One of the boasts that the website for Arthur’s makes is that, being the “closest pub to the St. James’s Gate… naturally it has the freshest pint of Guinness in all of Ireland.” This belies the idea that all of Ireland’s pubs are connected by a series of tubes that drain black gold straight from the Willy Wonka-esque institution down the road, and that proximity to the source gives your pint the edge. It’s an idea that has also been perpetuated to declare the pints in Fallon’s on the Coombe as Best in Show, but ultimately, it does not account for the prevalence of delicious pints in the far reaches of Kerry, West Cork or Connemara, and it smacks ultimately of hokum.
Nonetheless Arthur’s has lots of legitimate charms to it. This is my second visit this summer, and both have been to take in gigs in their upstairs room. The first was a long night in early summer where late evening sunlight flooded in the windows behind the performers at the end of Arthur’s that overlooks Thomas Street. On this visit, the summer itself has descended into wintry squalls (it is mid-August after all) and the blinds are drawn. In each case the mood of the music was matched by the ambiance, and both gigs were exemplary. In a city which seems short on venues of a particular size, the upstairs room at Arthur’s is eminently suitable to seated gigs, be they at maverick end of the folk spectrum or the ultra-eclectic mix of jazz and feedback provided by Music Network’s monthly “Listen At…” nights which have made their home here. The room calls to mind a grander version of JJ Smyth’s, both in scale and style, with the Art Deco flourishes throughout the building being a nice treat.
There’s a spacious openness to the place in its lay out. While this is successful upstairs – and indeed on the spilling-out area in front of St. Catherine’s Church – it is less so downstairs where the absence of snugs or crannies makes your every move feel extremely observable. The proximity to the big man’s house does result in it having a strangely transitory crowd downstairs and it appears many people here are stopping in here after a visit to the city’s leading tourist attraction – often to eat – and it visibly thins out over the night. The slightly tepid vibe downstairs aside, I can’t help but fall for this place and feel that it’s their excellence as a venue that Arthur’s should be trumpeting when it’s their turn to step up to the mic.
28 Thomas Street, Dublin 8
Words: Ian Lamont
Photos: Killian Broderick