A little word of advice, if you’re coming to Ireland, go to Cork, and while that might seem like enough, don’t be fooled, the charm of the locals in the city is only a ruse, the real wealth in the county lies farther to the left, down west, but don’t let yourself be lulled inland through Macroom, that would be ridiculous, instead head south firstly, and let yourself be slowly drawn by the ebb and flow down down along the coast.
Seek out the tourist attractions, because well they are all that, attractive, and steep yourself in some of the local lore, and bia, and wash it all down, and raise your soul in celebration, but then let that be that, stray off the beaten track as much as possible, get lost, double back and as long as you stay close to water it won’t even matter if that two hours becomes two days becomes two years or two lifetimes and more, you’ll always be heading the right way, still West and South along the coast, hitting beach after beach, village after village, pub after pub and such, and there’ll come a time as surely as the sun shall rise tomorrow, when you’ll no longer give a damn about the destination, you’ll be so immersed in the journey.
Some people find religion, some find art, some others find home in another’s warm embrace, but unless you travel to Cork and then south and West you’ll really have found nothing at all.
If in Cork and in need of a dose of craft beers then why not try the PorterHouse, Sheare’s Street. Set in the Mardyke complex a little off dead centre it’s still on the run in from UCC and other noteworthy sights to see. A selection of food bits plus more a hungry soul will not find oneself abandoned, and for all those of the thirst quenching persuasion, even if craft isn’t your style, this is still a pub with all and sundry behind the bar.
Down the steps running in off Trinity Street, Cambridge, lies The Vaults Bar and Restaurant. I was a little unnerved to begin with. Whereas cellar bars are a norm in Budapest, in England, much like Ireland, I imagine such places to revolve around pain, torture, or pehaps even deviant sexual pleasure. Being with Tara meant I wasn’t up for that sort of exploration.
As it offered a chef’s special, 2 courses for a tenner, I was game, and with Tara weighing in my arms I had grown disinterested in prowling for a better place.
A bar to the left, restaurant to the right, at the bottom of the stairs, I chose the former being as there were cosy chairs for my sleepy beauty.
Though she fought heroically in resisting fatigue it is only because she is sleeping now that I’m managing this.
Right. Starters were varied and I chose a potted crayfish with toasted bread. I say toasted bread rather than toast because the bread itself is worth a mention to the good. The crayfish, however, set in a ramikan much like a goose liver paté, fat congealed on top – the disappointment came in the heavy handed approach towards the pickle mixed in. This struck me as a dish made by someone who delighted in the idea of fish while not wholly liking the taste. A whiskey-coke drinker comes to mind.
The main was a goat cheese salad with strips of red peppers, sun-dried tomato, rocket salad and that curious brown sauce which is not quite YR nor chocolate but could pass for both at a distance. It won back points for both simplicity and taste. Goat cheese and sun-dried tommy-toes…the job!
Served on tap was a cider I didn’t try and a bitter, Eagle, which I did.
The service was professional, experienced, and within the realm of friendliness which, considering my initial douts/fears about the establishment down the steps, is a positive.
In summary, in the way of bar-restaurant tradition which has come to signify the turn of the new millenium, it slots in unobtrusively, but perhaps would never stand out, not in my own imagination at any rate*.
Whether or which, Tara is still out for the count and I’m considering another pint while feeling the pressure of a full bladder. But unlike the beer, Martin isn’t bitter!
The Star Inn, Bridge Street, Bishops Stortford, claims hostelry back almost 400 years, and like a lot of this quaint town 9 minutes out of Stansted on the track to London, it is kitted out in the flavour of authenticity. Not that there is any need to doubt its credentials and yet I’m drawn to Trigger’s brush in Only Fools and Horses*. That said I have managed as is the norm to get a rickety table, indoors this time, and while there is a spacious beer garden, a tired child and an overdose of sun down by the paddling pool, have us nestling in a shadey recess: though in truth pressed up to the street facing window, and while Tara snoozes I have time to take in the people and the accents, not all of which are local.
