Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The 108 and 300.

The opening of a new pub in Dublin is always cause for celebration. Firstly, there will be a new place to have a drink for the good people of this great city and, secondly, I get to go there, have a few drinks and call it research. It is an especially fine occasion when you happen to know the people in charge of the new pub, as was the case recently, when the Galway Bay Brewery announced that they were opening a new venture in Dublin’s Christchurch area. I dutifully took notes on the where, when and how of the new pub and put a reminder in my agenda for the opening day, then still a week or 2 in the future. While I was going over the facts, it occurred to me that, while this was the 7th Galway Bay Brewery pub in Dublin, I had in fact not even gotten around yet to visiting number 6, a place in the suburbs called The 108.
As I had some time off work, I decided that a visit was long overdure and picked an afternoon for the next week to make my way down to The 108.

I was sitting at the bar in The Brew Dock the day before my planned visit to The 108 and explained my plans, when the peace that comes with the post-lunch dip in a Dublin pub was disturbed by the boys in charge of the new pub, who were ‘sourcing furniture’ from the other pubs to populate the as then still nameless Pub nr. 7. They made off with a large desk and some other assorted pieces of furniture and I could return to my research and the paper.

Around noon on Tuesday, I set out for The 108. According to Google maps, it was a 6 kilometer trek from my house, but as I like walking and the weather was great I didn’t care too much. The shortest route took me across O’Connell Street and through Temple Bar, but as I don’t like Temple Bar I took a detour along Grafton Street, both because it is a nicer walk and because it would give me probable cause to make a pit stop at Against the Grain on Wexford Street. Against the Grain is not exactly the busiest place in the world on a Tuesday afternoon, so I had the bar to myself and read the paper while enjoying a Founders Breaksfast Stout, an excellent American beer that drinks far too easy for the 8.3% alcohol that is in it.
I resisted the temptation to have another one because, well, you will probably be able to guess how that would have ended and then I would have to reschedule my visit to The 108 yet again, so off I went down Wexford Street and Camden  Street and across the canal at Charlemont Mall.

                                                             Seriously, try this beer. It's amazing

The one thing that always sneaks up on me when I find myself on the Southside of Dublin, is the feeling that I’m in a different city altogether. I’m not talking about the Southern part of the city centre, but as soon as I cross the Charlemont canal, I just feel far from home. The houses there are bigger and generally look loftier. The cars seem shinier, there appears to be less trash laying around, it’s quieter there and (now this surprises a lot of people) even the accent is different out there. While on the North side it sounds like some higher power is trying to create a hybrid accent that hovers between working class Dublin and something resembling how they talk in Brooklyn, on the South side it sounds more like Irish people are trying to speak the Queen’s English.  Often, especially when on long walks with little in the way of diversion, as was the case now, I find myself surprised when I turn a corner and think ‘Would you believe that, they have Apache Pizza here!’ as if I were in Stavanger or Tirana and shouldn’t be expecting familiar things. Ofcourse, I was less than 3 miles from home, but the mind wanders when there is little to distract you.

Because that is the thing about the trek to Rathgar; as soon as I passed the aforementioned canal, I was basically on a very long, approximately straight road to my destination.  I again resisted stopping for a beer at the Blackbird, a legendary bar that was formally known as the Rathmines Inn, because I still had some walking to do.
And while we’re at it.. here’s another thing that baffles all us Northsiders; what’s the story with every single neighbourhood in South Dublin having a name that starts with Rath? Rathmines, Rathgar, Rathfarnham, Rathold’s Cross.. it’s all a big mystery to us, you know.
I pushed on and after another 20 minutes or so of walking, I finally found The 108 on a street corner across the road. I was really quite thirsty by now, so I approached the front door with the look in my eyes that is normally reserved for cartoon characters who think they have found a Dr. Pepper machine in the middle of a desert and walked in.

