The International Bar: more local with a pub atmosphere. Discuss. While the name may be considered a wee bit of a misnomer, the "bar" is worth a visit for travelers and Dubliners alike as it's hard to beat for its impressive array of live entertainment. Each night, patrons can enjoy either blues, R&B, acoustic folk, comedy, improv or "acid jazz." Combine that with one of the best pub rooms in the city and most laid-back, smoky lounges downstairs and you've got one hell of a bar no matter what you want to call it. No wonder it's the oldest family run pub in all of Dublin.
Located off Trinity College Green and Grafton Street, and not far from McDaids and O'Neills, the International Bar anchors the west end of Wicklow Street at the corner of St Andrew Street and Exchequer Street across from the Old Stand. Housed in George O'Connor's vintage four-story, red-brick building complete with a wooden façade painted in black and red, the International Bar is not only a great place for a pint of Guinness but is also an architectural landmark. At night, just look for the small, retro red neon sign that hangs over the corner. Entrances to the pub can be found on both St Andrew Street and Wicklow Street.
As you step in, have a look at the elegant tile mosaic with the pub's name as you walk toward the long marble-topped bar that runs the length of the north end of the room. Here, belly up for a pint and have a go at the coin game, whose object it is to roll a coin down a small plastic ramp with thin coin slots at either side. This game got the better of me for almost an hour. My downfall: I was able to do it the first time and then spent about £5 trying to replicate the feat, not to mention attracting the ire of the bartender as I tried to bring the game towards me but didn't realize it was chained to the spot. This undoubtedly appeared as though I was trying to steal the annoying bar novelty. In an attempt to get back on his good side, if ever I was there, I bought a bag of peanuts and shut the hell up. As I did so, I gazed at the seven carved heads behind the bar that represent seven rivers of Ireland (presumably some combination of the Shannon, Liffey, Lee, Blackwater, Barrow, Suir, Nore, Boyne, Slaney). Smallish bathrooms can be found at the east end of the room when Mother Nature calls and additional seating is available across from the bar at a series of ancient low-slung tables and stools. This is a great place to enjoy a pint during the day as the large front windows let plenty of afternoon light. The buzz in the main bar is somewhat subdued, so head downstairs for a bit more rowdiness or upstairs for a grab bag of performances, unless you're here to join the 1916 Revolution Walking Tour of Dublin (£6 pounds per person, which includes a copy of the Proclamation).
The entrance to "Power's Lounge" downstairs can be found at the northwest corner of the main room. Following a brave adventure down the staircase, a small bar serves a tiny, smoky room with scruffy regulars puffing away at a series of booths and tables. I once had a hot toddy here that was made with real cloves by an incredibly friendly, gray-haired man with the highest-pitched laugh I've ever heard. This may be a regular occurrence in Ireland but it sure impressed the hell out of us hapless American tourists (the hot toddy, that is). My experience in Power's Lounge was immensely more satisfying than what I experienced on the bar's second floor where I was exposed to Irish "acid jazz," much like the American GIs that were exposed to German shrapnel in World War II. Wait a minute, I'm exaggerating. Shrapnel is not nearly as painful as what I heard on that fateful night.
For some reason, the promise of acid jazz in Ireland had an immense draw. This is mostly likely due to my hometown of Chicago's avant-garde jazz reputation, particularly at places like Andy's, HotHouse and Rumors. After heading up one of the oldest and ricketiest staircases in Dublin, I was hit up for a £6 cover charge by a strung-out doorman. I then ordered a Guinness from the poor bastard of a bartender that had to endure what followed from his "bar" that looked about as stable as a child's cardboard lemonade stand in a stiff wind. The upstairs room itself was incredibly drafty and cold, with dim lighting that thankfully hid a layer of grunge. Then it began: the most horrific sounds I've ever heard. I would rather hear farm animals slaughtered than what I heard there. The "sound" could only loosely be described as "experimental" but suspect that it really was four people that knew nothing about music and weren't afraid to prove it. Not even a Guinness could take the edge off. I had to bolt and was actually jeered for leaving by a group of heroin addicts at the top of the stairs, even though they couldn't even stand to listen themselves, as evidenced by their choice of seating. Regardless, that was only one band on one night, but one should beware of "Irish acid jazz" nonetheless. On other nights, you can catch comedy improv on Monday nights, "The Comedy Cellar" on Wednesday nights and "Murphy's International Comedy Club" on Thursday nights. A revolving line-up of musicians entertain the masses with a variety of other acts in-between comedy sessions. Cover usually ranges between €5 and €8. As a result, the crowd is primarily local students and other comedians and musicians. This can make for some rather interesting conversations.
Between the cover, the money I lost in the coin game, the bag of peanuts, the hot toddy with cloves, and several Guinness down the hatch, a night at the International Bar sure did set me back. As a result, I'd go back again without hesitation – but will make damn sure it's comedy night. While the name may be a trifle misleading considering that there really isn't anything explicitly "international" about it (quite the opposite, in fact), you're sure to enjoy yourself after a bit of craic with the bartenders and the intriguing array of locals. For more information on upcoming performances, check out the Inernational Bar website. That's grand. T'anks a million.
"We were only in the International Bar for about two hours, but it was the single most bizarre evening of my life... Every time we go back to Dublin it's our first stop, every time we have a good night, and every time some thing weird happens."
– "dannyada" (June 6, 2002)
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