O Briens of Leeson Street

January 30, 2010


In a country where every nook and cranny can be found between two pubs its no wonder we have one to suit every occasion. From monolithic sport bars with giant sport filled screens to private members clubs with brandy and eye candy; strip clubs, gay pubs and pubs where fancy dress is de jour. We’ve got ‘ra pubs, GAA pubs and pubs you wouldn’t let your cean comhairle step into. From karaoke bars to library bars, teachers clubs and student pubs there is a ying to every yang, a perfect boozer for each and every stereotype.

So why, at the end of the day, does nothing beat a pint in an old school Dublin boozer. No dress code required just an open wallet and a bit of a spiel. You might miss out on your White Russians and your Cosmopolitans, your ‘blacks in the jacks’ and whatever other racially insensitive ‘luxuries’ came and went with the Celtic Tiger but the laid back, no BS atmosphere that preceded it makes such pubs a preferable place to kick start an evenings inebriation.

M O Briens is one such bar. Comprised of the old (and by far superior) bar, which had remained untouched for over 100 years and a more modern lounge which caters to the suits who work in the area, sure O’Brien’s has adapted more to the modern age than say, Grogans, but it retains enough of its past life to ensure that you can avoid it if you wish.

There is no piped music and no TV so you have to provide your own entertainment. There’s a healthy enough crowd on weeknights, which spills out onto the street between Thursday and Friday. Its just far enough outside town to ensure you get yourself a seat and close enough so that you don’t have to rely on taxis or busses to take the next logical step.

The back lounge is pleasant enough (though I wouldn’t recommend the Smitchicks) but it does tend to attract the more money loving patrons, your lawyers, bankers and insurance brokers. It’s also where the live music occurs (starting between 9.30-10.00pm) which very few pubs in this country seem to make-work. O Briens is no exception. Its incredibly touristy with its mix of jazz, trad, folk and-heavens to Betsy-the dreaded open mike night.

For me, its gotta be the old bar. It’s been manned for the past god knows how long by Tony and PJ, who by all accounts are two of the longest and most loyal barmen in the city. Its quite and cosy and populated with the type of characters better suited to a Beehan novel. The drink is fairly priced and there’s even Snuff to be purchased behind the bar (as in ground or pulverized tobacco, which is inhaled or “snuffed” through the nose, not the movies).

The toilets have maintained what can most kindly be described as rustic, wheelchair inaccessible charm while its 2004 facelift means you could now celebrate your weddings, anniversary’s or the death of a financially endowed loved one in their upstairs lounge.

Better yet is the fantastic lunch menu drawn up by Oliver Quenet, director of La Maison des Gourmets with a fantastic selection of wine selected by Charles Derain, French master of wine and ex-sommelier of the restaurant Patrick Guilbaud.

O’Brien’s is proof of the old and the new working side by side with one not intruding much on what the other is doing.

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