Sports bars are a tricky beast to master. More often than not their dedication to the idea that they are first and foremost a building to house television screens lends them the air of some sort of nightmarish, dystopian videodrome, with a cacophony of commentaries discordantly clanging off one another to make a relentless, alienating din. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be this way, as exemplified in Bodytonic’s Phibsborough location, The Back Page. Having made their point re: the right way to do sport-focused pubs, the Bodytonic gang are looking to strengthen their argument with a Southside sister pub, The Square Ball.
Signs dotted about the establishment remind customers that the bar is still very much in ‘pre-season’ (they are probably trim, toned and ready for action by the time you are reading this) but we figured what better time to give the new spot whirl then at the annual peak of sporting optimism, the start of the Premier League season. As we settle in for the pre-match chatter one of the most striking characteristics is how low key everything in the front bar is. Bright and airy, the nods towards Bodytonic’s own inimitable character are tactfully woven through the décor as opposed to rammed down one’s throat. It’s interior design more in the mould of a subtly sophisticated Henry cardigan than an attention-seeking, bulge-hugging Redknapp three-piece number. The starry-eyed hopefulness that comes with the kick-off of a new season’s football is mirrored in the staff’s palpable excitement and enthusiasm at watching the idea of the pub in abstract becoming manifest before their eyes. One of the barmen speaks effusively and unprompted at the quality of their projector, aghast at the high definition crows feet on usually boyish face of Gary Monk.
To the rear of the more traditionalist front bar the things begin to take on a more idiosyncratic and sporting bent. The back bar is decked out with false grass floor and a series of long, communal picnic tables. Screens encircle the room, piping in the day’s full schedule of matches, offering worthy gawps regardless of one’s sporting preference while, somewhat miraculously, not entirely subverting the location’s appeal to those unmoved by televised feats of strength and dexterity.
The bar boasts a wider array of craft offerings on tap than most other Bodytonic outposts and we opt for a couple of schooners of Beavertown’s satisfyingly floral Gamma Ray IPA (€5.50) before, as duty demands, sampling their Guinness (excellent and €4.90). My only major complaint has to be presence of a particularly persistent fly swooping about in front of the projector for the duration of the game, giving the impression of a malfunctioning drone marauding about the pitch (though it might be a *little* unreasonable to hold the management responsible for inconsiderate actions of a solitary insect.) That said, I do suggest the introduction of some sort of lizard to the fold, or at least a Venus flytrap.
As the game wraps up, day shifts into evening and we polish off our pints, the nameless Sky Sports automaton presiding over the coverage is silenced in favour of laid-back soul music. The tap heads the staff had been trying to coax into life for the duration of our stay final illuminate. It looks like everything is coming together nicely.
The Square Ball
45 Hogan Place, Dublin 2
Words: Danny Wilson
Photos: Killian Broderick