I’ve never experience quite as much pushback about a proposed review as when I mentioned to friends this issue would feature J. O’Connell’s of Richmond Street. They knew, rightfully so, that the finished piece was likely to be closer to a love-letter than a review; hyperbolic ramblings expounding what I consider to be the unmatched charms of the establishment. Their concern was that if I was capable of summating anything even close to full breadth of joys housed within these walls a peak-hour seat might just become more difficult to secure. This is the passion that O’Connell’s elicits, I have yet to cross paths with a patron that is not also a rabid devotee.
To the uninitiated, the sheer force of the dedication invoked by O’Connell’s might seem peculiar. From the exterior it’s unassuming to the Nth degree. It’s the sort of place one could, and probably has, pottered past innumerable times without ever slowing one’s gait. Even the interior, wonderfully spacious and peerlessly cosy as it is, isn’t going to take you aback with the old world grandeur which characterises some of the city centre’s other finer watering holes – your Swans and your Long Halls and what have you.
While these other destination pubs boast a certain historical gravitas, O’Connell’s is more low key in its veneration of times gone by. I’ve been assured by relations of the correct vintage that the doorway does indeed function as a wormhole to the oft-eulogised days of yore, back when a pint of plain was still your only man and nobody thought twice about the barman helping himself to the odd half. The lone giveaway that one hasn’t fallen victim to some unknowable and heretofore unseen temporal anomaly is the reassuring huddle of folks huffing cigs outfront rather than at their barstools.
Really though, as pleasant as the unfussy ambiance, gargantuan booths, low prices (€4 for Beamish, €4.50 for Guinness) and perma-festive red and green decor are, it’s the people that push this place from beyond “a grand auld shop” to probably the best pub in town. Career barmen are at the helm of the good ship O’Connells, the sorts of folks who take an obvious pleasure and pride in actually being good at their jobs. As more and more bartenders seem to be principally concerned with how to go about rebranding themselves as mixologists, as opposed to actually tending to the people on the other side of bar, interest in delivering prompt service, let alone with a smile, has plummeted drastically.
After a few evenings in O’C’s, it’s easy to take for granted the attentiveness and good humour routinely displayed. That is until some infernal social engagement forces you to decamp elsewhere on a Friday and you are faced with the glacial service peppered with eye-rolling that is, for many a bar, the norm. Raise a drink to O’Connell’s, they’re the good guys and, thankfully, they don’t look like changing anytime soon.
29 Richmond Street South, Dublin 2
Words: Danny Wilson
Photos: Killian Broderick