For a city that is growing, demographically and economically, and one that is building and going to go higher, it’s remarkable how few pubs are located in Georgian Dublin. Walk from Lower Mount Street to its upper namesake, then, Lower Baggot Street up to where it meets Pembroke Street. Walk down Upper Leeson Street itself. Walk along all the streets and rows between them. By my unscientific calculation, you’ll count on one hand the number of public houses. The district may not be as commercially populous as the Silicon Docks, the retail footfall not as heavy, but the streets will show you the brass plates of countless financial brokers, dentists, services industries and production companies in the arts, all hosting people occasionally looking for an after-work pint.
This sparseness of pubs leaves Oil Can Harry’s of Lower Mount Street well poised. The clientele on a bright May evening reflects the mix you might expect. Outside, a group of young Europeans are smoking and drinking without a care in the world. Two tables host young Americans drinking shorts. Opposite the bar, men in business attire who look and sound like they’re working in Dublin for a few nights, possibly a few weeks, sit at a high table and talk reflectively by a set of stouts. The scene looks like they’ve made it their short-term regular. Meanwhile, the older men whose knees nudge the bar look like committed patrons.
Despite the national/international mix, this pub has a distinctly traditional feel: the Irish sports paraphernalia plastered across the walls; the number of TV screens for showing sport; the cultural relics like old road signs with town and distance. There’s nothing gastro about the evening menu – chowder, beef lasagne, chicken curry, bangers and mash, sirloin steak – or the plate of scones wrapped in cellophane on the bar counter. Weekend nights bring live music, a mix of the traditional and the contemporary. A matronly lady with a winning smile keeps tables served and clean. This could be the Johnnie Fox’s of the concrete jungle.
Even more traditional than other traditional pubs in Dublin, the draught beer choice is limited. You’ll be spoilt for choice of whiskeys and spirits.
A strength of the pub is its spaciousness: out front where people can drink and smoke at one of the ample tables; the pub’s bright, front area with its large window that gives it a real sense of spaciousness; the large Library Room in the middle of the pub for anyone looking to curl up with a drink and book; and roof garden. Upstairs has a function room I remember being in for a 21st many moons ago, when the moon was associated with howling and this was a pitstop for the pseudonymous nightclub up the road.
The iconic nightclub is gone. The number of such traditional pubs is dwindling. Dublin is changing. Yet this dog-old establishment still stands, the O’Connors as wedded as ever to providing a traditional pub. But what will happen when running this pub is past them? Where will its current clientele will find a quiet, traditional experience? It will be interesting to see what happens this endangered bird when the owners take flight.
Prices (23 May 2019)
Pint of Guinness: €5.30
Pint of lager: €5.80
Pint of ale: €5.30
Pint of cider: €5.80
330ml bottle of lager: €5.60
Measure of whiskey: €5.10
Soft drink: €2.90