                    It turned out to be a camel

And what a nice place it was.
The 108 is a long rectangular place that is split in 2 sections. At the front are some tables with benches and chairs where people were having lunch, and towards the back there are some high tables with stools. There is a wall bar in the back to the right and this was ofcourse what I was most interested in.  The bar had the customary 15 or so taps with a fine selection of craft beers. A friendly guy who I vaguely recognised from somewhere appeared behind the bar and after a short exchange of pleasantries I settled on a pint of Sierra Nevada Boomerang, a style, I found after consulting my online beer archive, that I had not had before. It tasted great ofcourse (everything Sierra Nevada brews tastes fine) so I settled down with a newspaper and had a good look around the place. It had all the hallmarks of a Galway Bay bar- the walls were decorated with beer memorabilia, there was an extensive selection of craft beer on offer and the place looked open and friendly.

The first thing that I noted as being different, was that this was clearly a neighbourhood bar. For obvious reasons, neighbourhood bars in the suburbs, even the inner suburbs, have a more relaxed feeling than city centre bars. There are rarely any visitors that walk in for the sole reason that they just happened to be passing by, the staff seem to know literally everyone (as opposed to mostly everyone) and life out here in general moves at a more leisurely pace. Another thing that was outside the normal MO was the presence of taps dispensing Guinness and He[X%^]ken. I’ll forgive them for that. You have to keep your customers happy, and people in quiet suburbs are often less inclined to change longstanding habits in favor of obscure, unfamiliar beers from arcane lands.

The Republic of California, for example

While I finished up my Sierra Nevada, the guy behind the bar (I later found out his name is Shay) announced that the keg of Sierra Nevada was just about empty and did I want to drink the last pint for free. Well, ofcourse. I would be more than happy to sacrifice my wellbeing to scientific research just to make sure that the last pint was still drinkable. While I drank my free drink, another member of staff emerged from the basement and greeted me enthousiasticly. This guy I identified as the assistant manager of The Black Sheep who, I assumed, was there for the day.

[Author’s note- it wasn’t him, I found later when I discussed my visit with the guy I had assumed was him. To this day, I am still in the dark who he was].

I had other things to do that day, but my free pint meant I had to put those off for a bit longer. You see, when you are offered a free drink in a pub, you can’t leave directly after that. Pub Etiquette dictates that you order another drink after the free one so that you are not caught out as being ungrateful or a cheap skate. So I ordered another drink, and by exception I had a bottle. I don’t drink bottled beer very often, but I was intrigued by the choices in the Bargain Bucket.

The Bargain Bucket is a feature in many pubs in Ireland. It is usually literally a bucket on the bar, filled with ice and whatever beer is on special offer. For some reason, the Bargain Bucket nearly always contains Baltika Beer in some incarnation. It is unclear to me why this is. It could be some dark money laundering scheme where the Russian mob brews large amounts of beer and then gives it out at rock bottom prices to pubs around the world, or perhaps the Irish government once bought huge quantities of it as some sort of development grant, Irish Style. Or perhaps Baltika have really good (or persistent) sales reps who convince bar managers around the country to buy it in bulk, only to find that very few non-Russians drink it, so they have to give it away at a discount.

In any case, there is a lot of Baltika in Bargain Buckets so I decided to have one. And why not? Baltika is fine beer and at 4 Euro for a half litre bottle it was very reasonably priced. Rather than waste time and money on coming up with sophisticated names, Baltika numbers their beers, from 3 to 9 and this was a Baltika7 export lager. (This same system, though somewhat more complicated, is used by the boys of Brew By Numbers in London, but more on that at a later time) It was a nice and refreshing lager and at 5.4% it packed a nice enough punch to give me a good buzz for the long trek home, without making me too unstable.
So I said goodbye and walked back North. The 108 is a nice neighbourhood bar. Not too busy or wild, but a nice place in a nice neighbourhood. Ofcourse, I must add that I was there on a Tuesday afternoon and I expect it to be busier on Friday and Saturday night, so maybe I’m missing out on all the fun.

The road back looked considerably longer than the way there, as was to be expected, so I stopped off a couple of times to rest my feet and prevent dehydration in the warm weather.
The 108 was ticked off the list. What was next?

