As a child, before he became a bully in his own right, Anton was teased for having red hair. Now he keeps it tightly shorn to his pale, tight scalp, its auburn barely distinguishable from brown save in this spring sunlight where, having pushed me to the ground in Archbishop Ryan Park, it meets my startled eyes as a thread-thin, jagged halo around his grinning, freckled face. He points to his t-shirt. “Let’s go to the pub,” it says.
A stiff breeze. Glasses warm-washed and filled again. Anton’s crumpled tenner. The Ginger Man, J.P. Donleavy’s 1955 novel, is an enduring monument to misogyny and the celebration thereof: small wonder, then, that we thought to name a pub after it in our nation’s capital. But humorous though Donleavy’s creative writing exercise may intermittently be, the prices in this Fenian Street haunt do not tickle one’s ribs: James Fintan Lalor would be spinning. You won’t get much change from a fiver for a pint of Guinness (at €4.75) and the quality of it is not really worth writing home about, though you could certainly do worse. It’s cold, yes, but it’s still somewhat grainy. Bring your own sieve. There are “house beers” to sample and, though not to my taste, I have known good people to be complimentary of them. The similarities with the pub’s namesake end there, however.
Despite being full to the point that there are no free seats, the spacious downstairs area has not been opened, and we recline against a thin counter next to the corridor where the toilets are. The pub, all dark wood and polished picture-frames housing faded images, convulses with conversation and laughter around us. The harsh light from the toilet corridor meets the dimness of the rest of the pub exactly where we are, talking loudly and moving from side to side to facilitate the various movements of others. The two more pleasant snug seating areas have long since been occupied, and a large table to our right is occupied by two men in their mid-twenties deep in discussion, one with a necktie around his forehead. To the front of the pub, a small, heated smoking area bustles with activity, patrons spilling out onto the footpath beyond.
The incongruity of a pub named for a novel in which a layabout, misanthropic, student alcoholic spends his time scrounging for money in order to facilitate his drinking being so eminently on the upper end of the price scale is enormous and, indeed, self-evident. But this is the trick with Dublin bars: to project a sense of fundamental difference to their respective clientele. So, as far as student bars for rich people go, you could do worse. Certainly, I’d recommend it over the book.
Anton pulls a bobbled hat over his nearly bare scalp as we step again into the Lincoln Place air. In the space of three hours, the sun has set and Dublin is cold again. His t-shirt is now covered, perhaps satisfied. A puffy coat makes him look twice as big as usual. He tells me he’s fed up of being single. I say something he might have said to me, had I uttered his words, something like “bitches ain’t shit, man,” and I feel immediately uneasy. He laughs, and I feel somewhat pitied by him.
The Ginger Man
40 Fenian Street