Drinking in the Grafton St vicinity has never really been my thing. I realise that Bruxelles has its fans (usually dewy-eyed metal-sentimentalists), as does Kehoes, but neither of those places ever felt like one of my places. This is the neighbourhood of The Bailey – surely one of the capital’s most detestable hostelries, serving one of its least appealing crowds. One to file under ‘emergency bowel evacuation only’. There was a time when I could be lured into Davey Byrnes for a pint, but that’s just because I met Richard Harris there once. Friday evenings often required tarrying in the odious Castleknock-ridden Buttery Brasserie. I’d be there to pick up something for the weekend from someone called Dylan or Dean. That’s Dean with two syllables. About these environs only La Cave can lay claim to any lingering affection in the dusty chambers of my hypertrophied heart.
There was a pleasing louchness to that room, pinkies were raised to balance balloons of Beaujolais, tortuous double entendres alluded to bumming at every turn. Percussion instruments would be distributed at a certain point in the night, a tradition I continue to honour here in my office. Toward the end of those nights the fug of B&H smoke made it almost impossible to make out the features of the man opposite proposing non-heterosexual scenarios. Still, I always managed to quit the place with my dignity etc, intact. Although The Red Bank is absent the predations of yellow-fingered antiquarians, it shares some of the other’s DNA with both scoring very highly on my BOPI (black-out probability index).
Like La Cave, The Red Bank is a basement joint, squatting within the foundations of The Duke St Gallery. Unlike La Cave, this is a storied space, a multi-storied basement that has existed as a drinking den, an oyster-bar and as the headquarters of the Irish Nazi Party. The current clientele skews a little more liberal. Presiding over all is Keelin Egan, a charming lady who appears to have been designed with hospitality in mind, endlessly accommodating and perpetually obliging. She, along with partner Brian McDonald resurrected the space a couple of years back, wittingly or otherwise penning a love letter to a definitively Dublin style of piss-artistry. The pair have restored the place to its eighteenth-century origins and I like it very much. You’ve got ancient stone walls, banquettes, beams and the kind of low-light that makes you think you could get away with things. The walls are crowded with canvases of varying quality from upstairs.
They appear to have scaled back the ambition (if not the quality) of their food offering. This seems to have been a good move – a quick trawl of the civilian-critic sites throws up gems such as ‘woman outraged by lack of basil onsite’. In a genius move however, they have struck a deal with The Dublin Pizza Company who will whisk a pie of uncommon quality to your table before your bottle has a chance to catch its breath. That makes it the only place in town where you can enjoy the absolute best pizza in Dublin in comfort, other than your gaff. Do this the moment you arrive, you’ll need the ballast. There is no wine list or price list, no lists of any sort. Ordering involves you recognising a random bottle on the bar, or having Keelin decide what you deserve. We do both, resulting in the consumption of a respectable Burgundian Pinot and ‘a bottle of something Portuguese that I got from the guys in The Corkscrew’. That was good too. There may also have been white port.
This is not one of those places where shit could go sideways, it’s one of those places where shit will go sideways. Sideways in ways that you may never fully recollect or understand. This is the lush life, whether you choose to accept it or not. This is a place where enough is too much. You don’t have conversations here, you are regaled. You may be regaled by a man with a monocle, a cape-sporting patron of the arts, or Liam Cunningham. An unnamed source tells of being chatted up by an individual who seemed undeterred by the reality that he was having an actual stroke at the time. Such anecdotes abound. So that’s the The Red Bank then – a place where memories are created and subsequently redacted, on a nightly basis. You can forget about scoring a table after midnight on Saturdays.
Words: Conor Stevens
Photo: Killian Broderick
17 Duke Street, Dublin 2.
p: 086 898 5263