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'It's all very casual. We don't even have plates': The simple ethos that drives Caribou in Galway

The craft beer bar in Woodquay has built a reputation as a welcoming space.

Image: Caribou

LIKE A LOT of people in their mid twenties, Caribou co-owner Shane Clifford liked to leave things to the last minute. “I’d just been fluting around Vancouver, snowboarding and enjoying the local delights. I was going to renew my second year visa for Canada on the Friday morning before going to Electric Picnic. Instead the boys convinced me that it’d be grand. It was not.”

When he arrived back in Dublin on the Monday, Clifford realized he’d missed the boat on securing the visa. At a loose end, he started working in Cassidy’s Bar on Westmoreland Street, thinking he’d return to Vancouver in the new year. But he loved the work so much that he went on to manage the bar for three years.

While managing Cassidy’s, he asked his friend Hugh O’Farrell to come work with him. It wasn’t long before the two considered running their own bars. In the space of three years, they opened P Mac’s on Stephen St. and Blackbird in Rathmines. It was while managing Blackbird that Clifford got to know Dec Murphy, drummer for The Blizzards and a fellow Mullingar man.

In 2016, the three decided to open their own place together. Branching out beyond Dublin, they ultimately picked Woodquay in Galway City for their new venture. Though only a minute’s walk from Eyre Square, it was considered an unlikely place to open a craft beer bar.

“There’s two bookies in Woodquay, five pubs, and a handful of independently owned shops,” says Clifford. “When we told people we were setting up this kind of bar here, they thought we were crazy.”

It wasn’t long before the older residents were voicing their concerns about being able to watch the races. “When we told them we wouldn’t have a TV, they said ‘No racing? In Woodquay?’ But even though we may be slightly different to some of the other offerings, we share the same welcoming spirit as our neighbours.”

Visually the bar combines Scandinavian design and mid-century furniture. To that end, Clifford and O’Farrell travelled all over Ireland and the UK to find the perfect furniture and fittings. “We set out to make an Irish bar that was contemporary in design with clean lines. Our approach was less is more.”

The bar boasts an excellent array of craft beers, due to the connections Clifford has made in the past ten years. He admits that much of the selection process boiled down to the owners picking beers they wanted to drink themselves. “Thankfully our customers agreed!”

Caribou tries to stock as many Irish beers as possible, but only the ones they consider top quality. “We order the likes of Whiplash, White Hag, and of course our neighbours Galway Bay. I was delighted to finally see a Westmeath brewery open, called Dead Centre, and even more delighted that it was unreal.”

And then there’s the mouth watering food that ranges from chicken burgers to lobster dogs. Despite the high quality of the grub, the actual dining experience is informal. It’s an ideal set-up when you want to quickly grab some chicken wings to compliment your beers.

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“It’s all very casual. We don’t even have plates,” says Clifford. “And in the last few months we’ve settled on a slightly more simplified menu. So gone is the miso and instead we’ve got the most amazing buffalo wings. Simple? Yeah, but you’ll eat another basket if it’s put in front of you.”

The past few months have been incredibly busy for Clifford and O’Farrell. In addition to opening Impala in Cork, they’ve been refurbishing a bar in Smithfield, Dublin, with the intention of opening in the next few weeks. But they still have big ideas for Caribou, which include expanding into the derelict building nearby and producing its own beer. 

“At first people were a little taken aback with Caribou, but we quickly got a reputation for being friendly. The approach was to immerse ourselves in the community and try to get to know people as much as possible. Thankfully Galway is such a welcoming place. It’s worked out very well for us.”

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