The First Drop: A Ramble Into The Last Remaining Early Houses in The City

Posted 2 months ago in Food & Drink Features

DDF apr-may-24 – Desktop

The sun hadn’t yet risen at half past seven as the seagulls cawed above the docklands and the quays.

On Lombard Street East, the purple painted exterior of the Wind Jammer pub’s first floor faded naturally in with the dark violet morning sky.

“Open 7am,” read the golden letters on one of the steel overhangs above the windows of this early house pub, one of approximately six, still serving alcohol with a special early morning licence, which haven’t been issued in the state since 1962.

Inside the Wind Jammer, the deep babel of a few dozen male voices chattering boomed through the barroom, and the bright white lights emanating from its chandeliers sent a jolt through each punter stepping in to escape the drowsy city.

“I can tell you a lie about the milkman,” said a man in his early fifties, wearing a black pork pie hat and perched on a stool at the rounded marble counter, a large bottle of Bulmers before him. “In the eighties. You wouldn’t remember them. We did have milkmen. We had Paddy.”

“Paddy had a horse in his back garden on Heytesbury Lane,” the man said, while his neighbour muttered that he had to go to the café next door to grab coffee beans.

“And the Harrisons had a fucking shop,” the man said, leaving a long pause between each sentence. “You wouldn’t see it now unless a fucking set designer built it. Penny sweets. Well before Spar.”

“Brendan Behan used to shop in the Wee Stores apparently,” he said. “And the Wee Stores used to open on a Sunday. Because they were Prods. They’d open and sell the newspapers, while all the Catholic stores were closed. And they made a nice little earner there selling milk.”

His friend returned from the café, hopping back up onto his stool, where half a pint of cider was waiting for him.

He tore open the bag of coffee, reaching in to take out three individual beans. Sliding towards him a shot of sambuca, he dropped the beans into the viscous spirit and set the surface of it aflame.

He’s a maths tutor and today is his day off, he said, with a relaxed smile. “I’d be fond of the early houses, myself. There’s no messing in here.”

“This place is a nice friendly shop,” the man in the pork pie hat said. “I’ve seen taxi drivers drop off Americans in here, off a flight. They’d be awake all night and are looking to get a beer. So, I’ve been in here, fucking nine in the morning with a singsong, drinking with cunts from New York.”


7am – The Wind Jammer

It was Friday. “That’s always delivery day,” said Shane Daly, the Wind Jammer’s owner in a cheerfully, husky voice.

A Guinness truck had just pulled in by the Lombard and Townsend Street junction at a quarter to eight.

“There’s two of them out there,” came the voice of a white-haired woman who strode by the table at which he had momentarily taken a seat.

“Two of them together,” Daly said, laughing. “That’s even worse. Like buses. They always arrive at the same time.”

Built between 1945 and 46 by the Beamish and Crawford brewery, the Wind Jammer is situated on lands that were reclaimed from the sea in the second half of the seventeenth century.

Its name derives from the sail ship, and features like its porthole windows subtly nod to its nautical roots.

Early houses like this catered to people working irregular hours, Shane Daly said. “It would’ve been for the dock workers.”

Being next to the Westland Studios – formerly Lombard Sound – and the Windmill Lane Recording Studios a few minutes away in Ringsend brought in a lot of musicians too, he said. “Art Garfunkel, AC/DC, U2 made their first few albums here. They’ve all passed through here.”

Anyone pulling a night shift would drop by here, said one punter, a man in his seventies who goes by Jimmy. “Hotel workers, taxi drivers.”

In a black all-weather jacket and woollen hat, Jimmy was sat at a small circular table in the room’s corner, just behind the front entrance. In front of him was a fifth of a pint of Guinness, four small stacks of coins and a 30g pouch of tobacco.

Bistro at The Wind Jammer

“I’ve been in here about 23 years now,” Jimmy said. While his friend, Bistro, who occupied a table next to him said he’s been coming in for almost forty years.

Jimmy isn’t a night owl. He doesn’t pull graveyard shifts. He just likes to do things in reverse. Better to freshen up with a morning pint, rather than spend the day dry and haggard, he said.

He’s been a regular in numerous early houses across the city, he says. “The Cobblestone. The Chancery. Delaney’s. From here to Smithfield and D7, I’ve had a few scoops. Everywhere I drank, I worked.”


8am Boar’s Head

Hugh Hourican, The Boars Head

On Capel Street, Hugh Hourican opened the doors to The Boar’s Head at 8am.

