Whenever I’m in Dublin—and I try to get there once a year—my first stop is always Grogan’s Castle Lounge. It was my local in 1991 when I was a student at Trinity College, and I still can’t help thinking of it that way. Later I’ll hit the Stag’s Head for a pint and brief communion with its taxidermied namesake. And I’ll drop into Kehoe’sto make sure the snugs are still in place and for a bit of banter with the barmen.
But when I ask friends to meet me at the Library Bar at the Central Hotel, I can practically hear their faces light up over the phone. Built in 1887, the Central is timeworn if not downright dowdy, low on mod cons, effectively free of frills, and, in my estimation, exactly right. It’s home to one of the city’s greatest bars, and one of the most unusual hotel bars I know.
Most hotel bars—the great, grand ones—serve as refuges from everyday life, where one can be anonymous or quickly reinvent oneself. The Library isn’t that sort of place. There’s no darkness, no mystery here, no banquettes, no piano, no murals by great artists: it is the anti-hotel-bar hotel bar. It could hardly be called a secret, but it retains an irresistible specialness. You’re not going to get an exemplary martini at the Library, or, to be blunt, an exemplary cocktail of any kind. Don’t expect a silver-plated tray of nuts and pretzels, either. The effect, instead, is rather like the liquor-filled study of an eccentric, faded- aristocrat uncle, who might drink a little too much and has absolutely nothing to prove. On a creaky, painted wood floor, well-used sofas and armchairs are arranged in little clusters, the better to facilitate conversation with friends and strangers. On chilly nights, wood burns in the fireplace.
An evening spent in conversation at the Library Bar is a perfectly lovely thing, made better by a few drams of Redbreast 12-year. But what I like best is a quiet afternoon there alone. I’ll bring a stack of newspapers and order a pot of tea and a Jameson or Powers on the side. By the time I’ve finished torturing myself with an Irish Times cryptic crossword, my tea’s done, and I’m ready to head three blocks east to Grogan’s for a long night of Guinness and craic.
Rosie Schaap is the author of the brilliant booze memoir Drinking With Men.