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12 Irish bars with a surprise behind the door

When entering an Irish pub, expect the unexpected.

SOME BARS ARE exactly what you’d expect from the outside. Others… aren’t.

These are the second kind.

1. The George Bernard Shaw: big blue bus

The Big Blue Bus The Big Blue Bus

The George Bernard Shaw was a first mover in the hipsterification of the Camden Mile. And they haven’t stopped since, adding new areas and niche businesses at a steady rate.

But perhaps the most surprising find in the GBS meleé is the large blue double-decker bus parked in the smoking area, serving up delicious pizza at all hours of the day and night.

2. The Vintage Cocktail Club: a dark door into the 1920s, kinda

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The Vintage Cocktail Club is identifiable from the outside only by the letters ‘VCC’ on a dingy Temple Bar doorway. Inside, it’s a through-the-wardrobe experience with several floors of everything-but-the-kitchen-sink 1920s decor, and a small army of staff delivering cocktails around the place.

3. Electric Galway: a rooftop ‘street food discotheque’

Biteclub - Streetfood Discotheque Biteclub - Streetfood Discotheque

Upstairs from the dancefloor at Electric in Galway is Bite Club: a rooftop cafe with excellent food, cocktails and tunes. Try a basil black pepper margarita, or a buttermilk and bourbon fried chicken bun. It’s open late, aiming to be “a vibrant alternative to Friday night in the pub”.

4. Hacienda: the local that doesn’t look like a local

Infomatique Infomatique

Hacienda Hacienda

Outside, this mysterious building in Dublin’s fruit markets is like something from a Western: all terracotta awnings and colonial ironwork. There is no sign to speak of. But ring the buzzer for admission, and you’ll be let into a strangely traditional low-key Irish pub with a good mix of auld lads and hipsters. A fine spot.

5. Hidden Attic: your granny’s house in a club

The Secret Garden Cork The Secret Garden Cork

The Secret Garden Cork The Secret Garden Cork

The Secret Garden – an outdoor club owned by Cork city heavy hitters Reardens – might seem an unlikely place for this, a rather unusual ‘attic-themed’ bar with a selection of creepy dolls, ancient toys and a DJ booth in an old caravan. But sure look.

6. The Hop House: a Korean restaurant in a north-inner-city institution

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The Shakespeare pub has been a fixture of good, grimy old Parnell Street in Dublin’s city centre for years. But perhaps it’s never been more lively than since its takeover by The Hop House – an addition which has left the decor largely unchanged, simply tacking a Korean restaurant onto the side. Delightfully unexpected.

7. The Bram Stoker: a 25-seat cinema club

Bram Stoker Hotel & Bar Bram Stoker Hotel & Bar

The Bram Stoker Hotel in Dublin’s leafiest northside suburb is home to the Subtitle Little Cinema Club. Once a week, it opens an “intimate 25-seat-cinema” to show a European film. (With subtitles, geddit?) Impeccable film selections and the fact that you can take your drink in with you only add to the appeal.

8. M O’Shea: Two hot whiskeys and a fly swat, please

James Fennell Photography James Fennell Photography

A classic of the ‘Irish pub that is also a hardware store’ genre. Not least because (a) it really IS still a hardware store, and you really CAN buy toilet brushes and three-amp fuses here; and (b) it gives no warning outside that behind the bar is not a rack of spirits, but a rack of Solas lightbulbs.

9. The Square Ball: full games room with ping pong

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The latest outing from the Bodytonic people is a sports bar just off Dublin’s Grand Canal. But – as the owners say – it’s “a sports bar where, if you’re not into sports, you’ll have a good time”. Their newest addition is a dedicated games room with board games, arcade machines and a ping pong table.

10. The Shire: um… a Shire

The Shire The Shire

The Shire The Shire

A strange one, this. It’s not like they hide their Shireness exactly – what with the name and all – but still, is anyone really expecting to find an entire Lord Of The Rings-themed pub in Killarney town centre? Yes, they have a life-sized Gollum. Yes, they serve Bilbo’s Beer. No, you’re not even drunk. 

11. P Macs: tucked-away Street Fighter II machine

Waaay down the back on the (long) route to the toilets in this Dublin city-centre favourite is every child of the 1990s’ young dream: a real, working Street Fighter II machine. Elbow the crowds out of the way and give Zangief the beating he deserves. Hadoouuuken!

12. McCarthy’s, Fethard: ‘We’ll wine you, dine you and bury you’

McCarthys of Fethard McCarthys of Fethard

A vintage multiple-opportunity Irish pub: this time not a hardware store, but a pub, restaurant and… undertaker. Yes, really. Come for the craic, stay for the 24/7 hearse and casket service.

Written by Michael Freeman and posted on

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More: 18 of the greatest Irish pubs that tourists (mostly) don’t know about>

More: 21 pubs in Ireland you must visit before you die>

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