Lunchtime deal of 1 meal for 6.95 but 2 of the same for 8 is hooking some. I for my part have been pressed to request strawberries from the barmaid, and while only for cocktails, she bends over backwards ( I wish;)) to supply us with a bowl.
Having done Cambridge last week I must say I’m much more impressed as, with child in tow, I can traverse the town in short distances. There is a paddling pool in the park, and a kickass playground all within a lazy stone-thrower’s toss away. How I’m going to tell Tara we can’t return to the playground when she awakes I’m still pondering but for now, here, a John Smith’s to hand, chatter hidden away from me, a bit of mellow music, and sunshine abounding, I am L’Homme Heureux! Essentiellement!
I passed a comment on the way up the bare stairs on entering the building which houses this establishment “It’s like an extended McDonalds”, all tiled to the top floor, but even so running to the American diner on the first floor one is confronted by greatness – pictures of Rory Gallagher accompanying you to the first floor landing. To get beyond this, however, to Suas on the second floor requires a little more hiking, and it’s a lonely trek, the walls sterile, unwelcoming tend to intimidate. Well, okay I’m verging on demented exaggeration but, perhaps, it was the lack of oxygen to the brain by the time I’d reached the top step that had me in this delirium. On the other hand only ‘fit’ people drink here, that or people desperate to soak in the rays while the sun was flaunting itself.
You see Suas, meaning ‘up’ in Gaelic, is indeed just that but what is its forte, unless you’re a masochist or regular gym-goer, is that it is a rooftop bar open to the elements, and on this particular day this was a good thing. How could one resist – how could one even dare! To say that I had surrendered a Saturday afternoon, originally set aside for shopping, to this sheer decadence is to know the man.
I was sold. I would have sold my grandmother’s bones to have advanced my position but it didn’t come to that. A table for three directly under the sun was acquired and, waiting for the drinks to arrive, I sat back to take it all in. My reflection in the darkened glass, which divides the inner weather-proof pub from the garden area, smiled with approval. This is Cork but I would not be deterred by that, just because I oft times before lacked the confidence to embrace the beast. Dark shades on dark thoughts (would not prevail). I smiled even more broadly.
My friends, pints in tow, arrived. We chatted, allowing the heat and the people to wash over us. Put to task by one of my buddies we explored the finer art of charm, inviting a table of ladies to assist. Drinks flowed, time passed – and the pockets emptied! Upstairs, up market! But as was proffered, we don’t get weather like this usually so why not splash out a bit.
However, whereas I have also enjoyed an occasional night here in the winter it was with smokers and always outside. Ask me to revel inside and I would be loath to agree. There are much better places indoors; much better, much cheaper, and on the ground floor.
“We do. Cheese n Onion, Salt n Vinegar, Smokey Bacon?”
“Cheese n Onion.”
“Choice! What a curse. But we’d be complaining if we didn’t have it.”
Situated off Morrison’s Island on the Southside, but more importantly on Douglas Street, this place is one of those which have managed development well. It’s taken to having a beer garden in a style which suggests savvy while at the same time keeping an interior which to all intents and purposes could still be old school. Beyond the first partition, just after the bar, it does tend towards a tidier affair than perhaps it was in “The Torch” days but then again Ireland back then felt different and not just upholstery speaking. These days leather, wipe clean, seats are much more in vogue and sensible to boot.
That a beer garden is bigger than a pub is either a sign of optimism concerning the weather or, more significantly, forward thinking on the part of those in charge when the smoking ban first came in. There is a covered area for those willing to sit it out in all seasons (in one day!) as well as an open to the sky section which can, however, be quickly covered over too by a tarpaulin when things really get rough. And when in need, these guys are like to the rigging, hoisting it all up in commendable time.
Now unless I forget to mention it this place is one of those thoroughly adaptive sorts, retaining the old style while moving with the times, and while this may sound repetitive, what I am alluding to here is the menu table-side. It has sandwiches hot & cold, soups, baked potatoes, pizzas, along with a selection of beers beyond the norm – the recently risen craft beers. It is refreshing to come back to a Cork forever on the up in terms of taste, but shur isn’t it also the berries to return and sink some of the old reliable Beamish too. You can take the man outta Cork but not the Cork outta the man!
