Most Dubliners will know J.W. Sweetman’s predecessor on Burgh Quay, Messrs Maguire – the multi-storeyed pub on the right-hand side of the quays as you head north at O’Connell Bridge. They probably know it from summers’ eves and the unique views and light that spilled in to the second floor. In a low-rise city with many dark pubs, the upper floors seemed to stand on the shoulders of giants. When Mulligan’s was too busy after a Dublin football Sunday, ‘Messrs’ was an option or a place for food after pints on Poolbeg Street. In my mind, every Dub has been to an 18th, 21st or a retirement bash there.
Time marches forward and places change hands. J.W. Sweetman’s is the name outside it now and Thursday evening’s tipple is consumed on the ground floor to the drowning sound of upbeat jazz in the Blu Room upstairs, a weekly feature from 6pm. This pub has captured the zeitgeist of Dublin drinkers’ and tourists’ requirements: craft beers and a broad choice of new whiskeys and gins; plenty of TV screens to show all major sports events; and a decent food menu (with deals for times of the publicised sports events). The food is agreeable. I try the home brew of Red Ale (4.8%), punchy and crisp. Add in the 2.30am closing time on Saturdays and Sundays and you’ll see how this bar might do well. No doubt the city’s pubs rely on tourists, which might explain the American bar feel to the ‘mix’ pubs now offer.
Change of ownership hasn’t meant loss of view. By the windows on the second floor, you still get a great vista of the city’s river, the buildings on the quays and the wide expanse of O’Connell Street, with all its monuments and history. Tables are taken quickly so be alert.
Ireland isn’t just small geographically. They say if you put five Irish people in a room together, at least two of them will know someone in common. It was only after visiting the pub that I realised I knew an ancestor of the eponymous brewer.
The Sweetmans was a famous and successful family for centuries in Dublin, known for brewing, architecture and politics. By 1756, they had five breweries in Dublin, including one at 81 St Stephen’s Green that would later move to Francis Street. As a child I knew Brigid Sweetman, a sweet, elderly lady and daughter of Roger Sweetman, a Sinn Féin MP during the War of Independence and cousin of the party’s second president. Her antecedent, Patrick J Sweetman, was the first Irish brewer to publicly advertise his porter, an ad appearing in 1780. He sold it at a time when London porter dominated a local market defined by poor indigenous brews. In 1793, despondent local brewers succeeded in getting Irish parliamentarian Henry Grattan to repeal the excise duty on beer in Ireland — to encourage its consumption rather than the cheap, low-excise spirits that local brewers blamed for their misfortunes. After repeal, local beer brewing grew and with the production of a standard roast malt technique in the early 19th century, porter brewing proliferated.
Brigid used to proudly refer to her family’s brewing history. There’s no involvement by any of her relatives in the company that brews and runs this pub on Burgh Quay, though you’d be forgiven for thinking there is from the pub’s marketing or website. John William Sweetman and his descendants, however, would be pleased to see the renaissance of beer brewing in Ireland today after another long period of mass importation.
Prices (25 July 2018)
Pint of Guinness: €5.50
Pint of lager: €6.00
Pint of Sweetmans Craft: €6.00
330ml bottle of lager: €6.00
Measure of Irish whiskey: €5.60
Soft drink: €3.00