I'm firmly of the opinion that the Celtic Tiger years ruined the Irish pub. Too many good traditional pubs were gutted and turned into identikit late-night bars with crap music and ride-you-sideways pricing. To be fair, there were many awful pubs out there too, some of which had toilets that were barely above the outside shed standard. But overall, somewhere along the way, we forgot about the pub experience.
Personally, I'm still coming to terms with the mauling handed out to the Oval in Cork, which was gentrified and velvet-curtained into the style preferred by Benny McCabe. The old Oval had a ceiling patinaed from years of tobacco smoke, a minidisc player with eclectic music, tables made from Singer sewing machines and you occasionally had to use a hard-rimmed keg as a seat when the pub was busy. Most importantly, it had character. (To be clear though, I like what McCabe has done in Cork, where he has nurtured much vibrancy in the city's night life. I just terribly miss the old Oval).
In the last few years, I've also become convinced that the Americans have nailed the art of the modern pub. While travelling around the US, both for work and personal reasons, I have drank and eaten in many venues that had a good selection of local beers, easy to eat but high quality bar food and a general all-round good atmosphere. So it's no surprise then to me that Irish-born, US businessman David Kelly is keen to bring that recipe for success back to Ireland.
Kelly is a partner in the US-based Rí Rá pub group and together with his partners, he has purchased and renovated the former Russell's of Ranelagh. Given how Ranelagh has boomed, even during the downturn, something must have been very wrong for Russell's to close. The interior, which always seemed cold and sterile to me before, now feels more like a gentleman's club with reclaimed parquet flooring, leather seating, dark wood and bookshelf-lined walls. It's dark but warmly lit, and immediately feels comfortable. The bar is fitted out with multiple TVs and screens for the sports fans, but the screen placement is quite clever as the end result feels more like a sitting room than a sports bar.
More importantly, the Taphouse has an inviting menu. It's the kind of food that suits drinking with a focus on smaller dishes which are high in flavour. On our second visit, Himself went for the fish tacos (€12) having tried the assorted sliders (€4 each or 3 for €10) on our first visit. Three tacos packed with chunks of seared fish and fresh vegetables came in a little holder, while my ribs (€9) were accompanied with a fresh red cabbage slaw. Two large buckets of regular fries and sweet potato fries (€3 each) came with a malt vinegar mayo. The soft ribs were coated in that kind of generic barbecue sauce which is tasty enough not to offend anyone, while the slaw provided savoury crunch.
|Regular and sweet potato fries|
|Ribs with slaw|
American influences are also present in the service, which is efficient throughout. Many of the floor staff sport earpieces or walkie-talkies, allowing them to stay in communication even when the noise is at a peak. And boy, ever since the January paychecks came out, it has been busy.
The Taphouse is most definitely a modern pub. It dares to sell beer in non-traditional sizes (i.e. not a pint!) and has a good selection of Irish craft beers, all displayed on chalkboards behind the bar. Infused spirits are used in house special cocktails, with a decent selection of simpler classic cocktails also on offer. It's all designed so that the well-trained staff can run the bar without needing to be experts. Take out 'growlers', which are very common in the US, allow beer fans to take their favourite drink home in a reusable container.
The Taphouse has hit a sweet spot. It understands what the market wants and it delivers it. More publicans could take note of this.
Tel: +353 (0)1 491 3436