The pizzas are offered at 10 euro for a 12 inch while the cheapest soup is 3.50 euro. There are cheaper side dishes, like wedges, which will suffice if it’s not posh you’re pretending at. And well speaking of posh, the Pizza and Wine menu is separate, and this, my friend is why I’m impressed. Not because it satiates my cravings to snobbery, which I do fear exist, but that again a place than can look like this, homely, Irish, still dares to serve it up. And so, nevertheless, here I sit crisp packet crumpled before me and a half a pint of Beamish remaining.
I always remember “Pub Grub” signs as a kid and was inclined to the idea that this was to be taken literally, the ‘grub’ part I mean, such was my impression of the fare on offer, but if this more recent lean towards taste is what the Celtic Tiger has done to this country then, even if I can’t resurrect the beast I can at least contribute to the remnants of the dream .
I didn’t use to frequent this place as a teen or early twenties guy though there were occasions when I did grace here with my presence on one of my drunken escapades. I’ve even been known to find love, or something akin to it, between the walls of this establishment.
The entrance is the same but it has extended over the years and while including the old corridor to the bar, now the back bar, on the immediate left is the daytime, regulars, quarter. That it has undergone many changes in my time travelling only serves to confuse me every time I return, especially when in search of the Jacks.
Good old soul music creeps across the room, not out of place among a select group of settled individuals, and the seating is damned cosy.
It’s greatest failing is the stink! So oft before a semblance of stale beer and cigarette smoke, then body odour post smoking ban, these days it has surrendered itself to the illusion of cleanliness as only air fresheners and toilet trough soap can do. There could even be a compromise at furniture polish – this place is afterall a pyromaniacs dream, all wood and red leather (maybe plastic?) cushioned seats. The only thing to survive would probably be the bare shell, the fire brick, though considering the aging that has been absorbed through sweat, tears, beers, tar, these too may have found themselves more similar to the black seam these days. Now I’m not condoning arson and I’d be disappointed if it were to come to that cos this place does hold memories…and not only of the stink!
It is an institution in the minds of many’s the Corkonian, it’s a late night bar made popular by the hordes of foreign students that pile in over the summer months, and the gargle is cheap. But BE WARNED! This latter benefit is a daytime treat. Like some Cinderella-esque affair this place turns after 11pm into a pricey place; being downtown Cork and being one of the few late night bars, it can do it, so you’d better be able to afford it. That said, it could never be as dear as some, even after the fairy-god price has vanished. But if the pocket doesn’t seem as deep as it used to be then get in early, find a seat, phone a friend and let 11pm alone till 11pm comes. Then make your further choices.
Note: If hungry, even for crisps, avoid the place, cos you know how it goes: you’ll stay for one, pause for two and continue, not wanting to give up the seat and the comfort, and while you’re thinking over beer number three whether to run to the chipper, beer four and five will be pressing. Finally you’ll end up pissed, still hungry, but God willing you’ll still be able to get a feed in before 2 am, or at least wake up beside some it, a mess of chips and curry across the floor, the bed, in the face and in the hair. Now I’m only saying: This COULD* happen!
P.S. Crosswords are available, photocopied cut outs, on the tables for the early-birds.
(Cork Coffee Roasters, Bridge St. Cork. 8.45 a.m.)
Just off Patrick’s Bridge on Bridge Street this cafe sits at the foot of the famed Patrick’s Hill. At one time the Nissan International Classic* used to feature this (the hill not the cafe) in the Cork stage as a test of calibre for the cyclists who had already been in the saddle half the day. And they made them go up it three times!
The Cork Coffee Roasters, like others, are a group of concerned citizens who take coffee seriously and this is one of those places where one can meet locals and tourists alike in search of the good stuff.
When you hear the initial exclamations from the Italians or French who pop in it’s usually because they’ve seen the enormous bowls – perched on table tops – and thought to think that this was one of those places, like the American chain motif. It can be if one so wishes but it offers more. It offers variety, blends; it sells beans, and ground, and it’s all set in a brick work interior at points plastered over and pictures hung, at others displaying the product on offer.
