As a future Glasnevin resident, it behoves me to do some on-the-ground research into the amenities the area provides. Of course, any Dubliner is a future Glasnevin resident in a sense, but I will be living there while alive, if the builders oblige. The Gravediggers of course needs no introduction, but the Botanic House has just re-opened after several years lying empty. I am told that it used to be the home of an ‘Over-30s’ disco, which then became an ‘Over-40s’ disco. Time makes fools of us all. The new owners are restaurateurs, and I am not qualified for food reviewing. I happen to be with a man who is, my colleague and Barfly alumnus Conor, but I will stay in my lane.
The building is a beauty, a grand double-fronted red-brick Edwardian yoke with granite bits. I am not qualified to review architecture either. Everything looks clean and new. The lamps still have the price written on them in marker. We walk in and are presented with two options, a main bar and a lounge. We try the main bar. It is large, shiny, with a lot of green leather furniture, and deserted. We try the lounge. It is large, shiny, with a lot of green leather furniture, and deserted. I try to leave. Conor restrains me with appeals to the inflexibility of the deadline, the show having to go on, Protestant work ethic, and other outlandishly foreign concepts.
This is something of a quandary, though. Clearly the Botanic House is positioning itself around food and the impression I get is that it wants to find the same niche as Ashton’s in Clonskeagh, and that’s all well and good if that’s what you’re after, but it’s not a place you can drop into on a quiet Wednesday evening and expect a great story to begin. However, some places do a better job at being empty than others, and this is a grimly funereal experience with its quietly piped pop music – and I’m fairly sure that point-of-sale machines don’t have to make quite as many bleeps and trills and alarms. There is what I consider the typical Dublin illusion-of-choice range of beer taps. The booze selection doesn’t even provide that illusion. We are joined by our friend the Lensman and we talk sotto voce as one does when in an empty room.
Deadlines, shows, and the Reformation bedamned, there’s only so much of this I can take and we head south. Only a couple of hundred meters distant, but a world away; we cross the Royal Canal, leaving Dublin 9 for Dublin 7, from the townland of Slutsend (really) to that of Crossguns (also really), and to Doyle’s Corner. This is another fairly recent reopening and re-do, from the folks who run the Barbers nearby in Grangegorman. This location has also had a bumpy few years that saw it change hands a few times – at one point losing 80% of its value in successive sales.
It was once called the Arthur Conan Doyle but that was a cod; it was built by John Doyle in the 1860s, with stone left over from the construction of the nearby St Peter’s Church, fact fans. There’s a story told about the building having its own natural spring in the cellar, and it really is endearing how Dublin tells itself lies about networks of underground rivers and watercourses to euphemize the fact that the city is built on a swamp. It’s another grand, imposing building, but the lounge is a far more welcoming room, with an energy to it and an eclectic clutter of prints and paintings on the walls. The people here are young – at least, younger than us – and hip. At least, hipper than us. As I noted in Piper’s Corner, there are also a few auld lads who aren’t going to let the remodel and hipsterization of their local deter them.
The bar room next door has dead birds on the walls, and live dogs on the floor, which is a much better state of affairs than the reverse. It’s a dog-friendly establishment and offers a dinner special on Wednesday nights for two humans and one dog, including a bowl of dog beer, which is like beef stock but more expensive and with paw prints on the label. Lensman orders some chips, but although the staff are otherwise attentive, these never arrive, and thus we maintain the purity of the mission. We concentrate on the human beer, which is grand, and inspect a decent range of spirits, settling on Bulleit bourbon, a fine workmanlike whiskey with a respectable heat to it.
Two big pubs revamped and reopened around the same time, alike in dignity, and only a stone’s throw apart, but the difference between Glasnevin and Phibsborough is starkly drawn. It’s hard to be hard on the Botanic House for being quiet on a Wednesday night, when all it really wants to do is serve lunches, but I know where I’m more likely to be found when I make the move Northside. I’m not ready for a life of goujons and chardonnay just yet. Besides, I love dogs.
Words: Ben Walsh
Photos: Killian Broderick
26 Botanic Road
160/161 Phibsborough Rd