confessions of an Irish Rebel fame) to poet Patrick Kavanagh (who wrote “On Raglan Road”) and Oscar Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Importance of Being Earnest). To prepare for your visit, read “Grace,” a short story set in McDaids that’s in James Joyce’s 1914 collection Dubliners. This is the place for a pint of “plain,” as Guinness is affectionately called.
Info: 3 Harry Street, Dublin 2.
3. Toners Pub
“My own business always bores me to death,” remarked one of Oscar Wilde’s memorable characters. “I prefer other people’s.” Such is the communal pleasure of the traditional Irish pub, especially one as cozy as Toners Pub, a wood-lined watering hole known for pouring one of the city’s best Guinness pints.
Toners was once a bar and grocery shop, and that charm shines through in original details such as stock drawers behind the bar. Scribes from Patrick Kavanagh and Oliver St. John Gogarty (the poet who inspired the Buck Mulligan character in Ulysses) to Bram Stoker (of Dracula fame) all raised a glass at Toners, but the pub’s greatest claim to literary fame just might be its purported connection to poet W.B. Yeats. According to lore, Yeats wasn’t much of a man for pubs, but something about Toners piqued his curiosity, and he drank a sherry in the snug. You’ll find a large beer garden here, too, but to experience the legendary atmosphere, squeeze inside for a seat at the bar.
Info: 139 Baggot Street Lower, Dublin 2.
4. The Brazen Head
Did Jonathan Swift outline the plot of Gulliver’s Travels while staring into a pint at The Brazen Head? We’ll never know for sure, but it’s possible, as this ancient pub was one of Swift’s haunts. Dating to the 12th century, The Brazen Head has welcomed generations of Irish writers, including James Joyce and Brendan Behan (who, to be fair, was a regular at many places around town).
Located on the banks of the River Liffey, the Brazen Head resembles a brick fortress, glowing lanterns, and all. Inside, try to snag a coveted seat next to the fireplace and settle in with a pint of stout and bowl of stew while listening to live music.
Info: 20 Lower Bridge Street, Dublin 8.
5. The Horseshoe Bar
Classier than a potato-chips-and-beer pub, The Horseshoe Bar in the Shelbourne hotel has long been a polished meeting spot for the literary set (not to mention politicians and other movers and shakers). Located across the street from St. Stephen’s Green, the posh bar reached institution status decades ago and has hosted writers from Patrick Kavanagh to poet Seamus Heaney, who won the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Info: 27 St. Stephens Green, Dublin 2.
6. The Palace Bar
The pleasure of The Palace Bar—a Victorian pub at the edge of the Temple Bar neighborhood—is that it has remained unchanged by time: Swing open the door and you’ll find the same gilded mirrors and mahogany bar that have welcomed writers over generations. The usual suspects—Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh, Flann O’Brien—all had a soft spot for the place, and in the not-too-distance past, Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney was known to stop in occasionally.
Info: 21 Fleet Street, Dublin 2.
One of Oscar Wilde’s most famous quotes comes from the 1892 play Lady Windermere’s Fan: “I can resist everything except temptation.” The statement might also describe how many writers feel when walking past Grogans. There’s something about this no-frills pub on South William Street that lures in passersby for a pint and a toastie (toasted ham and cheese sandwich). Depending on the time of day you visit, you might be greeted with locals quietly reading the newspaper or groups of Dubliners engaged in raucous banter.
Historically, writers sometimes followed a favorite bartender from one pub to another, and after beloved barman Paddy O’Brien moved here from McDaids, writers such as Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh, and Flann O’Brien followed. Today, you’re likely to see a new generation of writers scribbling in notebooks at the outdoor tables.
Info: 15 South William Street, Dublin 2.
Writers in Dublin sometimes “fell out” with a pub. That might mean they drank too much, were involved in a fight, or failed to pay their tab—whatever the reason, they were no longer welcome. That’s how some writers came to embrace a new “local”—not by choice but necessity. After “falling out” with nearby McDaids, Patrick Kavanagh and Brendan Behan made Kehoes their regular gathering place. This traditional pub is one of Dublin’s most atmospheric. Stained-glass mahogany doors, the cozy snugs and anterooms for small groups, and tables spread across several rooms and floors all give Kehoes an extra special feel.
Info: 9 Anne Street South, Dublin 2.
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