What was next was that I was at home updating my list of pubs. As most of you know, I celebrate reaching landmark numbers by going to special or famous pubs. For nr. 666, for example, I went to Jeckyll&Hyde in Edinburgh. For 800, I went to Cheers! in Boston and for nr. 1000 I went to the Double Down saloon in Las Vegas. And, now, I realised, I was approaching a milestone on a different level; with The 108 and a couple of other pubs I had picked up recently, my total number of bars in Dublin alone came to 298.
Ofcourse, number 300 had to be an interesting event and just as luck would have it, my good friends of the Galway Bay Brewery were about to open a new bar. This was perfect. I did a trial run to the new bar, but couldn’t find it. On my way back, I passed a bar called Oscar’s which looked a bit posh for my standards but as it was around the corner from where the new Galway Bay bar was supposed to be, it came in sort of handy. I found later that I had taken a left at a point where I should have taken a right when looking for the new bar, so I was able to finally pinpoint its location. And Oscar’s would be  a nice stop off on the way over.

And so it was that I walked into Oscar’s around 11.30 in the morning and ordered a pint of Franciscan Well stout. I was expecting to be hit with a price tag of around 6.50 but was pleasantly surprised to find it only cost me 4.60. I sat down with the paper, careful to not ruin what looked to be handwritten menus and scanned the headlines. As I looked out of door over the edge of my glass, a rough looking man with a wild beard walked in the door.  He ordered a whiskey in a voice that sounded as if this wasn’t the first time he had ordered a drink in the morning but was politely told by the barman that no alcohol would be served until lunch time. Surprisingly, he failed to notice my pint from only 5 feet away and made his way back out without debate.  

By the time I finished my drink, I had found that I would not be the first ever customer at The Beermarket. While I was reading my Twitter feed, an update emerged from The Beermarket with a picture of their first customer. It would have been cool to have been the first ever customer in a pub, but in the end it’s not important. As it was, I became their 7th ever customer which is not at all bad ofcourse.

So there we were, at The Beermarket for the very first time. I noticed a couple of familiar faces behind the bar and then proceeded to the important business of choosing my beer. The Beermarket have a somewhat different system from the average pub. Their special niche is to serve very rare and obscure beers that you will not find anywhere else in Ireland. Because of this, they usually only have 1 keg of each and that is why they don’t have the usual branded badges on the taps. With beers constantly changing, it would turn into a nonstop procession of glueing on and dislodging badges which would not be practical at all. Instead, they have simply numbered the taps 1-20. There is a big blackboard above the bar and the different beers are written on easily removable slates which can be clicked on or pulled off in a second.

I scanned the list and opted for a new Galway Bay release called The Desperate Mile. It is a sour ale and, even though I’m not the biggest fan of sour beers
in the world, I really enjoyed it.

In the midst of the opening of this fine new bar, I also had something to celebrate myself. I had now visited 300 bars in Dublin. I decided to celebrate this milestone and the weather by having a couple more beers and returned to the menu.  What I had failed to notice during my first gaze over the menu, was that they had somehow managed to source a keg of Galway Bay 200 Fathoms, the beer I wrote about a couple of months ago. While I was contemplating how great a day this was turning out to be, it got even better. An American tourist ordered a 200 Fathoms, smelled it and then asked the bar man about the alcohol percentage. When he was informed that it was in fact 10% strong, he explained that he still had to drive and asked for something else. Guess who was sitting right next to him to collect the spills?

This was turning out to be a great day. I had reached 300 Dublin bars, gotten a free 200 Fathoms and the sun was shining in through the window. I counted myself happy.  The only minor disturbance to our happy happy joy pub was that the card machine was not yet connected so after my third beer I was forced to get off my stool and walk across the street to the ATM. This aside, I spent a happy afternoon and part of the early evening tasting beers that even I had only a vague notion off and I considered the opening day of this special pub to be a great success.

I have since been back a number of times and I must say that the beer selection is impeccable. They have managed to get their hands on kegs of some of the rarest and weirdest beers you will see anywhere and the selection is never the same. If you are the type of person who likes to sit quietly in the corner and drink the same drink you have been gulping down since you were 15, maybe this is not for you. If you take your craft beer serious and take great satisfaction from drinking triple hopped black rye IPAs, and then debating the finer flavour points until closing time, then The Beermarket is a must visit.

1 comment:

  1. Nice to read....Now i am thirsty ;-)