If you find yourself in Dublin on one of these dark, damp, but cheerful evenings before Christmas, you might discover some large groups marauding through the city streets, bedecked in retro Christmas jumpers. Some may be singing and roaring. Others may come stumbling out of drinking emporiums, swaying and smiling as they meet the cold winter air. You’ll wonder if the city has mad. Worry not. Some visitors have heard of the twelve stations of the Cross, others the twelve steps of recovery. If you’re in Dublin, you’ll be looking at those on the twelve pubs of Christmas.
The annual ritual of a drink in twelve different pubs has become fashionable in recent years. Some pubs even refuse entry to those mid-ritual. While the notion of sinking twelve pints/glasses/shorts in one boisterous night in Dublin may not appeal, halve the challenge and try six of Dublin’s finest.
Start off on Dawson Street, where you’ll find the city’s smallest pub, The Dawson Lounge. At the best of times, you could be forgiven for wondering how this small, cellar level pub can satisfy health and safety regulations when a crowd bursts in. At Christmas, you won’t find a crowd, more a tin of sardines. The temperature rises, the rooms expands, the door to the toilet becomes a virtual anteroom, and everyone sucks in their chest. Yet the buzz and the novelty make it worthwhile.
Then it’s onto the other side of Grafton Street and Harry Street, where Phil Lynott will be waiting for you, or a bronze statue more accurately. Philo is aptly located beside Bruxellles, a Dublin pub with true rock music heritage. The Saloon Bar is atmospheric and always has a sense that someone interesting is just about to arrive.
For the bohemian in you, your next pub is Grogan’s on South William Street. For its cramped, 1970s living room feel; for the art (a lot of it for sale) on the wall; for the quality of the stout and the authenticity of the toasted sandwiches – this is a must visit.
Just down the road on Exchequer Street is one of Dublin’s hidden gems: The Library Bar. Upstairs in the Central Hotel, this bar is full of fine furnishings, book shelves, paintings and plenty of space and calm for conversation. This unique setting feels like an exclusive club’s lounge bar and is the perfect place to ease the pace before the final stretch.
When most Dubliners think of O’Neill’s, they think of on Suffolk Street and the place with a license to sell booze for over 300 years. Yet its namesake on Pearse Street should be your next location. This Victorian pub and townhouse provides a nice range of beers (including the increasingly popular craft varieties), warmth, an easy atmosphere and doesn’t take itself too seriously – exemplified by its late opening (note: not closing) of 4pm on Saturdays, and closure on Sundays.
Alas, most cities have a river and Dublin’s should be crossed. Warmed by the five previous establishments, walk to the Ha’penny Bridge, cross it and head to Capel Street, where you’ll find your delightful, final stop: Jack Nealon’s. A roaring fire will await you, possibly live traditional Irish music, and the indescribable but distinctive feeling of a typical Dublin pub: wood, glass, mirrors, banter and a room burbling with conversation and indifference to closing time or tomorrow.
The wonderful thing about devising this route was hard it was; visitors are spoilt for choice in Dublin. This ritual might be more enjoyable on a weeknight than a weekend night if time permits between now and the 25th. The marauders might be less numerous, but you’ll find that warm Christmas glow permeating every pub. Happy Christmas.