As you face George’s Quay, you see the old and the new swirl around the workshop. Etched above the pub’s sleek, non-capitalised name-sign is an old, tired one, Kennedy’s, the name from yesteryear and the family who’ve owned it since 1920.
On the pub’s gable end is a large 3D art installation that tourist and local alike gawk at as they wait for green men. It’s a representation of the endangered red squirrel, made from recycled city waste. Is the traditional Irish pub the endangered species before our eyes?
Slightly down from the gastro pub, towards the sea, lie derelict brick buildings and land parcels arising from the slaying of other windowless shells. They’re from the era of the Kennedy’s sign and will inevitably make way for modern, higher builds, the miracle being that the city’s quays still have relics of the past.
The city of 1920 that John Kennedy observed as he converted the Railway Bar he’d bought into his own was also full collisions of old and new. Some nearby buildings, damaged during the Rising, were being restored. The green-domed splendour of the Custom House, opposite Kennedy’s, would be severely damaged the following year by burning — a landmark episode during the political turbulence of the time.
This pub, re-branded and re-designed in 2014, also points to the past. Framed photographs inside portray Ireland’s commercial and industrial history. Its frayed wooden flooring and blacksmith’s tools showcased beside the bar denote retro-workshop. The theme is stylish, the grey interior cool and smooth. Yet one wonders how much those in financial services who descend here for a gastro burger lunch can connect with the tong or anvil. What nostalgia is provoked by photos of the docks among those drinking the signature Aperol Spritz after another day at the silicon docks? Amusing the chasms between modern themes and patrons.
What links today’s customers with those who’ve disappeared into the years is the railway bar identity. Tara Street Station opened in 1891. Kennedy’s location beside its entrance made it the perfect place for those too early or late for their train to grab a pint of plain. Wicklow is now found in the Wicklow Wolf behind the bar, no longer the Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford Railway Company train. Flapping timetables have been replaced by the real-time app. Not all in here will be heading to Tara Street. But most will feel its proximity as they look out the single, expansive window that frames the Loopline Bridge and crossing trains, or the hundreds passing by each hour en route to or from the station.
This bar isn’t large: a single room downstairs, an upstairs restaurant. When seating’s available, you’ll enjoy your drink or choice from its tasty lunchtime or dinner menu – the din from others never oppressive. But if you’ve missed that DART and the pub looks full, the layout is not convenient for standing. Ultimately every pub sits a basic test: can its customers get a decent drink in comfortable surrounds? The workshop passes.
The old and the new will remain at this centre point between the Loopline Bridge and the station behind it. High-rise development beside the station is envisaged. The plan for the city’s metro includes an underground station below the Tara Street station. The view might change. But one is confident the Kennedys will ensure the pub adapts for whatever the future will bring – still serving locals and whoever has thoughts somewhere between another pint and another train. The workshop has the basic tools. This species doesn’t seem endangered.
Prices (16 October 2018)
No price list seemed to be displayed.
A pot of tea for one cost €3.00. In a pub on the opposite side of the river it costs €2.20.
Cocktails: Espresso Martini €10. Aperol Spritz €10 or two for €17.