Having a pint at the Duke is a must for anyone visiting Dublin. While it's a fine pub, the main reason for its notoriety is that it is the starting point for the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl. For enthusiasts of literature, avid bar-goers and tourists alike, the Literary Pub Crawl is the best introduction to Ireland's best writers and playwrights, pub culture and Dublin in general and you'll get your start at the Duke. For locals, the food and craic attracts a throng, particularly after work during the week.
Located at the corner of Duke Street and Duke Lane, just of the Grafton pedestrian mall, is a classic Dublin building that houses the Duke. At its base, the Duke's wooden façade is painted in black with gold trim and lettering, and a humble wooden sign presumably with a depiction of the Duke of Grafton above it. Once inside, you'll find a noisy, good-sized front room and bar. Here, "Stalled academics, minor novelists and archetypal Dublin characters, all wearing tweed jackets and holding an appropriate disdain for life, pile in here from noon on a daily basis. Indifferently refurbished a few years ago, it's a less than characterful establishment, but the crowd is both cheerful and mellow," as described by Time Out: Dublin. One can also enjoy an excellent carvery lunch served all day by a small army of servers, within the confines of dark wood and high-walled snugs.
"Not the liveliest place in the world even at weekends - except after work on Friday... when it gets very busy with secretaries, brokers and insurance people from the offices in Dawson Street. Solid, straightforward sort of pub. You talk, you drink."
If you've come for the Literary Pub Crawl, the tour begins at the top of the stairs. Be forewarned: the pub crawl is extremely popular and operates on a strictly first-come basis. Your best bet is to obtain tickets at the Dublin Tourism Centre, as there may not be any left at the door. I was quite lucky on my visit as there were so many people on the tour that they split up the crowd into two groups, which opened up sales for a few more tickets. Ticket prices are £6.50 ($7.50) for adults and £5.50 ($6.50) for students. Prior to the crawl's beginning, have a "pint o' the plain" as the locals described Guinness (some used to sprinkle black currant to ease the taste), take in pictures of Dublin painted upon the beige walls, and have a chat with the bartender who may, although begrudgingly, give you some advice as to additional pubs to hit after the pub crawl (if you can make it, that is). During the day, the wood-floored second story is also a good place to while away the afternoon as you enjoy your Guinness under the skylight. As the tour begins, you'll be taken into a room separated from the rest of the second floor by wooden partition and paned glass so that us insidious pub crawl patrons will not disturb the locals (and so the locals don't get part of the crawl for free). My advice: get in there as soon as they open up as you'll want to grab a seat in one of the booths or against the exposed brick walls as those bloody little padded stools can be uncomfortable, especially if your wedged in among strong-smelling Germans.
Sometime after the pub crawl was meant to start, two amateur local actors and historians introduce the aim of the pub crawl: the group will meander between some of Dublin's most famous pubs like O'Neills, the Old Stand and McDaids, as well as stops at other famous Dublin landmarks like Trinity College and the Dublin Tourism Center (which used to be a church). There is a writing and anecdotal performance outside each pub and landmark focusing on Ireland's literary heroes. The performances are followed by 20-minute indoor visits to each pub, which is enough time to down a pint, get a feel for the place, have a slash if you're lucky, and determine if you'd like to come back for a visit later. There is a quiz at the end of the pub crawl, with all the answers having been stated along the way. Track lighting then will illuminate the actors back at the Duke as they begin to act out Waiting for Godot by Dubliner Samuel Beckett. Following this, we sang a song that I have incorrectly remembered as "Waxie's Dawdle" and then the 50-or-so of us filed out down a side staircase with pictures and writings of Irish literati on the wall. On your way out, be sure to grab a handful from the "Saharas – they're nuts" hot nuts machine to try and lay a foundation under all the Guinness you'll be drinking. The pub crawl ends up back at the Duke, but outside on Duke Lane where prizes consisting of t-shirts and small bottles of Jameson's Irish Whiskey, who sponsors the crawl, are handed out. Though not specifically on the tour, most head over for a pint at the legendary Davy Byrnes across the street. Unfortunately, it will probably be too late to get a gorgonzola and mustard sandwich there as the tour starts every day at 7:30 p.m. and lasts for two hours and 15 minutes. However, they do have a tour that starts at noon on Sundays.
All in all, the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl was one of the top highlights on one of my trips to the Emerald Isle. I can't recommend it highly enough. The Duke, as its starting and ending point, is the perfect place to do so particularly with its quality of toilets. Since the early 90's the Duke has been a staple of Dublin's pub life for visitors and locals, and quite an improvement over the dives Tobins and Kitty Kiernans (whose daughter was Michael Collins' fiance) that preceded it, especially after its recent renovations – not bad for a building over 200 years old.
"The Dublin Literary Pub Crawl is the most ingenious crash-course in Irish literature, history and pub architecture yet devised. A couple of hats are the only props used are but the actors bring to life the wit and wisdom of Irish literature. Prose and poetry are interspersed with songs and lively anecdotes about Dublin writers from Joyce, Behan and Beckett to O'Casey and Wilde."
– Richard Gilbert, Literary Traveler
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– written by Sean "a drinker with a writing problem" Parnell