It was a quiet morning. He was quietly wrapping cutlery in paper napkins as his wife Anne walked in.

“There’s some Christmas stuff in the post there,” he said to her, nodding to a stack of letters beside him on the counter.

The Houricans were both originally from Cavan. But they met and married while working in hospitality in New York, he says. “We both lived in the Bronx, and both of us worked in Manhattan.”

They bought the building back in 1993. Back then, the pub with an upstairs area was just a single storey, he said, pointing to a photograph of the original premises on the wall. “It was tiny. But in the morning, you’d have 60 people in here.”

His first customer, a young man, stepped through the front door, asking for a Guinness.

He took a table in the corner of the room, beneath a cracked mirror, which advertises Sylvester P. Doyle’s Special Whiskeys, featuring a boar’s head in its crest.

“Before I came here, there was a staircase in here, which brought you down to a basement, and they found this behind the stairs while they were clearing the place up,” he said.

Their initial idea had been to call the pub the New Penny. But in the end, this accidental find gave them a name that stuck.

The Boar’s Head has more of the feel of a rural, family pub, he says. “And we came to be known as the posh early house, because we’d be strict on who we’d let in.”

Whereas customers down in the Wind Jammer were traditionally dock workers, his tended to come from the nearby markets, he said. “They’d finish their shifts around six, and we’d provide food and drink. Not just drink. For when they were finished up in the mornings.”

“We’d get nurses doing nights and guards coming off shifts, and a big thing with us was the casino staff, because the casinos would be closed at seven, eight o’clock in the morning.”

“Seventy per cent of your business was morning business then,” he said.

“Monday morning was the busiest day of the week,” Anne says. “You wouldn’t be able to get in the door. I’d put my head down and go straight up the stairs.”

Anne Hourican, The Boars Head,

Although it used to open at 7am, the Boar’s Head has pushed its hours forward ever so slightly. It was the 2004 smoking ban that changed everything, he said. “I could feel this coming, and I was in favour of it, because I never smoked.”

“You’re not going to be seen smoking outside a pub at seven o’clock in the morning, with people on the way to work,” he said. “That kinda changed it.”


9am Slatterys

A few doors away is Slattery’s, a three-storey early house located on the corner of Capel Street and Mary Street Little.

At around 9am, the pub was filled with roughly ten silent punters, and two partial strangers who were arguing over a bet one of them was trying to fill out on a slip of paper.

“He’s useless,” one said.

“Fuck off,” replied the other.

Decorating the side of the staircase up to the first floor are the lyrics of “Molly Malone,” and hanging from a beam in the middle of the room, by the island bar counter, was a framed picture showing the various prices of Guinness over the years.

Built in the 1850s, Slattery’s is one of the six remaining early houses in the inner city, which means it has a licence to serve alcohol before the national standard time of 10.30am, or 12.30pm on Sundays.

Alongside Slattery’s, the Boar’s Head and the Wind Jammer, the other early houses are the Padraig Pearse on Pearse Street, the Galway Hooker inside Heuston Station and Molloy’s on Talbot Street.

But like the Boar’s Head and the Padraig Pearse, which generally open at 8am, Slattery’s starts serving at 9am all days, except Monday, which is listed as 7am.

The early house licences were first issued in 1927, says Sam McGrath, who runs the Dublin history blog Come Here To Me. “That gave the pubs this special allowance to open up early.”

“It would’ve been done for fisherman, around the fish and fruit and veg market in Smithfield and dock workers,” he says. “So it would’ve been for them to grab a drink immediately after finishing their shifts.”

The licence continued to be issued in the ensuing decades. But in 1962, the government made the decision not to allow any new pubs to extend their hours into the morning.

“No new pubs have been given it since then,” McGrath says.

McGrath estimates that at its peak, there were 44 early houses in operation across the city.

In order to retain the licence after 1962, a pub needs to open early at least once a year, he says. “I believe there are some pubs in Dublin that don’t operate as an early house at all. But they will for one day in the year, just to keep that licence intact.”

Former early houses, include the Cobblestone and Delaney’s on North King Street, The Metro on Parnell Street, and Madigan’s by Connolly Station.

Most places don’t want to deal with the hassle of being an early house any longer, says Ken Mulvaney, the owner of Molloy’s. “They prefer to open late at night, as opposed to early.”


