York Street’s The Swan is a pub of note for a few reasons; firstly, it is one of the oldest licensed premises in the city centre having operated as a bar since 1661, and the essentially untouched Victorian interior that you see there today having been installed by Thomas F O’Reilly in 1897. Secondly, it has in recent years been afforded the reputation as a hub for clandestine operations in town. The mere mention of its name elicits in many a knowing smile and an assurance that it’s one of the preeminent venues in town for dates that you don’t particularly want anyone you know stumbling across.
The root of this association remains something of enigma. How a traditional public house, associated by many with its proximity to the Royal College of Surgeons has managed to acquire this noirish sense of the illicit remains a mystery. Perhaps the association with covert action attached to the place stems from the pub’s reputation as a revolutionary hub during the Rising. Granted, you’re probably in here with a view towards the markedly less noble causes of shifting somebody that all common sense dictates you shouldn’t or sneaking in a few swifties after you’ve called in sick for work, but nonetheless there is a certain satisfaction in being part of the grand local tradition of doing shady shit tucked away in the low-lit hindquarters The Swan.
Up front oak and brass abound. Far from an ugly ducking, this is one of the finer examples of the ‘heritage pubs’ that entice countless visitors to these shores every year. With close ties to both the aforementioned Rising and the Civil War, the exterior façade remains pockmarked from gunfire, carrying a similar old-world prestige to the wood-panelled watering holes of Baggot Street, without the atmosphere-stifling shortcomings that are associated with being the haunt primarily of monied fifty-something gents.
The Swan isn’t purely a tourist-trapping throwback though. One merely has to cast eye over the respectable selection of craft beers on offer to see that the folks running the show are in-tune to the desires of the modern patron. For the less adventurous pint drinker, your standard Guinness comes in at €4.70, pretty reasonable for a town pint. Like its namesake, The Swan is a creature of two sides: it’s sophisticated, historical bar area being the white, elegant, public portion of its avian counterpart, while the concealed, darker and nigh lawless area down the back represents the little webbed feet going ninety below the water. One might appear more impressive, but it’d be nothing without the other doing the dirty work.
58 York Street, Dublin 2
Words: Danny Wilson
Photos: Killian Broderick