There are some things on my Dublin bucket list that I’ve been ticking off for a while now, including walks along the coast, various ‘tourist’ activities, and sights of historical interest. For now, a night in a room in the Shelbourne Hotel will remain unticked, but a drink in the Horse Shoe Bar can now be scratched off and the visit will likely not be a one time only affair.
There might be a perception that the Shelbourne is a slightly daunting place to enter and enjoy a drink, but every Dubliner or Dublin resident should come in at least once to enjoy what the Hotel has to offer. For us, a visit to the Horse Shoe bar was a long time coming.
Constructed in 1957 the bar has certainly played host to some of Ireland’s and the world’s most famous faces, including Princess Grace of Monaco, Brendan Behan (of course), Liam Neeson, Julia Roberts, and President Bill Clinton. But let’s not get caught up in celebrity; this bar is as much for us, the average Dubliner, as it is for those well known figures. The name refers to the shape of the actual bar, ringed in a horse shoe in the centre of the room, dominating the space. The lighting is low and soft, save for above the bar, projecting light and drawing attention to the high ceiling. Around the top of the bar are caricatures from a British cartoon satirist highlighting the ‘gin craze’ of the 18th century.
One item that was of interest to us were the dividers along the counter top that patrons can move depending on whether they want to talk to the person next to them or not. I’m sure there’s been conversations ended by this method over the years here! There’s leather upholstered seating around the perimeter wall of the bar, with tables and stools. The seating lends itself to an open feel and you’re not cut off from other imbibers enjoying a drink. Around the bar are seats where you can watch the bar staff at work and pick their brain on their extensive knowledge of whiskey, cocktails, and the history of the bar.
Our barman, Daire, knocked together 2 cocktails in entertaining fashion with obvious skill and a great interest in his work. The first was a ‘Penicilin’ with Johnnie Walker Black, Laphroaig, honey and ginger syrup, and lemon. The second was ‘Vieux Carre’ with Rittenhouse Rye, Hennessy, Benedictine, Belsazar Red, Anghostura Bitters, and Peychauds Bitters.
For anyone looking to be entertained, to drink fine whiskey, and learn a little, they do whiskey tastings where a member of staff will talk you through the tasting notes and tell you about the distilleries. I can think of worse ways to spend an evening.
We wanted to get the notion across to people that while there might be a perception that the Horse Shoe Bar or indeed The Shelbourne itself might ‘not be for me’, we found the whole experience to be pleasant, and welcoming. We’d suggest going in to experience the history that this building holds within its walls, the excellent quality drinks, and the wonderful hospitality from the bar staff. All of that plus the best hand soap you’ll find in a Dublin bathroom.