Until we moved, Allen and I had been looking for our place in Chapel Hill: a pub with good food, good beer and good people. A place around the corner where our small group of friends would gather after work without question or planning. Our own Central Perk or MacLaren’s. There were a few short-lived contenders here and there, but little did we know the real winner wasn’t on the same block or even in the same town–it was 3600 miles away in Dublin.
We landed in the Irish capital at 11:45 on a Tuesday morning on just a few hours of sleep in the recent 48-hour period and arrived at our hotel, the Clontarf Castle Hotel, shortly after. A cappuccino and a couple fresh pints of Guinness carried us through the afternoon in the hotel lobby as we waited for our room, but by early evening we were in need of dinner close by before we crashed for the night. Although the hotel’s Knights Bar menu looked fantastic (which we later found out was absolutely accurate) we were itching to get out and explore even just around the block, so we asked the concierge if he recommended any good pubs within walking distance. Without hesitation, he marked a 10-minute walking route on a tearaway map to The Yacht.
We followed his map past rows of cottages and walled gardens, along the blustery seaside on Clontarf Road and almost past the unassuming white facade of #73, my lucky number. Through its taupe doors we found a small but bright room with a handful of tables, mostly vacant, and a small bar backed by white-haired bartender. We found a seat for two in the corner, unsure of where to find menus and how to order. The bartender greeted us warmly in a heavy Irish accent and asked if we wanted something to eat. When we replied that we did, he showed us away from our table and through a door in the back.
On the other side of the door was an entirely different scene: a full restaurant and bar, warmly lit and intricately decorated with a mix of wrought iron, carved wood, working brick fireplaces, vintage lampposts and sparkling tile pillars. Pint glasses three quarters full of Guinness settling and waiting for their top-off pours dotted the u-shaped bar under an ornate arched ceiling.
We opted for a table by a fireplace as the cheery bartender shuffled away to get Allen a pint. We opted for some Irish classics on their long international menu. Among them, a black pudding (or blood sausage) and seared sesame duck salad, as black pudding had been on our list to try since Anthony Bourdain’s London episode of The Layover. I’m up for trying almost anything once, including the seasoned blood and oatmeal mixture. He took a bite, thought for a minute, grabbed my arm as I reached for a bite myself and said “You’re going to love it.”
And I did, just as I loved everything else we got that night: nut-crusted goat cheese fritters with a spiced red berry chutney, an open-faced venison burger with a red onion and juniper chutney, and brisket. An hour later, we were happily stuffed full of some of the best food we’ve ever had and toasting to a perfect first night in Ireland.
But it would get even better from there. As we were leaving, the bartender returned to say goodbye and wish us well. We said our goodbyes and thanks, and I paused for a moment to take a couple photos of the bar from the doorway. The bartender, thinking he had gotten in my shot, apologized. I assured him he wasn’t in the way at all, and then he offered “Would you like to get a shot behind the bar?” Before I could answer, he looked up at Allen and said “Would you like to pull a pint?” The offer took him by surprise, and before he could say “Yes!” the bartender shuffled us both back inside and up to the bar.
We hadn’t been in Dublin more than six hours and Allen was already behind a bar pulling a pint. That was a perfect first night in Dublin.
We talked to him a little while longer, struggling to understand some Irish slang through his thick accent but having a grand time none the less. We let him go back to his other customers and began our walk back to the castle all the while buzzing with excitement instead of exhaustion, looking at each other every now and then to ask “Can you believe that just happened?!”
The experience of the whole evening–the food, the beer, the people–was the best pub experience we’d ever had, so much so that we went again the last night before leaving for Paris and once more when we returned to Dublin the night before our flight back to the US. Both nights we sat at the bar, ordered more Guinness, more cheese fritters, more black pudding and duck. Both nights, different bartenders poured us drinks to celebrate our honeymoon and stayed to chat with us, sharing hilarious stories of their travels and genuinely caring about ours. By the end of our third night there, we were deeply sad to have to leave. We had found our place.
Before we peeled ourselves away to get to sleep for an early flight, we made the most serious of promises to each other, a pinky promise, that we would come back to The Yacht some day. And we will. We have to–it’s our place.