Full disclosure: it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever see Kehoe’s, one of Dublin’s busiest pubs, as still and silent as I’ve depicted it in these photos. I had to slink into the city centre Victorian establishment early on a Monday afternoon, and even at that I was met by more than a few bodies at the far end of the main bar. (Irish bodies, by the way, for any tourist wondering if this is an ‘authentic’ Irish pub – it’s the first question an Italian friend asks me before entering.) A stone’s throw from Grafton Street, John Kehoe’s is always packed to the rafters by early evening, mostly by an after-work crowd, mid-twenties upwards. But as with any authentic Irish pub, there’s no one specific age bracket, dress-code – or other category into which the crowd fits. Young guys in suits or football jerseys rub elbows with ‘oulfellas’ in flat caps. Tourists are warmly welcomed, and it’s most likely that any encounter with the Irish crowd will end up with arms thrown around shoulders and wider introductions prefixed with “my new friend here” around the pub.
Originally licensed in 1803, the Victorian interior of the present day Kehoe’s dates back to end of the 19th century. Like many pubs from that era, Kehoe’s once doubled up as a grocers too, and you can see the beautiful mahagony drawers behind the main bar as you enter, which would have contained coffee, tea, rice and other products. Their website puts it nicely:
“In its former existence this area was frequented by shoppers of the age who could slip in and enjoy a triple in the snug while the proprietor prepared the provisions order. Everything here remains as it was 100 years ago, including the serving hatch and buzzer in the snug.”
There’s so much to look at and take in (if you get there ahead of the mobs) – mahogany partitions and snugs, embossed wallpaper ceilings, vintage Guinness advertising, brass coat hooks, frayed carpeted stairs, copper pots. The dark mahogany bar, the ‘Victorian black bar’ is beautifully engraved, as is the back stairway, antiques in themselves. Tribute is paid to famous Irish sons and daughters, with old photos and posters of the likes of Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett given pride of place on the walls. And the inclusion of this pub on the literary pubcrawl of Dublin (more to come in a later post) is well-deserved – Kehoe’s credentials are genuine: drinking buddies Patrick Kavanagh, Brendan Behan and Flann O’Brien (also know as Myles na gCopaleen) known to have a drink here often in the 1950’s (and to cause some mischief at that.)