In recent months, The Bernard Shaw has been a synecdoche for Dublin, in these pages as elsewhere. The plight of its Portobello location, now empty and isolated among looming hotel developments, brought to a head a lot of important questions about the city, its planning and direction.
Of course, anything chosen to represent a social issue will be an imperfect reflection at best. On interrogation of the actual reasons for the pub’s closing it’s not entirely clear that the usual culprits of rack-renting landlords or hotel development are involved. A cynical eye might be cast on the size and range of the Bodytonic portfolio; it may not be the Press Up Group, but it’s no small indie business either. And one might churlishly question to what degree the place was really an incubator for emerging voices in art and culture and to what degree it was, well, a pub. An ill-advised social media post led to a bit of a milkshake ducking on its opening weekend. Sunrise, sunset.
No matter; a symbol is not responsible for not being its referent. The conversation and consternation the whole affair caused were useful. The questions and the concerns remain, but The Bernard Shaw, qua The Bernard Shaw, does not. Instead, four km to the north — and after a brief notion to call the new venture “Racket Space” – the name has now been attached to the Whitworth that was, on the Glasnevin side of Crossguns Bridge.
It is a bitterly cold November evening when we arrive. The building was a branch of the Porterhouse, and then it was not. It’s an enormous, ugly, standalone building that doesn’t look at all pub-like from the outside. A statement back in September said that Bodytonic were “bringing Miami Vice to the northside canal”, which is a phrase that almost makes sense until you look at the words in it. I think it refers to the colour palette of pink and teal that has been applied to the exterior, not improving matters.
Inside, the place is huge, in proper suburban style. There is a complicated split-level sort of arrangement on the ground floor which I think prevents the room from flowing naturally, and then a smaller mezzanine. In an annexe is an area for the resurrected Eatyard but this is all quiet tonight. It is bitterly cold so there’s not too much incentive to explore out here, but it will be worth investigating when things have been up and running a bit longer.
Ireland are playing Denmark in the football, and I think I had some notion that this venue would be much like Bodytonic’s nearby Phibsboro location, The Back Page – big screens, cheap and cheerful pizza, and a similar ramshackle feel to the original Bernard Shaw – but it doesn’t feel like that at all. There are a few smaller screens so we can keep up with another grim ninety minutes of frustration leading to a seemingly inevitable and unsatisfying conclusion, which must be a metaphor for something.
The Shaw II has more of the air of a suburban pub, lots of high tables, an emphasis on an unremarkable pub grub menu. There is – in common with other BodyTonic locations and, it has to be said, with Wetherspoon’s – a deliberate lack of seating at the bar itself. This tendency definitely changes the energy and, for all that no-one likes having orders placed over their head, I’m not sure I’m in favour. There’s a lot of pink and teal in the signage, but otherwise it doesn’t seem that its identity has bedded in yet. As in other locations there is a selection of cheap-ish drink offers; two whiskey and ginger ales or three shots of bottom-shelf booze for €12, and that sort of thing. But a pint of Guinness is €5.80, which would be enough of a stretch in Dublin 2 and is right out of order beyond the canals. There is a decent enough range of beers including a few from the Porterhouse line and some from BodyTonic’s own label, which are brewed by Hopfully, The White Hag, and Rascal’s. I just never need to see another “Session IPA”.
In the last couple of months there’s been an upsurge in food and booze developments in this area. The Botanic House, Doyle’s Corner, the Bald Eagle, and Loretta’s have all opened or reopened, with varying levels of hipster cred and all offering a lot of the kinds of things that we’re getting here, or their own things. In this context, the new Bernard Shaw doesn’t seem much like the quirky and offbeat unique location its predecessor in Portobello was. Sometimes a pub is just a pub.
Words: Ben Walsh
Photos: Killian Broderick
Cross Guns Bridge,
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