For about a year, now, progressing along Camden Street, I had seen the hoarding advertising “HUCKLEBERRY’S”, coming soon, complete with a depiction of the Mississippi River and one of Mark Twain at the height of his moustache-wearing powers, and I dreaded the day that such a place would actually open.
San Francisco is far from Hannibal, Missouri, but it is keen to claim Samuel Clemens as its own. I have spent some time there and I love the man who quit the slavers’ army to cross first the fledgling stagecoach nation and then the world in steam, spinning tall tales and challenging every authority along the way; the man who stood against his country’s racist brutality at home, against its imperialism in the Philippines and against Belgium’s in the Congo; who defied religious hypocrites and moralists wherever he found them. Not all of his writing is all that good, because an unusual and totally unnecessary commitment to paying his debts meant a lot of pot-boiling. Did you know there’s a whole book where Tom Sawyer and his friends travel above Africa in a hot-air balloon? It’s terrible.
Dublin is even further from Hannibal, Missouri. We have no real connection to Samuel Clemens at all, but if I were to try to capture the essence of Samuel Clemens in one quotation, I might choose:
I am said to be a revolutionist in my sympathies, by birth, by breeding
and by principle. I am always on the side of the revolutionists, because
there never was a revolution unless there were some oppressive and
intolerable conditions against which to revolute.
I do not think I would root through all his novels and come up with:
He used to lay drunk with the hogs in the tanyard
But it’s a version of this that appears above the door of “Huck’s”. A hundred years ago, of course, Dublin Castle’s RIC garrison were known as the “hogs in the tanyard” by those who were revoluting, but I don’t really see the significance today.
If you are expecting more Mark Twain content on the inside, the first thing to greet you is one of B.P. Fallon’s photos of Shane MacGowan. I love Shane MacGowan and I love B.P. Fallon, and if you’re opening a B.P. Fallon themed bar on Camden Street, that is long overdue; it should of course be called “Purple-browed Beep’s”. But this place, inexplicably, is called “Huck’s”.
They have a pizza menu. Not for the first time, I’m glad this lies outside my remit.
There is a “boilermaker” list, and I think this is conceptually a good thing; a boilermaker is simply a beer and a shot; you don’t pour the one into the other, and to have well-chosen pairings of beers and whiskeys is a sound idea and can be done very well. Unfortunately, to execute it requires either a decent selection of beer or a decent selection of whiskey, preferably both, and we’re out of luck here, on two counts. Five Lamps and Tullamore Dew isn’t really going to do it. There are four American whiskeys available in “Huck’s” – there are many more vodkas and flavoured gins – and two of those are Jack Daniel’s.
I look over the cocktail menu. The drinks all have Mark Twain themed names, which is a nice touch and is all well and good until you come to look at what’s actually in them. Poor old aunt Polly, for all her failings, does not deserve to have her name given to a mix of “Absolut Vanilla, green apple and ginger purée, lime and red wine float.” No-one does. A concoction called “Steam Boat” has Olmeca tequila in it. “The Duke and the King” leads with Slane whiskey. There is something with Bombay Sapphire “East” gin and something with hazelnut liqueur
The only safe option when faced with this sort of carry-on is the canon, so I call for a Manhattan, opting for Buffalo Trace rye. And some of the niceties are observed! A chilled coupe glass. A bamboo knot for the Luxardo cherries. A bottle of Carpano Antica Formula yields a few drops, but it is then discretely swapped out for one of Martini Rossi. And the whole thing doesn’t taste of a damn thing.
I don’t know what to make of a bar with a theme. Should I be in costume? Should it be? Is there an essence of Mark Twain that we are trying to capture here on Camden Street, where he never was, and what he would have made of it? He never signed up for this. Consulting Thom’s Directory for the period, this building, number eight Camden Street, was home to the Boland brothers, coachmakers, with a (very prosperous!) rateable valuation of 23 pounds in 1862, a couple of years before The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County made it into print but, thankfully, not into a cocktail.
“By trying we can easily learn to endure adversity. Another man’s, I mean.”
Words: Ben Walsh
Photo: Killian Broderick
8a Camden Street