The Twelve Pubs of Christmas

You don’t need an excuse to get together over a pint of Guinness in Ireland.

In December, the streets of Dublin are especially busy. It’s not only the usual crowd of shoppers hustling to find the perfect Christmas presents… but there are also the cheerful wearing Christmas jumpers, with ornaments like snowmen’s carrot noses poking out, bearded Santas looking all jolly and cockeyed reindeer staring right back at you. The Christmas spirit is incorporated into sweaters of all colors and sizes. Some people take it to a whole different level and dress up in brown onesies with antlers and wander the streets like giant reindeer walking upright.

This outbreak of Christmas enthusiasts on the streets of Dublin is due to the tradition of “The Twelve Pubs of Christmas”, introduced a few years back. A group of friends or colleagues get together on a December afternoon, wearing Christmas jumpers, and visit twelve pubs, having at least one drink in each one.

I was lucky to have the chance to participate in “The Unofficial Dublin Office Christmas Gathering” also known as the “Twelve Pubs of Christmas” when I spent a couple of months in Ireland last year. It was a whole new way of getting to know the Irish culture better.

The tour started on a Saturday afternoon in December at the 37 Dawson St. pub. A fancy place, crowded with decorations on the walls, including framed photographs, lamps, anatomy posters and deer heads. We started out as a group of four colleagues enjoying cold beverages, including the traditional Guinness. A few more joined us along the way, like in the second pub, The Duke, which resembled the other Irish pubs I had grown accustomed to: small, cozy, with a low ceiling and dark wooden furniture.

The third pub was the Kehoe’s. It stretched over two floors, with a bar on each one. The top floor was spartanly furnished, with a carpet, a couple of round tables surrounded by a few chairs and a few framed pictures on the walls. The ladies room, on the other hand, had a Cleopatra sofa, a make-up table and a fireplace topped with a vase of red roses.

The bartender filled a few pints of Guinness about three-quarters and set them down to settle.  Next to us, another group of Christmas enthusiasts dressed up as elves, were holding hands. Apparently, they introduced this as a new rule to this pub crawl tradition. A few minutes later, the bartender fills up a pint and puts it on the counter in front of me. The creamy crown oozes over the brim and down the side of the glass. The bitter taste of Guinness is a pleasure that takes getting used.

The fourth pub was the Bruxelles, just off Grafton Street, the pedestrian shopping mile between Trinity College and Stephen’s Green park. The basement of this pub had the flair of a disco, with dim yet colorful lighting, red leather booths (like in a fifties’ style American restaurant) and “Air-Guitar-Guy”, wearing a Rock-N-Roll T-Shirt and playing his air guitar in the corner.
McDaids, number five, is right across the street. It’s one of the few pubs in Dublin where you can get Murphys, the alternative to Guinness from Cork, which has a stronger taste of coffee.

Harry’s on the Green, number six, is not a pub in the traditional sense. It’s a lounge/cocktail bar with young waitresses and a hipster clientele. Grogan’s and Bankers, numbers seven and eight, were more traditional, cozy and crowded. The former had sticky floors and a faint smell of beer breath and sanitation cleaning products.

The streets and the pubs were crowded with Christmas crawlers by the time we made our way to pub number nine, 4 Dame Lane. The bouncer at the door refused to let us in at first. I flashed him my Christmas jumper, pouted and pled, until he quickly gave in.

The Mercantile, number ten on our list, was the crown jewel amongst the twelve pubs. A downright palace with winding stairs connecting three floors, ornate railings and indoor balconies from which you can overlook the downstairs bar area. A large platter of cold French Fries was passed around just in time to remind me of how hungry I was after ten pubs. I snuck into a fast food place with a colleague, on the way to pub number eleven to refuel. It was supposedly against the rules to grab a bite to eat before finishing the Marathon, but I needed to recharge with a hamburger before I could indulge in another Guinness.

Dame Tavern and Stags Head were the last two pubs on the list and right across from each other on Dame Lane. Most of the guests of the pubs on Dame Lane spend the evening standing outside. The debris of the evening, in form of empty glasses, is frequently collected by the bars’ staff. However, a few weeks before, I did witness how the broken glass slashed the tires of a taxi making its way through the crowd. There was a loud pop and then a psss.. of the air escaping…

The twelve pubs tour has reached its final hours… I made it! Twelve pubs, although I did switch to soft drinks in between and I did break the rule about eating during the tour… But it was great! The tour covered such a large palette of pubs, from the fancy to the smelly, from the traditional and cozy to the modern and spacious. If you want to get to know Ireland, try to get to know it’s people in their abundant and diverse pubs.

I can’t help smiling whenever I think back to the few months I spent in Dublin. The hospitality of the Irish is overwhelming. I especially enjoyed the pleasant company of my colleagues. Their welcoming openness, their sense of humor, their entertaining anecdotes and their genuine friendliness extinguished any rigid formality that you sometimes find amongst work acquaintances. It’s not the alcohol that makes them so congenial. It’s in their nature to be so pleasant.

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