Since the early 1990s, Ireland has experienced a prosperity that it has never experienced before in all of its history. Ireland’s Celtic Tiger has even outlasted that of Southeast Asia’s economies, making them look like wet kittens. Although the Celtic Tiger might be getting a little sleepy, dozens of construction cranes continue to dot the horizon, as seen from the top of the Guinness Brewery, mobile phones are omnipresent, and the city itself is in the process of being transformed from an quaint, ancient town into a sophisticated, European capital city.
As with any country’s boon times, success comes at a price. In Ireland’s case, much of the tradition and culture that makes Ireland so alluring and the Irish so admired is changing. Dublin itself, especially, is experiencing this more than anywhere else in the country. A prime example of this comes with the permanent closing of one of Dublin’s oldest, classic pubs – the Bailey. In the past year, this famous bar located on Duke Street, off the Grafton Street pedestrian mall, was razed to make room for a sleek new department store. Some say claim this as progress, while others have less flattering things to say although no less enthusiastic. Regardless, the Bailey lives on as part of mythical Old Dublin and part casualty of cosmopolitan New Dublin.
The Bailey Legacy
Back during the middle part of the 20th Century, the Bailey was one of several popular literary bars. Like that of Davy Byrne’s and McDaids, the Bailey attracted many avant garde writers like Gogarty, Padraic Colum and Brian O’Nolan. This aspect of the Bailey’s legacy was once captured at the beginning of this century by the Nomadic Theatre Company, in a play entitled “The Rare Oul’ Times.” The play is described as depicting, “two of Irelands most outrageous and notorious drinkers and literary figures, Brendan Behan and Patrick Kavanagh, discussing their successes, failures and love lives to date in 1950s Dublin.” The Bailey is also mentioned in Ulick O’Connor’s book, Brendan Behan, in the following passage describing Behan’s embellished account of being arrested for the second time: “‘I saw three Hanrahans’ he used to tell groups in the Bailey ‘and I didn’t know which one to shoot.” Hanrahan was one of Behan’s arresting officers.
Back in those days, the Bailey was what is today a very traditional pub with an “old-shabby-sofa” and serving a mean pint o’ the black stuff. Of particular note was the old door on display in the pub. This door was the only thing salvage from 7 Eccles Street, before it became Mater Hospital. This address was the fictional home of Leopold Bloom, one of the primary characters in James Joyce’s epic novel set in Dublin, Ulysses. Seven Eccles Street was actually the home of J.F. Byrne, a good friend of Joyce’s, between 1908 and 1910. Now that the Bailey is gone, it is unknown what happened to the door. Although 7 Eccles Street was featured in Ulysses, the Bailey was not despite being one of Joyce’s favorite haunts. Maybe it will show up down the block at the Duke.
Once the writers had moved on, the Bailey entered into a transitional period serving as one of Dublin’s top LGBTQ+ friendly bars, and then as a student dive. The old Bailey was then renovated into something quite different. The first attempt at the New Bailey left it with a somewhat sterile aesthetic. Through a second renovation in two years by the O’Regans, the Bailey was left with a chic new atmosphere often described as “super-trendy” – a far cry from the Bailey’s humble beginnings.
The New Bailey
Lots of chrome, sharp edges, mirrors, brightness during the day, funky leather seats, big bar stools, sofas that you could lose yourself in, and the latest European pop in the air completed the very modern and trendy interior. The new Bailey evoked a similar feel to that of the Front Lounge and the Funnel, elsewhere in Dublin. If you were looking for a comfortable wooden environment at that time, you’d have to look somewhere else like Bruxelles over on nearby Harry Street.
The new feel of the Bailey attracted a very lively crowd of record company hipsters, hairdressers, minor-league musicians, trendy business types, self-conscious thespians, and aspiring journalists. While not known as an LGBTQ+ friendly bar like in its past, the Bailey was also considered LGBTQ+ friendly– something for everyone… Many came here to pounce on well-dressed men, scantily-clad women and pretty bar staff, giving the Bailey a reputation of being one of the most sought-after pub destinations in the city making it difficult to find a seat. While posing and strutting were common, the Bailey was only criticized as being slightly pretentious.
On the outside, a long shaded patio enclave kept warm by heat lamps, allowed women with Brown Thomas bags a place to observe other shoppers on Grafton Street. Before it shut, the Bailey was the only pub along Grafton Street where you could enjoy a pint while watching the comings and goings of the masses. Now there are none. If the lamps didn’t warm you enough, you could head inside and hang out under the track lights and you’d be toasty warm before you knew it.
While the decor at the New Bailey was much improved over the old, some things did not hold up as well. £2.65 pints of Guinness were poured with excess head, the men’s bathroom was so small that the dread potential of touching was far too great, and the traditional pub grub was replaced with pricey paninis, wraps, coffee and, worst of all, salads. All of this suggests that the Bailey became more of a cafe than a pub. Some even went as far to say that the transformation of the Bailey as well as other formerly notable pub, the White Horse and the Morrison, is a sign that the Irish Pub is dying in Ireland while, ironically, it flourishes throughout the rest of the world…
Farewell, Auld (and new) Bailey
While the Old Bailey was a chance to be a part of Dublin’s literary history and the new Bailey was a great spot to while away the afternoon or to mix with the beautiful people of Dublin, the Bailey now is only a warm memory. Hopefully, some of Dublin’s new literati will preserve both Baileys through prose or verse, and other pubs will carry on the Bailey’s legacy.