John Mulligan’s, Poolbeg Street
Situated near the Tara Street train station, this boozer has played host to Judy Garland, Seamus Heaney, Nat King Cole and John F. Kennedy, and it’s more or less the same as it was when Kennedy first visited it the 1950s before he embarked on his political career. In fact, it’s not changed much since it opened in 1854.
It’s an old enough Victorian pub, but some locals still claim, usually after a few stouts, that it’s the oldest pub in Dublin and is 17th or 18th century. The truth being the Mulligan family business was established in 1782. More evidence that if you have enough stout you’ll believe anything.
The phrase “auld bhoy’s pub”, comes to mind as you enter this old-school 19th century style bar and find, on quieter week days, a few old bhoys sipping their pints of guinness and reminiscing about earlier days. There’s dark Victorian-style wood everywhere, and ancient bar stools, and red Titanic like embossed wallpaper on all the walls.
James Joyce Montage
The pub also has James Joyce memorabilia pinned up near the main door, and it’s rumoured that he got some of his ideas for characters while propped up on the rickety stools in the bar, steering a course between the Scylla, of too much drink, and the Charybis of not enough. The bar’s website goes as far as saying that he might have wrote Ulysses there: “How much of the classic he wrote at the counter while sipping his Guinness is controversial, but he certainly made relevant notes there . . .”
Judy Garland and the Theatre Royal
The old Theatre Royal was across the street from the pub, taking its last curtain call, and closing its doors in June 1962. But Mulligan’s still commemorates the golden Theatre Royal days and the bar walls are decorated with posters, photos, and showbills dating back to the earliest days of the theatre.
Pride of place is taken up by a signed photo of Judy Garland. The Hollywood star performed at the Theatre Royal for two weeks in the 1950s, and drank in the pub every night after she performed. She could be seen blending in with the locals, chain smoking, playing cards and drinking until the wee small hours.
Journalists and Celtic Scholars
Throughout the 20th century the pub was best known as a haunt of self-righteous journalists, Celtic scholars and writers including the staff of the Irish Times who drank often and copiously there.
Haunted by Spirits
I’ve seen a number of people fall out of bars, usually late at night, covered in something that can only be described as ectoplasm, and I’ve put this down to the power of spirits. Over the years, the barmen at Mulligan’s have also had a lot of problems with spirits.
A number of bar staff have witnessed strange occurrences on the premises. One barman saw a brandy bottle fly off a shelf and quietly land near a sink. One customer said that, a few years ago, staff, living in the flat above the pub, would be wakened in the middle of the night hearing footsteps and stools being dragged across the floor and then went downstairs to investigate and the pub would be eerily quiet with a distinct chill in the air. They also heard noises coming from the cellar, and two or three of them have encountered a ghostly figure sitting on a keg and blankly staring at the floor.
Craic and Blarney Levels
The pub stretches through a number of different rooms, and has lots of nooks & crannies in which the craic and blarney levels vary according to the occupants.
The Bottom Line: If you want a traditional pub, with no jukeboxes and no piped muzak that sells a good pint of Guinness, a fair pint of O’Hara’s stout and a middling pint of Beamish, this is your place.
Major Downside: The only major downside is that it’s usually packed on Thursday and Friday nights, with office workers, making it very difficult to get served. However, that was before the pandemic and the situation with office workers might have changed.
A wide range of Irish stouts including Guinness, O’Hara’s and Beamish are available, and O’Hara’s Red, Smithwick’s and Bulmer’s cider are on draught. There’s also a selection of corporate lagers and ‘craft’ IPA brands. The Irish whiskey range is extensive, appealing to connoisseurs.
Service is curt but polite as befits a busy town centre pub.
Address: 8 Poolbeg Street