This wasn't always the case.
There was a time when I only saw it as a noisy, dirty city filled with irritating people, most of whom walked too slow or talked too loud. It was the antitheses of where I was brought up in a quiet backwater, a no-man's land in Laois - often mistaken for parts of Kilkenny, Carlow and Kildare but rejected by all three.
But maybe the wisdom of age - it's certainly not my ever-decreasing tolerance - and the need to travel somewhere, anywhere and everywhere has altered my blinkered view of big cities. This wanderlust has certainly helped me look past the obvious flaws and faults of big cities and see what metropolitan living can offer. More importantly it has shown me that cities would not have their character without also having these issues that I class/classed as faults. Would Rome be as interesting and inviting without its litter and tourists? Would Milan be as stylish and enigmatic without its arrogant waiters and dodgy graffiti? Would Brussels be such an underrated city without its split personality and dog shit? (OK, maybe scratch that one..)
I suppose my point is that as you get older and your priorities change, how you see the world also changes. And so does what you want out of people and places. Nowadays I look at life in a quasi-selfish way where I can pick out what I like about cities that will make my live more interesting or enjoyable, and try to ignore what I hate. Certainly the rise of the 'The Good Beer Movement' and my embracing of it has had an enormous effect on how I see Dublin. Not too long ago there were only a very few bars selling something different in the country and most of those were in Dublin but over the last 5 years there has been an sharp increase in the number of these places, but the biggest concentration is still in the city. This has been driven by the Galway Bay group among others and it was the opening of a new bar of theirs that had me heading up to the city on this day.
Standing in the station in Carlow I stared at a sign telling me where I was, it seemed a little redundant as it's not the largest station in the world. Although it helpfully does point you in the direction of both Dublin and Kilkenny. My usual travelling companion Nige arrived soon after, as did the train, and we were on our way. In the right direction I now knew thanks to the map.
I have a need to sit facing the direction of travel so we ended up close to a gaggle of loud teenagers who made the train seem a lot louder than usual, and tested my aforementioned tolerance, so I was pretty distracted for most of the journey. After an extra stop in Sallins to let off a lady who missed her stop in Kildare (Fair play to Irish Rail!) we arrived into a very cloudy and rain pelted Heuston station where we crowded under the Luas shelter, then crammed ourselves into the tram and soon we were in the city centre. We have by now become creatures of habit on these trips so after our usual not-too-strong coffee and toasted ciabatta with mozzarella in La Corte at the Epicurean Food Hall we split up for a bit of shopping. I made my way, using as much rain cover as possible, to Chapters book shop for a mooch through their second-hand section and a read on their comfy seating while trying to act neither shifty or pompous. I possibly failed on both counts.
Pretty soon it was time for a beer.
The Black Sheep was closed when I got there. Google had assured me it opened at 10.30 am but it was now 11.55 am and the doors were locked. I loitered under the awning and consulted the bar's own site where it informed me it would open at midday - I'd been led astray by Google yet again. Nige arrived as I was re-researching and together we waited, shivering in the cold breeze that was being funnelled down the street. The doors opened soon enough and after waiting a few minutes - for the sake of respectability - we made our way inside. We looked at the taps and then studied the beer list over the bar just in case we had missed something, then checked out the cask beers before I decided on Galway Bay's own Dortmunder Lager and sat down. Nige was being his usual indecisive self but he eventually settled for a Siren 7 Seas BIPA and joined me. As we chatted about the bar itself and our purchases people started to trickle in and within half an hour the place had a healthy buzz. I like The Black Sheep. I like how bright it is due to its street position, I like its food and also the slight quirky nature of the bar, its clever spin-the-dial-for-beer chalkboard, its board games and its general uniqueness. Most of all I like their beer selection.
The Dortmunder tasted of those nice malted milk biscuits but with a hint of cider vinegar that suited it, and as it warmed up bags of caramel toffee came through. It was a good choice for my first of the day. Nige's 7 Seas tasted as bitter soot would - I guess - with a good deal of lime infused dark chocolate thrown in for good measure. It was excellent. We were tempted to have another here but I had a date with a dark stranger that appears only once a year, and afterwards we needed to make it to the far side of Christchurch and on towards Stoneybatter according to my mental travel itinerary.
We trudged southward in the rain as the city got busier and everyone jostled for the rain-protected lea of the tall buildings along our route. Crossing O'Connell Bridge was a bit of a nightmare as the rain and wind pelted us with drops that zinged any stray exposed areas of skin, but pretty soon we were heading past Trinity College and nearing our next destination.
Porterhouse Central can get a little touristy and busy for me but I do like the place. I like the long bar, general layout, and décor. The staff are always busy and efficient, and they were serving Chocolate Truffle Stout. I needed my yearly fix and this is another reasons why we had decided to head up here today. It tasted a little different to last years I thought, slightly more bitter but still with that creamy truffle taste and cloying quality that not everyone might appreciate. It was also served a little cold I thought but then again I like my stouts served cool not cold. They were showing a match on a humongous screen, which annoyed me a little but others seemed engrossed in it. I thought about pointing at Porterhouse's barley wine collaboration with Joe Eliot and asking for a glass of it, at which point they would hopefully say, 'Louder?' and I would say, 'A GLASS OF THE BARLEY WINE PLEASE!'
We drank up a little quicker than I would have liked and having split up again from Nige I headed west towards the main reason for our trip. The rain was easing a little as I passed the relocated Molly Malone statue and onwards to Dame Street. I always find it difficult to walk in cities, as I tend to be a fast walker and find the stop start motion of having to weave around others affects my mindset and mood. As I did the two-step around tourists and locals it reminded of something I read or heard once about living in the city, something about the need to take big steps and little steps... maybe it was a comment about life in general.
