London has loads of them but Dublin doesn’t: pubs right beside railway stations. I remember being in the bar at Heuston Station years ago and feeling completely underwhelmed. Balally Luas station, near Dundrum, has one, and on a recent Friday night I spent half an hour at one waiting for deliverance – not by a train but a friend. He was putting his kids to bed, a perfection-less art where time has little meaning.
For the first part of the half hour I sent all the texts I never get around to sending, checked a few things online, considered moving inside to watch the rugby but all the bar’s large recentangular tables seemed fully occupied. It was a mild, windy evening and the comfortable terraced area offered the chance of fresh air after another ‘blended week’. Phone put away, I simply inhaled, exhaled, observed.
Most captivating was a group of four friends sitting near me at two barrels. The three lads and a ‘gal looked early twenties. They talked in calm tones, never rising to a laugh only stretched mouths when sarcasm briefly entered the conversation.
What do I know about people half my age, I asked myself. The only snippets I get of their world are people talking on the LUAS. When they talk to me at work it’s usually on the terms of those, like me, approaching middle-age.
In a fit of early middle-aged panic I rose and approached them. ‘Sorry, would you mind if I joined you for a drink? I’m stuck here waiting for the next train and it’s not till midnight,’ I said in attempt at joke.
‘Of course,’ said the cap wearing girl, deadpan. ‘We’re inter-railing and are waiting for the next train to Prague. We’ve been sitting here for three years.’
I warmed the four of them up as vigorously as I could, asked them what they did. They’re studying in UCD. We shared stories about studying Arts. We ended up talking about music and what recent gigs they’d been to. I hadn’t heard of any of the bands but they looked at me as those I understood their culture. We returned to the topic of inter-railing and though I travelled the continent when Eastern European countries still checked passport numbers against those in telephone-directory sized books of black-listed numbers, we shared solidarity in discussing what cities are worth visiting.
I’m young! I thought with relief. I know what young people do and feel and think, and I’m not that different! Until I mentioned the immense range of beers. ‘We don’t really drink,’ said one of them though their glasses looked frothily full. Two others nodded. I’ve heard this endlessly but still was somehow surprised that in a pub on a Friday night with about forty beers to choose from, four hot-blooded Irish people in their twenties wouldn’t let themselves go on one or two of them.
‘Well, nice meeting you guys,’ I said, ‘I’m gonna go and check if the midnight train has arrived early.’ They laughed. ‘Just messing, I’m gonna see what score it is in the rugby.’ I left with sideways handshakes (they still do them, phew!) and texted my impunctual friend to say be careful not to get side-tracked on his way in by youth !
Well… that actually didn’t happen… I just day-dreamt it as I waited. But I did notice that that they were drinking beer amidst the sea of crafty beer choice. And I felt some inter-generational solidarity despite all the talk of how that generation barely drink at all. The logic extension of the change in habits is that Irish pubs will change.
I hope Brickyard Gastropub stays the same though. During my long wait I lost myself in the drinks menu, looking at all the names, strengths and prices. When my friend, followed by another, arrived we tried a few of the commendable options. The pub’s website (and offshoot for ordering beers online) suggests the owners’ immersion in the world of craft beer. A number of micro breweries are supported. In partnership with 57 The Headline (on Clonbrassil Street), it’s got an online beer store through which you can collect craft beers at the pub or have your beers delivered anywhere across the country.
Their commitment to craft beers got me thinking about the scale of this highly visible yet somewhat subterranean world of brewing. Despite the fact that it feels like the range of Irish-sounding, craft beers has exponentially expanded in our pubs and off-licence/supermarket shelves over the past decade, the craft brewing sector accounts for only 3-3.5% of the Irish market, according to a recent newspaper article. About 125 micro-brewing companies were operating in Ireland in mid-2018, according to a contemporaneous study, with about 60% of them independent production microbreweries. Whilst the number of production microbreweries grew massively in the ‘teens’ – from 15 in 2012 to 75 in 2018 – there has been an increase in the number of failed companies. Seven microbreweries failed between mid-2016 and mid-2018. Before the pandemic, the rate of output growth had slowed dramatically and Irish microbreweries still hadn’t made inroads into export markets. In 2018, the sector supported 425 full-time equivalent jobs, with each of those jobs supporting at least one in the wider economy.
As a Friday night pub, Brickyard Gastropub is vibrant. It has just been refurbished, replacing a somewhat bare, hollow-feeling interior for a far cosier, intimate one, suitable for dining or drinking. Its exterior, with its sloping canopies, is an inviting set-up for mild days or nights. For choice of beers, the pub is to be praised. And there is something nice about the thought that its owners are supporting an important sub-sector of the brewing industry, giving us a range of beers with distinctive flavours, and mass production not a key ingredient. You could do worse than miss the next train at Balally. It’s good to be young.
Stairway to helles (a 5% ABV larger stein) €6.00