What makes the perfect Irish pub? That’s a matter of taste, naturally, but if you’re looking for that movie-perfect experience, it’ll be fairly rural, have a kind of unintended, authentic shabby-chic feel, serve ample Guinness and whiskey, have a trad group playing in the corner and probably get a bit messy towards the end of the night.
There’s no shortage of places just like that in Kerry, as well as plenty of other enticing Irish nightlife offerings. We’ve picked out a few that remain authentic by sitting away from the tourist trail, and those offering a little something special (like a hardware store, or a theme). Here are our favourites…
Gorgeous Dingle is full of bizarre and memorable pubs, and Dick Mack’s is our favourite. In a town that’s fostered a reputation as a place for the arts, this is a pub that feels like it hasn’t changed in generations. The walls are littered with oddities, from boots to bottles. The barmen are often less than attentive (but it feels right), and the different rooms are like a mini-maze of fireplaces and cozy snugs. Set in a former shoe retailer, and home to its own little walk of fame outside the front door, Dick Mack’s often has some great local trad music talent inside. There’s a new brewery right behind the pub, offering tours, making a great addition to a spot dating back to 1899. If you’re around in early December, the pub’s also at the heart of Other Voices.
A tourist trap? Absolutely. Should that stop you going? Not a chance. Kate Kearney’s Cottage is closely associated with the tough hill pass of the Gap of Dunloe, sitting as it does at the foot of one end of the winding route. As well as soaking up the atmosphere in Killarney National Park through the window, they serve a great pint of the black stuff and make a nice base to settle in for the day, with traditional food and a craft shop on offer alongside pub staples. The Cottage is also a home of Kerry Irish dance, which has that wonderful sense that its presence here is timeless.
If you squint a little, this tribute to The Lord of the Rings and the realm of Hobbits makes complete sense: there is a little of The Shire in the Kerry landscape, and who wouldn’t want to stroll into a pub and find it already occupied by characters from Middle-earth and other Tolkien-themed joys. The food is fairly basic, but there is a Hobbit juice to try (and beer, obviously), occasional live music and lots of photo opportunities. Be warned though: this place is Hobbit-sized, too, and you’ll need to head down early to get through the door.
Courtney’s is one of those quaint, loveable spots that’s ideal to bed down in during the winter, supping on pints at the fireside. Killarney is a tourist hub these days and can suffer from an over the top faux-Irish feel at times. This place doesn’t go overboard on the shamrocks and leprechauns. Instead, it presents a good array of craft beer in a spot full of locals having a chat and listening to music, while still keeping something of a throwback feel. A real local gem in a town that can be lacking just that. The whiskey selection is phenomenal, too.
Crowley’s is very much a local pub for local people, and that’s a great thing. Refusing to adjust to the tourist market, it instead offers regular intimate trad sessions targetted at music-loving locals, tiny side rooms (invariably occupied early), and some of the best pints of Guinness on offer outside the capital. Wooden benches and stools, comic signs, a throwback feel, and the particular charm of chatty barman Peter are some of the main draws here. Not a boisterous, spectacular offering, then, but a spot where the charm slowly seeps through the pores (and the pours). You’ll probably end up settling in for the night.
If someone told you about Foxy John’s in the course of a night out, you might think the beer had got the better of them. Kerry pubs have long been quirky, but the ‘holy grail’ of many tourists isn’t so much a great pint as this kind of ‘mixed pub’ offering. With a scant population, for years Kerry pubs could only get by doubling up as shops, and some of them have kept that aspect right into the 21st century. Foxy John’s doubles as a hardware and bicycle repair store, which means while you have a traditional bar, slow-poured pints and plenty of live music on one side of the room, they’re selling hammers and saws on the other. A recipe for disaster on paper; in practice it’s just fantastically surreal.