Kehoe’s has that literary feeling other pubs try to buy but can’t
There’s a slope in the floor of the upstairs lounge in Kehoe’s on South Anne Street in Dublin. It falls so steeply from beneath the heavy, wooden dresser beside the fire you’d be brave to trust your pint not to slide into your lap. Despite that, it’s my favourite seat. It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m stealing an afternoon away, a mere 10 strides from the noise of Grafton Street but I could be in another world.
Afternoon light pours in, throwing shadows around the cluster of rooms that make up this famous Dublin pub. The sound of a game of hurling reaches up the stairs and Kehoe’s famous Victorian snugs below are already full of banter and laughter.
If it weren’t for the Dublin accents around me, it wouldn’t feel like I was in a city-centre pub at all. It’s a cultured place, and refined, and has that magic literary feeling other pubs try to buy flat-packed but can’t. First licensed in 1803, it’s got history in its blood: the heavy mahogany bar has held the weight of talk of every style of revolution, and the partitions and snugs are a perfect foil for enquiring eyes. You can lose yourself here, and that’s one of the reasons it’s so popular.
But it’s not stuck in its ways: there’s a lovely contrast between the swing-door entrance, flanked by beautiful antique mirrors, and the 1970s-style neon sign in green and red that brashly advertises the Kehoe name outside. The staff are just as irregularly matched – attentive to the customer but always ready with a quick line or sharp retort. Contrasts work here, and should a famous writer or musician stroll up to the bar, they’ll get the same service as everyone else.
I prepare to leave at sunset. I know the streets will have calmed, and my stolen afternoon will have proven a success. Through the window I see a chauffer-driven black Mercedes drops its sole passenger at the door and, as he walks from the car to the bar, it’s as though his position in life falls away and I believe I see him relax. It’s that kind of place. Everyone fits.
Kehoes, South Anne Street, Dublin 2