10am – Molloy’s

In the front entrance to Molloy’s on Talbot Street, around the corner from Connolly Station, a poster was taped to the window promising “James Brown Live Tonight.”

The James Brown in question was not the Godfather of Soul, dead now for seventeen years. But rather, the King of Karaoke, and sporting bleach blonde hair and a pink suit.

Inside, the men at the tables tended to be engaged in lively conversations over pints of lager, while those at the counter drank Guinness, most in silence.

Above a door leading from the main to the back bar was a picture of John Skelton’s painting “Aran Pintmen, Inis Mor,” depicting six stoic men, smiling modestly with pints of stout in their hands.

The punters at the counter were like their urban equivalents. They were as motionless as they stared into the distance, past the taps and into a space beyond the shelves on the backwall, stocked with spirits.

Above the shelf was a clockface. Its maker was credited as Molloys and Co. Its hands never left 5.03.

A taxi driver, who was just off his regular shift, put down his copy of Tad Williams’ 800-page fantasy novel, The War of the Flowers.

“That clock works,” he said. “The barman who was here did it up. But when he left, nobody else could do it.”

In the back bar, owner Ken Mulvaney sat beneath a framed and autographed poster for 1988 European Championships football match between the Republic of Ireland-England in Stuttgart.

A resident of Orlando, Florida since 1981, Mulvaney bought the building in 2017, he said, while The Pogues’ raucous second single, Sally MacLennane played in the background. “But it’s always been called Molloys.”

“Each early house catered to someone different,” he says. “And we catered to the people on the docks.”

Like The Wind Jammer, Molloy’s was built to represent that heritage.

The three-storey protected structure is narrow at its entrance and widens towards the back, Mulvaney says. “It’s supposed to be the front of a ship.”

Protruding from the wine-coloured ground floor walls on the outside are a series of golden figureheads, which also make an appearance on the legs of its tables in the main bar too.

The building was constructed circa 1890. But Mulvaney said his daughter Ciara has been researching the history and found evidence that it may have been a teahouse back in the 1750s.

Mulvaney picked up the phone to call his daughter, Ciara, and five minutes later, she came down to join him. “The building is a mishmash of Georgian and Victorian,” she said.

Ciara Mulvaney, who was born and raised in Florida, explained that she has looked into its backstory because this is a spot that attracts a good deal of tourists now, especially from the States.

An early house like this is often a tourist’s first and last chance to grab a Guinness in a spot that is genuinely a part of the city.

She points out that Dublin Airport launched a Guinness Bar early in 2022.

“Last time I was in the airport, I was laughing, because they were saying to get your last pint in Ireland here,” she said.

Ken Mulvaney said he’s flying back to Florida in the morning. “My flight tomorrow is at 11 tomorrow to New York, and I mean, if you leave your hotel at 8, and want one last proper pint, it’s better to go here or to a place like the Wind Jammer.”

“I just can’t imagine sitting in a terminal with your last pint seems like that nice an experience,” Ciara said.


10.30am – Padraig Pearse

Council stewards had been lugging steel fences across Pearse Street all morning. At around 10.30am, hundreds had gathered along the footpaths, their heads turned east towards Ringsend.

In the distance was the clatter of snare drums rolling, heralding the westward march of the Artane Boys Band in their blue and red uniforms.

The inside of the Padraig Pearse pub had cleared out. Its punters stood outside the front entrance as the band slowly passed by, followed by the horse-drawn carriage carrying Shane MacGowan’s body. His coffin was draped in a tricolour, with a black and white portrait of the late Pogues singer by its side.

Once MacGowan vanished from sight, trailed by black limousines and a hoard of mourners, the pub-goers went back into the only pub open on Pearse Street. “Let’s head in,” said one man with a pint of Smithwicks. “Hope I’m not on the One O’Clock News with a bleedin’ pint glass in my hand.”

The Wind Jammer, 111 Townsend St, Dublin 2 (7am Monday to Saturday)

Boars Head, 149 Capel Street, Dublin 2 @the_boars_head_dublin

Slatterys, 129 Capel Street, Dublin 2

Molloys, 59 Talbot Street, Dublin 1

Padraig Pearse, 130 Pearse Street, Dublin 2 @PadraigPearsePub

Words: Michael Lanigan
Photos: Malcolm McGettigan

Barfly: The Chancery Inn – “The first time I set foot in the Chancery Inn was, like many others, at 7am on a Saturday morning.” – Michael McDermott


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