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D’ya ever get the feeling that no matter what bar review you read in whatever bland Frommer’s – Lonely Planet – Idiot’s Guide to Ireland you pick up, you’ll get the same description no matter what Dublin bar is being written about? “Traditional Victorian pub with good food, great atmosphere and the best pint of Guinness in town.” While an element of truth in this does make it difficult to differentiate between Dublin pubs, I wonder how many reviewers actually went there for more than 15 minutes instead of recycling what one person said about the pub in 1973, which everyone has repeated since. So, when it comes to the Stags Head, take it from me: you’ll enjoy the best Guinness, craic and pub grub in Dublin within classic Victorian surroundings. Well, at least I can do it more succinctly.
The Stags Head is located on Dame Court across from the Dame Tavern. To find it, just walk along the south side of Dame Street and look for a tiny alley with a small mosaic panel depicting a stag’s head mounted in the pavement. Head south through the cobblestone passageway known as Dame Court and you’ll find the bar tucked away on your left. If you can find it, you’ll encounter one of the classic buildings of Dublin thanks to architect A.J. McLoughlin. Housed in three-story orange brick dating back to 1895, the pub’s fronting consists of stately marble columns, a gray granite facade that could do with a bit of a wash, and two old wooden doors that lie between you and a pint o’ plain. This, combined with a smoky interior, has a rough Ukrainian Village-like feel to it ala Tuman’s Alcohol Abuse Center, if you can pardon the Chicago parallel.
Ornate, green-painted wrought iron covers the windows and ensures that no natural light actually reaches this comfortable drinking den. Once you’ve entered the smallish space, you’ll need to elbow your way to the dark mahogany bar as the pub is usually quite crowded. As you wait for your Guinness to be poured by one of the “curates” (nickname for bartenders given the allegedly “religious” experience of so much dark wood and stained glass), have a gander at the stuffed, seven-pointed stag’s head behind the bar and the stained glass portraits of deer located around the room. If you see an empty spot, grab it especially if it’s at the bar or across the scuffed cement floor at the red upholstered banquette that runs the length of the north wall, or at the plethora of little stools in front of it. Additional seating can be found at tiny marble tables on either side of the front door.
As for the crowd, Trinity students and the like primarily flock to the Stag in the afternoon for cheap drinks and pub grub consisting of traditional Irish dishes like bacon and cabbage. The post-work crowd enters in the evenings in an attempt to pull co-workers, while private party invitees filter up the stairs to the second floor, and the ubiquitous Temple Bar crowd of young locals and tourists descend each night.
While many pubs in Dublin are acclaimed as being able to serve a mean pint of Guinness and having a great atmosphere for a bit of craic, the Stags Head actually does and can be counted on for it any night of the week (except Sunday). Pints, conversation and that’s about it. What more do you need? Aye, laddy.