The nights are getting longer. By teatime, as I walk past the swans fluttering into and out of the black waters, the dark has long descended. The Lower Deck, tucked in behind the Atlas Language School in Portobello, is my destination. You’ve probably never been there but have noticed its black and brown exterior as you’ve passed the canal. At the windows by the entrance I peer at the GAA paraphernalia and photos beyond the glass. There’s countless framed black and white images of old Dublin — the Princess Cinema in Rathmines, the old cattle market on the North Circular Road, the fruit and veg markets. Some bring a smile: the famous one of a train that had ploughed through a building wall, caption Last Stop!. There’s one of an Old English Sheepdog on his hind legs beside his owner at College Green pawing a pedestrian crossing button.
Immediately inside the main door a cadre of old men, defined by ties and cardigans, sit in a snug amidst glasses of black and white of differing levels and empty, forgotten ones with white residuals. There’s no teatime look about them, more that of men deep into the night.
The medium-sized pub itself has a feel of night, one whose dimly-lit corners and intimate pockets have never been scattered by light. That enhances the feeling of welcome and intimacy on such November evenings. There’s dark humour here too. A photo behind the bar shows a hearse, The Lower Deck inscribed on the body of the vehicle, coffin inside. Caption: Dying for a pint. Did an old patron request that his remains stop at his local along his final journey? Perhaps he’d had his final night there too.
The Lower Deck has the traditional pub feel. It’s got a country owner, no doubt, Tipperary hurling memorabilia and photos peppering the room. An old-school projector screen is used to show sport (the 6.01 news is on the evening I’m there) while a small TV in the corner appeases the racing aficionados. Donation boxes sit beside the rubber drip tray with a prominence you rarely see in the modern bars up the road. Music comes in the form of singalongs on Sunday evenings, live music on Saturday nights though I wonder if the old men swapping views in the snug take much notice. In the land of retirement, the weekend begins on Monday.
Afterwards, I pause outside and look at the black and white photos again. There’s some of Portobello in the rare ‘oul times: the Old Mall in the 1940s; the pub when it was known as Ryan’s. This establishment has been serving the Portobello people for one hundred and fifty one years, unbeknownst to many who pass the canal on their habitual ways. A contemporary photo of the pub in black and white would hang easily among the others. The Lower Deck sits on the shoulders of a bygone era. Everyone is happy without colour.
Prices (23 November 2018)
Pint of Guinness: €5.00
Pint of lager: €5.50
Pint of ale: €5.00
Pint of cider: €5.80
330ml bottle of lager: €5.50
Measure of whiskey: €5.00/5.30
Soft drink: €3.00