Your Guide to Bespoke Cocktails in Dublin

I’ve been in a full fledged cocktail phase for a few years now, and there’s no end in sight. Cocktail making is a delicate art, and I’m always enthralled watching a skilled master at work. When I go away on holidays, it’s imperative that I find a place serving up quality cocktails, and if you’re spending time in Dublin it’s definitely a scene worth exploring. That said, I’ve found that Google often labels bars as having “great cocktails” when what they really have are bottled Sex on the Beach at bottom of the barrel prices. Usually, a quick look at the photos will give it away, as most bars that specialize in cocktails also excel at presentation, so I check for beautiful glassware and garnish. Still, that isn’t always enough, and in Dublin some bars are making great looking cocktails with little to no flavour. Luckily, I’ve done the vetting for you and can offer my picks for bars serving up certified fantastic libations.

Peruke & Periwig

Walking down Dawson Street, it’s easy to miss this place. It has a definite speakeasy vibe, with shuttered windows so that you can’t see inside, and a sign purporting it to be a purveyor of wigs. Inside, there are indeed wigs on display, as well as bartenders equipped with what I would call “suspenders,” and what the Irish would call “braces” (suspenders in Ireland actually refer to garters), which are pretty much compulsory these days in order to make a good drink. The menu includes twists on classics like the Clover Club and Zombie, with two unique iterations of each. They make many of their own shrubs, cordials, and infusions, and you can expect a great deal of care in these creations.

Cocktails range from €12-15

Keep in mind: This place gets busy in the evenings and on weekends, and because it’s so small to begin with, it’s just barely breathing room only. I recommend going in the afternoon so that you can get the full experience of watching your cocktail being crafted from start to finish.

Bonus: Head downstairs here and check out the bathrooms, they are phenomenal.

Open from 12pm every day, till 12am on weekdays, till 2:30am Friday and Saturday

37 Dawson Street

Just a few doors down is 37 and it’s much easier to spot with the large “37” across the door. For me, it’s always important to order the right drink at the right place. I’m probably not going to order a cocktail at a beer bar, for instance. So walking into this place on a busy weekend night, you might be put off by the fact that they have no cocktail menu and a lot of people are just drinking pints, but don’t be! In Dublin, you’re always going to have people who choose to drink pints at inappropriate places (even at Peruke & Periwig, shame on you), and the lack of a menu might point to cocktails not being a specialty at 37, but wait a second… the bartenders are indeed wearing suspenders (braces), this is indeed a cocktail bar, and it’s one that you won’t want to miss. While the bartenders can make any classic cocktail, that doesn’t really jive with the way that I like to drink, especially if I’m thirsty for a premium cocktail. I want something that I don’t already know, and luckily that’s no problem either.

Like many high-end cocktail bars, you can talk to the bartender about what kind of flavour and spirit you’re looking for, and they’ll whip up a cocktail from the encyclopedic drink knowledge in their head. Think sour, sweet, bitter, strong, and choose a base spirit. Personally, I felt kind of bad going up to the busy bar on a Friday night and having that kind of potentially time consuming conversation, but because they don’t have a cocktail menu, they expect it and they’re skilled enough to churn out your truly bespoke cocktail fast. Don’t be intimidated by the people waiting at the bar for pints, this is a cocktail bar and the bartenders know their stuff.

With no menu, pricing can be a gray area, but on my last visit each cocktail was €12.

Open from 12pm every day, till 2:30 Tuesday-Sunday, till 11:30 Monday

Lemon & Duke

Just around the corner on Duke Lane, this is one of my favorite spots to relax with friends for delicious, inventive cocktails. The Cherry Popcorn Sour is one of my favorites, and I love the playfulness of the concoctions along with the elegant decor. The spaciousness of the place makes it much more likely that you’ll get a seat, or standing room at the very least. There’s also a small dance floor and a heated outdoor seating area.

Cocktails range from €11-14

Open from 10am Monday-Saturday, from noon Sunday; till 11:30pm Monday-Wednesday, 2:30am Thursday-Saturday, 11pm Sunday

J. T. Pim’s

With an entrance on George’s Street as well as a small patio off Dame Lane, this place is right in the heart of the action. In addition to an excellent selection of gin, they also serve up some top notch cocktails here, and with additional seating downstairs, you’re almost always guaranteed a seat. In the summertime, you might even be lucky enough to catch some live music out in the laneway, cocktail in hand. What could be better?

