ONE OF OUR favorite things when we travel is going into pubs and bars and other drinking establishments. We love the pubs in England, the beer halls in Germany, and the tiny bars you find everywhere in Japan.
We really enjoy having a cheap beer in a sidewalk eatery in Malaysia, or visiting an upmarket hotel in the south of France and downing an expensive Kir Royale. We’ve been into shebeens in Soweto, saloons with sawdust on the floor in the American West, karaoke bars in Singapore, and outback pubs in Australia.
Alcohol is a social drug. Places where it is consumed are great venues for meeting people. They also usually have good cheap food. What’s not to like?
Our whole life we have searched for the best. Now we have found it. It is Doheny & Nesbitt, a grand old pub a block or two from St Stephen’s Green on Dublin’s Southside. Ireland has the best pubs in the world, and this is the pick of them.
We can say this without fear of contradiction. Anybody who believes otherwise is, quite simply, wrong. No correspondence will be entered into. Doheny & Nesbitt is the quintessential Irish pub, which is to say, it is the best pub in the world.
You don’t have to walk far to find a pub in central Dublin. Half of them seem to be in an area called Temple Bar just south of the river. We went there briefly but even mid afternoon it was packed with drunken young people. Avoid the area unless you are yourself a drunken young person.
We quickly left Temple Bar and visited O’Donoghue’s, which is famous as the venue where the Dubliners, one of Ireland’s best known bands, were discovered. But it was disappointing. Too many people and not enough atmosphere. By this time we had been walking most of the afternoon and Sharon’s feet were tired. So were mine.
Shaz said “Only one more! That’s it! I’m not going to walk any further!” We agreed we’d stop and have a drink at the next pub we found, no matter what it was like.
We walked half a block and there it was. Doheny & Nesbitt. We knew immediately this was the place. One of the most beautiful interiors we’d ever seen in a pub, all mirrors and signage and dark wood. And the place just felt good. A great looking bistro with traditional Irish food. It wasn’t far off dinnertime so we thought we’d eat there.
We had our beef and Guinness pie. Sharon drank wine and I drank Kilkenny – a lighter ‘cream ale’ not quite as challenging as Guinness, but made by the same company. It is also known as Mother’s Milk.
We marvelled at the wonderful décor. The pub dates from 1867, which makes it comparatively young by Irish standards. From the pub’s website:
Most of the pub’s original features, both inside and outside, remain intact. Its distinct Brass sign ‘Tea and Wine Merchant’, as well as the frieze boasting ‘Doheny & Nesbitt’ have spawned countless posters, postcards and guide books paying homage to this asset of Ireland’s capital city.
If Ireland invented the pub, then Dublin’s finest showpiece is that of Doheny & Nesbitt. The main bar retains the original counter, and almost all of the original fittings date from the 19th century.
The pub’s carved timber, aged wooden floors and ornate papier-mâché ceiling, recently restored, are universally admired. Its snugs and mirrored partitions are perfect for scheduled conversation, and one can easily muse on Ireland’s past writers (Yeats, Behan, and Shaw) and politicians debating and plotting in these hallowed surroundings.
Writers and politicians from the nearby Dail or House of Parliament still frequent this pub, as do journalists, lawyers, architects and actors, along with a myriad of visitors from around the globe.
We couldn’t have written it better ourselves. The reference to ‘snugs’ deserves explanation. A snug is a small semi-enclosed alcove within the pub which enable you to have your own little private area. Many have saloon style doors on them to give you a little privacy. Almost a pub within a pub. Getting a good snug in a good pub, and keeping it for a few hours, is one of life’s little victories.
The musicians arrive
If we had left then it would have been a memorable visit, but then the musicians arrived.
Ireland not only has the best pubs on the planet, it has the best pub music. You can find some of it in Doheny & Nesbitt just about every evening. The musicians that night were a bit of a mix from a few local bands, but they were missing a lead singer. We were disappointed at first, but that meant a much larger degree of audience participation, which is not in any case normally lacking in Irish pubs.
I sang a not very good version of ‘Bound for Botany Bay’. But the highlight was a young redheaded Irish man who sang Mo Ghille Mear (My Gallant Hero), a haunting Gaelic lament that made the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. I can see and hear him now. The Irish have a way with music.
Then Michael Crow sang in his fine baritone. We found out that he was something of an institution, an amateur with a proper daytime job who has put out a few CDs of Irish music. He even has his own YouTube channel. We had a good chat with him, and with some of the other revellers.
Our quick visit didn’t end until midnight. We were staying north of the River Liffey, about a mile away. We did not walk home.
Unfortunately it was our last night in Dublin and we have not been back since. So we have only ever been to Doheny & Nesbitt’s once. But that was enough to tell us this is the best pub in the best pub city in the best pub country in the world. When next we visit Ireland’s wonderful capital we will ensure we stay nearby so that it will be our local and we can go there every night.
The quest is over. The mythical world’s best pub actually exists. It is on Baggot Street Lower on Dublin’s Southside. It is called Doheny & Nesbitt.
Postscript: Our other favorite pubs in Ireland:
- Matt the Millers, Kilkenny. Right in the middle of town, by the bridge – where the mill used to be. Great atmosphere. Have a Kilkenny in Kilkenny.
- McSweeney Arms, Killarney: Big red pub just out of the touristy center. Owned and run by the wonderful McSweeney family. The only place to stay in Killarney.
- Crown Liquor Saloon, Belfast: Don’t you love the name? Famous pub with the best snugs in Ireland. The most bombed pub in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.