The Amber Grill, a thirty second walk from the Bird Flanagan’s front door and one of Dublin 8’s pre-eminent chippers, will remind you, courtesy of some illustrated history on its tiled walls, that the nearby Rialto bridge, modelled after its Venetian namesake and straddling the Luas Red line (once the Grand Canal), was knocked down and rebuilt halfway through the last century, representing one aspect of the area’s unusual relationship with the warmer climes of South-Eastern Europe and the Adriatic.
Curiously, this line of examination extends to the man for whom the pub is named: one Willie ‘Bird’ Flanagan who, in the early years of the 20th century, gained citywide notoriety as a prankster-cum-Casanova figure. On one occasion, he is said to have attended a ball in Earlsfort Terrace dressed as a giant bird and proceeding to lay an egg on the dancefloor, earning him his nickname. Many more pranks have been attributed to the Bird (some admittedly in embellishment), including a bait-and-switch involving a turkey, represented in a humorous illustration on the sign hanging outside the pub: the story goes that Flanagan purchased a live turkey at a market and asked the seller whether he could collect it from him later on. Then, he waited until a couple of policemen came nearby, grabbed the bird and ran, sparking a chase with the law. He led his pursuers on an exhaustive circuit before producing a receipt confirming his legal purchase of the turkey. Stitched up! This prank, whether executed by the Bird or not, recurs in various forms throughout the cyclical annals of practical joking, reprised variously by ancient Romans, Greeks, and even Byzantines! All history culminates in Dublin 8, as the man says.
Inside the bar: a squared, open plan affair on two levels, you could be forgiven for thinking that you were almost definitely in Dublin and not Venice, with the familiar, deep-coloured surrounds echoing something of the Platonic idea of the Irish pub before giving way to a striking and somewhat incongruous sun-room out the back, all white wrought iron and patio furniture. This area is the highlight of the Bird Flanagan, a space which feels truly unique amongst Dublin pubs, and bearing more than a little Venetian flavour of its own in the late-summer sunlight. There’s something languid in the pub’s atmosphere, in the conversations carried on between patrons and the gregarious bar staff. In the bathroom, a poster above the urinal says that, amongst other performers, a man called Laurie Hartz will be playing here next week. His photo accompanies the notice: a middle-aged black man in a maroon suit, with a thin head of grey hair and a weak smile. Above it, in biro, someone has scribbled “Sisco [sic] thong song”. Hartz bears a tenuous resemblance to Thong Song-era Sisqó, perhaps to a similar extent as our Rialto bridge resembles that of Venice, or the wrought iron sun-room the Doge’s hand-carved windows, but the issue is, as ever, for the observer to force.
471- 477 South Circular Road, Rialto, Dublin 8
Words: Oisín Murphy-Hall