“‘The Hairy Lemon’,” Anton smirks, “that’s a savage name for a pub.” I consider sharing with him the origin-story I read on the pub’s website earlier, but think better of it (the pub is named, apparently, for a dog-catcher in the 1950s whose head looked like a lemon). Naming a pub after a well-known Dublin “character” is an unusual practice, assuming that the “Hairy Lemon” himself didn’t have any part in its establishment (nor, presumably, was he alive when the pub was named). While it might have nostalgic resonance in the minds of the older generations of Dubliners, to folks such as Anton it seems obtuse and, on a basic, literal level, unpleasant.
Tempting though it is to ask “who drinks in The Hairy Lemon?” with mock incredulity, the place is very busy indeed from the moment we walk in the door. The downstairs is divided into a bar and a restaurant, while upstairs functions as a lounge, and we struggle to find an unmanned table anywhere to sit down. Having made our way to the back of the bar’s seating area, we observe Dietmar Hamann’s Stockport County being robbed of a deserved victory by Forest Green Rovers (final score 1-1) on the flatscreen while ourselves suffering the injustice of paying €6 for a pint of Kilkenny (Smithwicks, often a fair equivalent in price to the cream ale, is €5.70 a pint in the Shelbourne hotel bar). This place is ridiculously expensive, and the prices seem genuinely arbitrary (Guinness is €5). The barman shrugs his shoulders apologetically as I stare at the purple-inked “Kilkenny – €6.00” on my receipt: “It’s the most expensive one!” he explains, soothing only a hypothetical fear that the next drink I order might cost even more; it’s the sort of thing that Michael D. Higgins might write a poem about. For now, we content ourselves with ordering food, and though our server assures me of the quality of their Thai curry (“We’ve been told it’s even better than a Thai restaurant” – which one I am not informed), I opt for a non-spicy pasta option and Anton orders the steak sandwich.
My “Linguini Primavera” arrives five minutes later in an upturned sun-hat of ceramic, its enormous, striking brim in stark contrast to the austerity of the portion contained in its crown. It is watery and unremarkable and costs €11.90. Anton’s steak sandwich is substantial (containing chunks of onion too big to be comfortably chewed by a human) but “boring” and similarly priced. Like the pint Kilkenny before it, it is the same stuff you could be served in any pub in Ireland, it just costs more. The place itself is utterly unremarkable in its decoration, as far as pubs go, with a contrived and sterile but completely typical rusticity that could offend nobody insofar as everywhere else looks like it and getting upset by such commonplace banality would leave one exhausted and in a perpetual state of fervid indignation. The Hairy Lemon is but one of hundreds of characterless public houses in Dublin city; if we are to indict it for anything, it ought to be its outrageous pricing and for lending itself to the filming crew of The Commitments. Sadly, one cannot even accuse the place even of being a piece of Roddy Doyle’s oeuvre made flesh: it lacks the personality, however mawkish and affected, of something which can be hated or loved, it simply is, and is little more.
Anton sparks up one of the Marlboro Lights he took, unattended, from the smoking-area as we step back into Dublin’s streets, his utter desensitisation to thievery completed, with the riotous week that was in it, by the intransigence of Forest Green Rovers and the abnormal price mark-ups of the Hairy Lemon. I ask him what he thought of the place, and he responds with a shrug. I respond with a shrug of my own, too tired to push against concrete.
The Hairy Lemon
41 Stephen Street
Dublin 2, Ireland
01 671 8949