I was beginning to pick up speed rounding Christ Church Cathedral when I was accosted by a group of plastic-poncho wearing American ladies who politely asked me how to get 'to the shopping on Ger-RAF-ton street' I duly obliged by pointing them in the right direction, only to turn around and find a small orderly queue of similarly dressed tourists waiting patiently for directions to St. Patrick's Cathedral, Trinity College and 'The Big Spike Thing on the Main Street'. I got all the groups heading in the right direction (I think!) and they moved off with their plastic coverings flapping in the wind. (I have a vague recollection of this direction giving incident happening to someone in a travel book too, was it Bill Bryson) Continuing on I rounded the cathedral and headed down High Street (I never knew there was a High Street in Dublin.) to where I could see a haloed beer glass on a sign in the distance.
The Beer Market is a new venture from the Galway group who also own The Black Sheep, Brew Dock, Against the Grain and a couple of other of my favourite establishments in the city. So when I heard that they were opening a new bar with 20 ever-rotating taps I felt obliged to visit and check them out. Rumour had it they were also serving pies from The Pieman in Templebar, which for me was a deal clincher. The grey-fronted building could be a little lost on the street if not for the big, gold window graphic shouting out the bar's name. Even still, I got the feeling that you needed to know where you were going to find this spot. Inside the bar is split into a few levels, sparsely but tastily decorated with trendy graphics and a fresh look - I could smell the paint still.
It was quiet at the bar itself with just a couple of seats taken but I plonked my bag and jacket at a long, high table with ice bucket insert for - I presume - the selection of 750ml bottles that were included in the bottle list on one wall. The draught line-up was on two separate chalkboards over the bar. Most of the beers are served as a 330ml size that I find to be the Goldilocks size for a beer ticker. There were only 18 beers on but I didn't feel short changed, as I had only heard of a few and had only tasted a couple before. But I was disappointed to see that the Founders Blushing Monk had already gone - I had spotted it being tweeted the previous day - but consoled myself by looking at the rest of the list. I would have liked to see the country of origin and style listed as well as the name and the abv but I decided on a Thornbridge Charlie Brown while I Googled some of the beers listed to get a handle on them.
Sitting down at the table I felt something was out of place. I'm not sure whether the table was too short, the stools too high or my body is oddly proportioned but I couldn't get comfortable and opted instead for a spot at the bar while I waited for Nige, perused the list and tasted my beer. My Charlie Brown had a pleasant weak cola flavour with a hint of peanut and a dash of salt -the peanut was only evident once you knew it was there. Still I like Brown Ale and rarely get them so I enjoyed it.
Behind the bar I spotted a few beer books and a row of the presently stocked beers. I was happy to see Orval - one of my all time favourite beers - sitting between all the new bottles. The only thing that seemed out of place at the bar was the pie cooker, which sits right in plain view and jars the senses a little in such a cool bar. The place was pretty busy and the clientèle seemed very mixed from bearded, man-bunned, twenty-something year olds to couples out for a drink or two, and the - er - odd middle-aged, bearded, fogey showing too much interest in the beers and décor while taking notes in a pad and the odd photograph. But it was a good mix, all very well looked after by the bar staff, who dealt with those with a severe interest in the beers to those who wanted something 'a bit like Franciscan Well Red' with equal regard and courtesy. Tasters were given of the recommended beers to see if the suggestions suited their palates and most seemed happy.
Nige wandered in soon afterwards and we starting getting through that list above the bar. Thornbridge Bamberg, a bock, was like excellent smoky barley sugar sweets, the smoke lingering on the tongue for ages afterwards. Edge Hoptimista tasted of bitter burnt orange and gorgeous resiny pine. Siren Dippy & The Equinox had that lovely(!) cat pee taste I've gotten from their beers before with added grapefruit for good measure.
We got talking to the bar manager and I happened to mention that I was a little cross that I'd missed the Blushing Monk... he went to a tap a pulled about a half a glass for me that was left in the not-yet-changed keg and then went downstairs, returned quickly and did some magic to produce another half glass for Nige. Now that's what call you call customer service! The Monk itself was a dry, sugary and tart, like their Rübæus on steroids.
I know I've said it before but places like this are not just about the beer they are about the people on both sides of the bar, about the atmosphere, the music, the food and yes also the beer. You need to be made to feel comfortable and at ease, and this bar did that.
For my last drink there I went for the most expensive - Beerd Crowbar, an imperial stout which tasted of turf and burning tyres or perhaps an ultra-smoky ham, with a bit of citrus hop added for good measure. A 'wow' beer that finished our stay here off to perfection. We said our goodbyes to the bar people and headed out, but we'll be back and that's the sign of a good bar - that you vow to return soon.
We crossed the Liffey and heading towards Stoneybatter to our last stop, L. Mulligan Grocer. We hadn't been in there in a while but it hadn't changed much. It was busy but welcoming and the attentive, knowledgeable and magnificently coiffured and bearded bar staff looked after us as soon as we sat at the bar, serving up a Csupor Thermostout, a sweet but low bodied coffee flavoured effort and the almost-trademark-infringing Hello! My Name Is Sudan from the same brewery. This had a lovely bitter grapefruit/lemon tartness with a little bit of cream cracker aftertaste. Mulligans is quite the foody place and was full of happy looking diners. The buzz and hum of voices, plus glasses and cutlery clinking tempted us to consider staying longer, as it felt like a place we could spend the night. But our train was beckoning so after a swift glass of Blacks KPI on cask to end the day, we tottered to the station, just stopping to get a takeaway coffee and a free chocky in the Butler's Coffee kiosk on the way to the our chariot home.
We spent the journey back talking about all the places we didn't get to...
And that list was long, and getting longer - we'll be back to Dublin soon, with reinforcements hopefully. I'm getting woefully fond of the place.