Before becoming a father, Laurence Mackin had a pub for every whim and fancy. These days, however, he's acutely aware of last orders.
Before I had a child, ignorance was bliss. There were many things I failed to notice, or if I did see them, I would shrug a little, and wonder: is that really necessary?
Big, chunky plastic tables in toilets – what are they all about? Playgrounds — do they have to be everywhere? Those seats in cars that look like formula one cockpits – well someone clearly had too much money to spend in the shop.
Now, of course, I realise that these things are essential, life-saving and legally compulsory. But the thing I really took for granted was the pub. The beautiful, welcoming, warm pub. In life before child (BC), I had the luxury of selecting one based on pure whim.
Is it a “read the paper on your own while watching the horseracing” sort of afternoon (The Hut)? Is it a “have the chats on a comfy stool” sort of evening (The Long Hall)? Is it a “not sure if my uncle John will get me thrown out of this one, so I’d best pick one that I’ve no intention of ever going back to” kind of night (nearly anything on Dawson Street)?
Now, pubs are not really a place for children for any extended amount of time. There are perfectly reasonable child labour laws in place, and the only thing that children can actually be relied upon to do is spill things.
But there is the odd occasion when the child might be asleep in the pram, and you might suddenly find yourself with a Saturday afternoon window, while in-between locations. In those early infant months, I’d often power my daughter into town just to get her out of the house. And sometimes, while doing laps of the city, I’d find a glorious 20-minute pitstop when I could squeeze in a swift one. Then I found myself picking it not on the basis of ambience, pint quality and sports options (or lack thereof). Instead, the venue was decided by: can I swing the pram in; have they a baby-changing station and is it quiet enough that she won’t wake up?
Suddenly I developed a keen interest in hotel bars – the roomier the better. No matter the cost for the probably subpar pint, if the noise was at a polite murmur, I was signing up.
There was one lovely example that is no more. The Gravediggers pub in Glasnevin is rightly a place of legend, and I’d happily argue that it’s the best pub in Dublin. If you’ve never been, it’s several houses in a row, with John Kavanagh’s name over the door, tucked in by the grand side-gate of Glasnevin cemetery. Facing it is a large oval green surrounded by a cheerful ring of houses, called Prospect Square.
The pub, of course, is still there and I can easily imagine several empires falling before it loses its perfect toe-hold in this lovely little corner of the northside.
The bar long had a policy that you could take a drink in a plastic glass outside and sit on the green. And during the summer, you’d often see a weary parent or two taking the chance to grab a glass. If the child was asleep, you could park them up in the fresh air. If they were fighting the snooze, you could do a lap while your partner in the perfect crime got in a drink, before you both handed over in a seamless pit stop. And if the baby was awake, you could play with them on the grass while still enjoying a little sliver of the social life you used to have, before heading for home.
In late summer, though, the owners called a halt to the practice. A sign posted outside the pub advised that on the instructions of An Garda Siochana, punters would no longer be allowed to take drinks purchased in the bar on to the green.
Rarely have the parents’ Facebook groups erupted with such fury. Petitions were formed and signed. Twitter rang thick and fast with howls of protest. This was our Brexit. But the ban looks unlikely to shift anytime soon, with unspecified residents’ complaints being at the heart of it.
Now I know what some of you may be thinking: this is a column about drinking in bars with children and the author should be locked up. But there is a big, thick, obvious line between getting stuck in while watching the football, and having a drink with friends when the chance arises.
Walking past the Gravediggers on a recent sunny afternoon, when the last warmth of the autumn was still in the air, the green looked strangely empty. It certainly felt like a little, lovely part of the city had been sadly stamped out – whether you have children or not. And no hotel bar can make up for that.
Parenting tip no.4
If you do find yourself stranded in town with a thirst and a smallie, I’ve found the bar in the Westin to be great for the sneaky one, especially in the atrium. Loads of light, it’s nice and quiet, and the accessibility is a breeze. Yes the prices are high, but you’re hardly going to be there all afternoon so you might as well spoil yourself. If you’ve got your own recommended spot, I would love to hear about it.
Image: Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney in 'Catastrophe'