The first night in Ireland we were dragging so much we just went to a cafe near our hotel for dinner around 8. Lib was trying to convince me we weren’t so dead we couldn’t strike out into the unknown to find a pub, but cooler heads prevailed (that would be mine) and we ended the night in the hotel lounge. The Burlington is the largest hotel in Dublin, the site of many conventions, and has a nice, clubby bar.
I had an Irish Mist liquor (remember Mom & Dad kept a bottle up high in the china
cabinet?) and Lib ordered a Smithwicks ale. The bartender winced as he corrected – it’s pronounced “Smitticks”. This established a pattern for most of our pub nights, both in respective drink choices, and in the lesson in pronunciation. For some reason we (that’s the royal we that means just Lib) couldn’t keep that in mind. We sat there, clinked our glasses and toasted one another wearing, I’m sure, the sappiest of broad, idiotic smiles across our faces. We had done it! We were actually in Ireland!
The next day, Thursday, running under all the sightseeing, history absorption and gathering of new experiences was a fine undercurrent of tension – where to go to the pub that night? We had decided, based on online research, to do the Musical Pub Crawl. This is a guided tourist tour of pubs that featured traditional Irish music (called the Trad), so named, I suppose, because you end up crawling to the last one after a pint of ale in each. We were both keen to hear the Trad, but loath to appear in any way touristy, even though that’s what we clearly were. Morris the bus driver to the rescue.
Lib and I decided we could sum up the story of our time in Dublin as “A Tale of Two Bus Drivers”. “He was the best of bus drivers, he was the worst of bus drivers..” We ended up on the quay (pronounced “key”, a word we both had trouble remembering. Every time I said it, I said both “kway” and “key” to cover my bases) on the Liffey River, looking down a line of about 10 bus stops. We were looking for the bus to the jail, which experience was previously mentioned. This was the one time we WANTED to go to the jail, as opposed to the many times Libby’s wild drin… but I digress.
One chubby, black haired leprechaun of a bus driver was just exiting his bus when we approached and politely asked for directions. He mumbled something about the 71 and the 58 and stalked off down the sidewalk. We persevered, scurrying to keep up as we asked for clarification. He mumbled something else and, picking up speed, sprinted into a nearby pub for his “coffee” break.
Lib and I stood on the sidewalk, wearing twin expressions of kicked puppies. The buses whizzed in, collected their hordes and sped off. Seeing our confusion, another bus driver approached. Thinking they were trained to operate in tandem, Lib and I hugged each other tight to protect the more tender areas in case boots were to now be used to drive us off the tourists. But this was Bus Driverus Friendlius – the helpful of the species. He asked around, determined the best bus for our needs and placed us in the right queue. He even suggested that the pub the evil bus driver had entered had good, traditional Irish food, was reasonably priced and would do fine for dinner.
After our visit to the jail (that FIRST, historical jail visit, remember) we got on the bus back to the city center. This revealed more working class neighborhoods and some industry, especially on the river. We passed the Guinness factory and administrative offices which are right in the city. The CEO had arranged a little display wherein all the factory workers lined up and fired off a 21 keg salute to Lib for rescuing the local economy – amazing they knew which bus she would be on.
The closer we got to the city center, the packed bus emptied. We had been on the upper deck, but descended to the first floor the closer we got to the quay (kway/key). By now, we were the only ones on the bus. The rush hour traffic was so bad we were stuck at the same light for about 10 changes, so we struck up a conversation with the bus driver, Morris. He was a very friendly fellow, young, sandy haired and going to be married in two weeks. We put the thorny question of the evening’s pub to him and he pshawed the Musical Pub Crawl. Way too touristy. If we wanted a true taste of Dublin, we should try O’Donoughues, a public house that he himself frequented. It had the added benefit of being much closer to our hotel. He Xd our map and dropped us off, right where we started, just a few feet from our dinner and resolved on the evenings entertainment. Our best wishes followed him off, into the sunset. Well, into traffic really.
O’Donoughues looked like a typical neighborhood bar in Chicago, long and narrow with stools, and stuff tacked up on every inch of wall – pictures, currency, etc. We got there pretty early, were assured that they would have the Trad later on, and staked out a couple of stools against the wall. The place filled pretty rapidly. We were squished against the wall by a group of tall people, mainly American tourists (damn tourists). They created a bulge in the stream of traffic so people carrying full pints would have to squeeze between them and us. We lived in mortal terror of finding a Guinness, or worse, Heinekin, spilled all over us.
Lib made friends with a waitress so she could have a drink source. The bartender kept shooting her the evil eye when she asked for water between pints of Smithwicks (remember the pronunciation?). Yes, I know I’ve been insinuating that it was all ale, all the time with her, but even Lib has her limits. The waitress was a Chinese exchange student who had been in Ireland going to college for 6 years. She was about to graduate and head back to China to lead their computer revolution. Very interesting girl, with definite ideas on how women should let their husbands save face in public, while secretly being in charge of everything behind the scenes. The things you discuss in pubs.
There was one stall in the ladies room, and halfway through the night the owner put an “out-of-order” sign on the door. That would normally have signaled an end to our revelry, given our delicate bladders, but it turns out there was a spacious, 3 stall facility in the vacant next building, so it was all good. You can’t smoke in restaurants or pubs in Ireland, so the clever management had set up tables and chairs in the alley between the buildings, and there was more going on there than inside.
By 10 or 11 the place was filling up. The musicians arrived and set up at the table in the front window. We could see the side of one woman playing the bodrain (drum, not sure of spelling) for a little while before it got so packed we couldn’t see a thing. It was so noisy by then, we couldn’t hear any of the music, but I’m sure it was lovely.
The annoying tourists left, and their place was taken by a group of 4 young people (boy that sounds old). Lib, the friendlier of us, started up a conversation and soon we were knee-deep in the initial “who are you” information exchange. They were 2 New Zealanders (Kiwis they told us; the bird, not the fruit), a woman New Yorker and a Dublinner. The Irishman and one New Zealander worked in the city, in investments. The other New Zealander was his best friend who, along with his New Yorker wife, now lived upstate. The wife was a writer who has a travel book being printed by Random House next year – what was her name Lib? We have to look for it. She and her husband met in Peru (the country, not the town next door to me here).
They were really fun to talk to, but the time was flying and we wanted to get an early start on our drive into the country the next morning, so Lib and I headed out. We made it back to the hotel, unmolested, after only a few false starts down dead-end streets. We drifted off to sleep, Lib dreaming, no doubt, of big, bohunk Irishmen, whatever that means.