Davey has worked in Irish bars since he was 15. Here, he explains why the Irish make the best bartenders, why it’s probably the best job in the world, and what the pub really looks like from the other side of the taps.
‘Oh hi, um, are you guys open yet?’ came the soft Southern voice, attached to the hopeful face popping around the door. I had just
straightened the last table, flicked on the last light, a glance at the kitchen saw the chef tying his apron. Technically, we weren’t open for another 20 minutes, but the anticipation of a quiet day combined with the intriguing accent… ‘Sure we are, grab yourselves a seat!’
The next two hours of a peaceful Saturday afternoon were spent listening to the stories of Mitch and June, visitors from Altlanta, Georgia. They’d spent all day walking around Dublin and needed a pint, a bite to eat, and I’d like to think, a handsome bartender to share their tales of adventure with. I felt just as lucky as them that they came in my door.
Working in a bar in Dublin city is probably the best place in the world to meet people. My boss won’t want to hear this, but I can’t count the hours I’ve spent leaning on a bar swapping life stories with folks from New York to New Delhi. For many customers it’s their first time in Dublin; they come in wide-eyed and chatty, dying to share the day’s experiences. When they approach and ask for a pint, I can fix my eyes on the hissing tap or I can ask how their day was – a simple choice and usually (cover your ears again, boss) I ask.
You’ll find tons of students and young people behind the bar in Ireland, working the perfect social part-time job while studying. They’ve probably started as a lounge boy or girl in their teens, collecting glasses and cleaning tables, and moved up from there. Pubs are notorious places for a first day on the job; the pranks and jokes inflicted on poor teenagers on their first shift are legendary. Usually they’ll involve being sent on an errand for a bogus item like a skirting board ladder (hands up, I spent hours looking for such a thing), or a ‘long stand’ (they return from desperate searching to ask what, exactly was a long stand, and are told ‘have a long stand and think about it’).
I’ve seen girls told to ‘bring that bucket of steam to the lounge’. One of the best was sending a new lounge boy to the nearest restaurant for ‘a leg of salmon’. Worse, the restaurant immediately copped on to the prank and earnestly replied they had used their last one, and recommended the poor lad try next door.
When the senior barmen aren’t freaking out the new staff, they really do see their work as a craft. Just like sublime Parisian waiters who carry a table worth of dishes on a tray, barmen in Ireland are equally skilled with the pour of a pint and a one-liner reply. I remember my first ever boss telling me that when you’re behind the bar, you’re on a stage. He was right; I’ve worked with some bartenders so quick witted you’d need a rewind button to get their gags. I really do think as a nation we are suited to bartending, our innate curiosity, story-telling, and the ‘craic’. Irish pubs may be our most successful export, but I think that’s because of the Irish accent asking ‘what’ll it be?’ behind the bar.
For me, standing behind the counter, not a clue who I’ll meet that day or what I’ll learn; it’s what makes the work so enjoyable. Should you come into my bar someday it won’t be hard to pick me out. I’ll be the one smiling…
Davey’s Top 3 Dublin Pubs for a Pint
The Stag’s Head, 1 Dame Court
“their Guinness looks like it’s actually made from cream”
Neary’s, Chatham Street
“really old world and snug. The regulars are hilarious”
Dawson Lounge, Dawson street
“They serve cracking Guinness AND it’s the smallest pub in the city; a perfect little hideaway.”
Check out more Dublin pubs