From the moment the decision was made to review Humphrey’s, I knew it was probably a bad idea. The perennial red-haired step-child of the Ranelagh pub scene; Humphrey’s isn’t the easiest place to love, or even say anything particularly interesting about one way or the other. Situated next door to the considerably more popular Smyth’s; Humphrey’s, for better or for worse, seems set to forever be discussed through the lens of what it is not. Speaking in terms of their amenities; the two public houses are essentially identical. Both spacious with prime real estate being their snugs, both boasting covered and heated beer gardens, both with a quality of Guinness (€4.80) leaving a little something to be desired. From the outside one would even be forgiven for assuming they were a single establishment that happened to have two different entranceways.
Where the two markedly differ is in their atmosphere. That being said, the idea of ascribing a value judgement based on this divergence in ambiance is somewhat thorny. Smyth’s is routinely jammed with well-heeled denizens of this, the leafiest of the leafy suburbs. Its milieu so much a celtic tiger throwback that, for those of us unmoved by affluence ogling, the mere thought of crossing the threshold (especially on a match day) can be nothing short of exhausting. Humphrey’s on the other hand, whether it strives to or not, manages to cultivate an absolute atmosphere vacuum. As oppressive as the “banter” next door can be, it’s hard to sincerely praise Humphrey’s for the unparalleled nature of its abject sterility.
Oftentimes, when it comes to pubs, it’s hard to overstate the value of peace, quiet and a lack of pretense. Though, in Humphrey’s case; this shirking of razzledazzle, notionally admirably as it may be, has left the space imbued with a rudderless air. The soulless, disposable nature of the decor (a selection of quasi-abstract renderings of vases and other unremarkable still-life subjects adorn the, mostly bare, walls) leave the place feeling more like set dressed in preparation of particularly low-budget bar room brawl than anyone’s cherished local.
There is a pang of shame to going on record with these criticisms since the wholly phoned in nature of what Humphrey’s does implies the management’s comfort in resigning themselves to a position on the second tier, removed from both the limelight and its associated scrutiny. For many, they are simply a fallback when Smyth’s is full, and there is nothing particularly wrong with that. Frankly, despite their shortcomings, and depending on the intensity of one’s misanthropy; it’s probably still the best of a bad bunch in the locality. Faint praise indeed.
79 Ranelagh Village
Ranelagh Dublin 6
Words: Danny Wilson
Photos: Killian Broderick