An original old coffee grinding machine fills the interior immediately opposite the door and while removing this could give a few more seats, the high stools surrounding suffice. It also lends to the cosier feel, people sat to the left and low, while high at the window, street-facing, aswell. A central pole separates somewhat the waiting and self-service area from the rest of the floor though this could be a hindrance. In truth anything here which seems impractical adds to the character, and like a good coffee character is everything!
High rafters greet you in the initial stage but it spreads beyond the “drunk steps” to the tables yonder. I remember Sundays here with the matches, vying for a screen. I remember when this pub was tiny, well smaller by far. Now there’s a beer garden out back; a short cut to the streets more homeward for me.
This has been, since my childhood, an institution. It has, like its name, always existed. I don’t have any memory of the interior back then; my parent’s drank, and still do, elsewhere but it was one of a line along the road of the same name. There always was The Evergreen, The Mountain and The Beer Garden here for as far back as I can remember. The Turner’s Cross Tavern having its flirtations with other names, The Corner House among them, was the only variable*. Landmarks of my youth, I remember passing these sacred places for many years before ever stepping inside. A particular Christmas Eve comes to mind – memory lane abounds.
This is the quintessential suburban pub. Its character revolves around the people, the telly when the customers are few, and the clink of the pool balls away in the corner. Pool is a game, like football’s become, unfamiliar to me without the slight quaver – alcohol induced. The smell here, too, the beer taps all in a row, the hint at yesterdays and the promise of tomorrows; if you need to create the authentic Irish pub it needs its scars and dreams. Without these it’s just another name, lost in a sea of sterility.
( Arthur Mayne Pharmacy and Wine Garden, Pembroke St. Cork. 2.45 p.m.)
Situated in an old pharmacy, much of the original display in Arthur Mayne Pharmacy & Wine Garden is still intact. Everything else, everything new, is actually styled to lend to that feel of the original. There has been a bit of money put into the affair and it really lends to the heritage pub feel, ideally from the glass counter at the front, itself sporting cakes as well as Simple cleansing lotion! Beside the counter there is a tall glass cabinet complete with bell jars and ostentatious servings of Lin. Camph. Ammon. (!) from the Cork Chemical & Drug Ltd. Nothing new there!
Opposite the serving counter in the next section wines are displayed from cooling cabinets, above which an impressive selection are lying horizontal (I later discovered that one can serve oneself from these same ‘machines’). Following on from that, and deeper into the interior there is the more pokey, pub-like quarter, more expected, and this leads onto the back and a door to the smoking area which it shares with the Crane Lane, a revamped and certainly more modern feeling pub.
The fact that this is a wine bar means that this is not your commoner gardener environment. People here make Apple Mac jokes – whatever they are!
Food-wise, there are fancy sandwiches, with feta cheese and basil oil drizzled. Soup is also on offer along with the sweets – scones and croissant, However, this is not ‘cukraszda’ country. And I’m not just referring to Mayne’s, or Cork here. Compared to a confectioner’s shop in downtown Budapest things lie a little more sparse on the ground in Ireland as a whole. Be warned.
The atmosphere in the chemist’s is reminiscient of a pub regardless of its pretensions – i.e. wine – and where the decor is old fashioned, quaint, this will be no better, or worse, a few drinks in. The only distinction is that if you step in for a Beamish you’ll be left squeamish! If you choose the wine, you’ll be fine!! So drink up and become European for a while.
Of course, wine and Cork are not, as may first appear, the oddest of bedfellows as indeed there is a history of import and re-export within the region dating back to the middle ages. It is, however, not the first word that rolls off the average Corkonian’s tongue when asked to name their drink of choice but with people trending away from pub-only tippling to the occasional night in with a bottle, the wine (no longer just plonk) is definitely after finding its feet. Having lived in Spain and France, and now Hungary, I have over the years developed a taste for the fruit of the vine and on the occasion that I am back in Cork and looking for something a little out of the ordinary I know I know a place, Arthur Mayne Pharmacy & Wine Garden on Pembroke street, in the heart of the city.