Cocktails range from €11-12

Open from 12pm every day, till 11:30 Monday-Thursday, 12:30 Friday and Saturday, till 11 Sundays

Hit or Miss

While I’ll still hit up the following spots from time to time, I’ve found the quality to be inconsistent, either in the execution or within the menu itself. Whether it’s inexperienced bartenders who struggle to keep up in the rush (I feel ya, big time) or recipes that leave something to be desired, I can’t guarantee that you’ll get a great cocktail at these establishments… although you just might!

The Liquor Rooms

Down the stairs beneath The Clarence Hotel on Wellington Quay, the interior of The Liquor Rooms is gorgeous and unexpected. It’s like walking into a circus tent fitted out with plush Victorian furnishings. Like P&P and Vintage Cocktail Club, it’s part of the Press Up Entertainment Group, which has its hand in so so many stylish and hip venues around Dublin. The menu takes inspiration from influential women from Irish history, which is pretty neat. Unfortunately, despite the care and attention put into these bad boys, some of the tipples lack balance, whether from being too strong or too bland.

Zozimus

The setting here is lovely, and the outdoor seating area is particularly pleasant. A lot of the cocktails are just so-so. When in doubt, order a Zombie.

The Exchequer

With a fabulous central location near George’s Street and Dame Lane, the Exchequer has been a stop on many a bar crawl for me. They have an excellent cocktail menu, and I’ve actually enjoyed many fantastic cocktails here. Unfortunately, I’ve also had a few that have fallen short.

Give it a miss…

While there are likely still some hidden gems in Dublin, there are also cocktail bars that should be avoided. Nothing hurts like spending €13 on a poorly balanced, watery or cloying cocktail. I’ve made the mistake so that hopefully you won’t have to. It’s easy to get sucked in when these places have gorgeous interiors and beautiful sounding cocktails on their menus, but you’re better off ordering a G&T, a glass of wine, or a pint at these establishments.

Chelsea Drugstore

Maybe it’s to do with the drugstore theme, but a lot of the cocktails here taste like medicine, and not the good kind.

Café en Seine

Interior: Gorgeous
Menu: Intriguing
Presentation: Beautiful
Taste: Nothing

Mulligan and Haines

While this place has a cocktail menu, given the time that it took for the bartender to make our drinks and the so-so execution, it felt like they maybe didn’t make cocktails very often. I’d recommend sticking with a gin and tonic.

Nolita

I really want to like this place for its stunning interior and NYC inspired menu. Sadly, the cocktails are just grand.

Honorable Mention

The Speakeasys

Hidden in plain sight, you’ll find Vintage Cocktail Club and The Blind Pig, both in Dublin 2. For me, after ringing a bell and being granted entry to an otherwise closed off world, I feel something akin to claustrophobia, as if getting out will also be difficult. While that is certainly not the case, I credit that feeling for why I haven’t visited these spots as much as the others (although it’s probably just fear of not being allowed in). As a result though, I can’t definitively speak to the quality of the drinks, though I’ve had some very nice ones in both.

The Yamamoris

Izakaya and Tengu are a couple of my favorite nightlife spots in Dublin, and they do serve up delicious cocktails. What I’m less sure of is the “bespoke” aspect, since I’ve seen them serve tonic from a plastic bottle. That said, I’ve never had a bad drink at Yamamori, and I’ve had a lot of drinks. Expect refreshing long drinks with Japanese-inspired flavours like lychee and ginger.

Disclaimer

I don’t like writing anything negative about anywhere really! Especially when I feel like a bartender did their absolute best, it feels mean to post negatively about their efforts. That said, to provide a full picture of the cocktail scene in Dublin, I consider it necessary to give fair warning when a place just isn’t up to snuff. I would, however, like to make it clear that I see this as a side effect of bars not providing their staff with adequate training, understaffing, or throwing together a menu without enough focus on execution. I’d love to see my no-go’s turn things around so that I have a few more options for great cocktails in Dublin!

Have a favorite cocktail spot that didn’t make the list? Disagree with my take? Let me know in the comments 🙂

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