It’s Friday night and we’re all nearly 40. At nine we meet, uncharacteristically punctual. Perhaps it’s the rarity, perhaps thirst, perhaps because partners, kids and other demands have applied the reins of time management. Meet on time, enjoy the pints but don’t overstretch your stay or thirst. Tomorrow won’t forgive.
The headcount dotting the lounge’s bar counter and fireside seats is higher than I remember for a Friday night. There’s a buzz. There’s plenty of sport and politics on people’s agenda over the weekend. People have plenty to discuss.
The lounge of Uncle Tom’s, with its clean and fragranced smell and abundance of pink upholstered nooks, hasn’t changed since school friends and I first started coming here about 15 years ago. We were looking for a mutually convenient meeting point, somewhere tamer than pubs we’d frequented. I still remember hearing the pub’s conspicuous name for the first time.
Since then, this sizeable but always near-empty pub has been our spiritual drinking home. It’s here we’ve had vigorous debates, listened to each other about some of our best days and worst. It’s through walking in its double doors, the lounge staff station and sill of neatly spread newspapers coming into view, that we’ve discovered through attendance or absence where others in the group were at in life. On its long lounge benches and outdoor beer garden I’ve been reassured about friendships and loyalties. Here, I tested my groom’s speech on my best man, that night and others in Tom’s reaffirming why I’d chosen him.
And through it all the white shirted barmen with ties have remained unswervingly polite, the lounge staff always nice though idle. Their movements after last orders’ lights flicker has never been too zealous. Their pint of stout? Black gold.
Yet all good things come to an end. The 0.8 hectare site, which includes a car park, is in prime suburbia. Like a bolt of lightning one of the lads told our WhatsApp group he’d been there one night and told it was closing the following week once developers took ownership. Tales of other suburban pubs in Dublin should have been a portent.
The pub heaved for its dying nights. A dead pub serving was resuscitated. Locals crawled out of the woodwork. A major hoolie with music took place on its putative final night. I sorely regretted not paying my respects. Then apparently the developer owner gave the pub a reprieve of a week, then another. Then we heard nothing more.
At ten o’clock, I go up to the bar. Musicians have assembled near the fireplace for the monthly trad session. Tonight’s crowd definitely seems higher. The locals sing along. The small, dark-haired barman smiles as he approaches me. Between the lounge and the bar (that we’ve inexplicably never graced), he’ll be ticking over tonight.
‘What’s the story about the future?’ I ask.
‘No change for the foreseeable,’ he says, seeming comfortable about talking about it. ‘The owners are putting in planning permission but that could take a year or a year and a half to get, so we’re fine for the moment.’
A few weeks later I read about recent developments. The Collins family, whose name is etched on one of the front windows, bought the site 130 years ago. They’ve been selling pints and facilitating people since then. The family of Tony, the 89-year old proprietor, sold it last year to a developer.
As I walk home by Dundrum’s Luas bridge I glance back at Tom’s iconic pink neon sign and think of its legacy. How many friendships within a circle like ours have been part sustained and cemented there since 1890? We’re into our third decade there. Did I mention we’re nearly 40?
There’s a novel to be written about a pub that never did well until it was bought and faced closure to enable development. Locals who hadn’t drank there in years (or ever drank at all) flocked in night after night to pay tribute. The pub began to thrive. The property marked slumped. But the locals had learnt their lesson.
Prices (07 February 2020)
Pint of Guinness: €5.20
Pint of lager: €5.70
Pint of ale: €5.20
330ml bottle of lager: €5.00
Measure of Irish whiskey: €4.70
1/4 bottle of wine: €6.00
Soft drink: €2.80
Bottle of water: €2.90