As summer sipping gets into gear, dedicated researcher Joe McNamee checks out the best spaces for an outdoor libation
Ihave a friend who originally hails from one of those countries where regular sunshine is a reality, not a rumour, and rain is occasional and welcome.
And there is nothing that delights nor amuses this friend more than the reaction of the natives to one of those rare outbreaks of sunshine, similar to the ‘mini-heatwave’ of just a few weeks past.
Positively Pavlovian, says the friend, an instant national fiesta triggered by an excess of UV rays. Tools, if they’re ever picked up at all, are downed early and often, clothes are shed faster than a strippers’ convention in Vegas.
The A&E burn units go into overdrive as barbecues are fired up by breakfast and health regimes are cast from wide-open windows, all bets off, as we take to daily tippling the way you would on a two-week break in Torremolinos.
And when it comes to a few drinks, suddenly those pubs sporting beer gardens become the hottest ticket in town. Thing is, what exactly constitutes a beer garden?
Ever since Mícheál Martin, as Health Minister, in 2004, instigated the smoking ban, the nation’s hostelries scrambled to find some external space about their premises that might be gussied up into a smoking area and dubbed a ‘beer garden’.
Some were a triumph of ingenuity and creativity, especially in the face our more traditionally challenging climate, and became even more popular than the pub itself — as will testify, anyone who has spurned the ample space within to happily cram into Cork’s Crane Lane ‘beer garden’ on a Saturday night!
Others were nothing more than a yard of concrete with an ashtray, the reasoning being that the true nicotine addict will endure anything for a further fix and a tan is wasted on such an unhealthy creature in the first place.
But it is not those we trouble ourselves with today. We are looking for the real beer garden, those external spaces specifically created for the pleasure of enjoying a cool beer on a hot day, for soaking up the rays and generally comporting oneself as if in St Tropez rather than Tullamore.
Granted, they are a serious investment for any Irish publican who might pass a full year without seeing three straight days of sunshine in a good year so plenty of them are partially or near-wholly covered in by canopies but ideally there is some area within where it is possible to bask in direct sunlight.
Most especially welcome are those little (or not so little) urban oases, a world away from the hot city streets just vacated where for a few small hours you can picture yourself living in an entirely different country.
So, here we present for your delectation a roundup of some of the best beer gardens: in Cork city; some from around the country; and, finally, a few very special locations around the world to store up for when it comes to spending the fruits of your next Lotto win.
The Sextant, Albert Street, Cork
The first trick was spotting the humongous potential in this former and extremely beaten-down dockers’ pub.
The second was unlocking the potential in the external spaces to the rear and the quirky space that is the Sextant beer garden is now as popular as the pub itself, very often more club than pub, and so well-protected from the elements, it’s summertime all year round.
Fionnbarra’s, Douglas Street, Cork
This writer has fond memories of the beer garden in former incarnations of this pub, including one bacchanalian birthday barbecue that saw the toilets flowing over and some Muslim friends reasoning the odd sip of Jagermeister wasn’t actual drinking.
Still it was very much a fair weather friend, until the current incumbents did a fine job of ‘weatherproofing’, turning it into a cosy all-year-round venue, again with excellent edible options along with a good craft beers.
Sober Lane Courtyard, Flying Enterprise
Originally, a schoolyard when the Christian Brothers ruled the roost in Sullivan’s Quay school, first opened in 1828, the enclosed courtyard to the rear of the Flying Enterprise has gradually evolved into one of the more jaw-dropping such spaces in the city, the scale alone something to behold.
Both food and drink are very much part of the offering and a pragmatic recognition of meteorological realities means much of the area is sheltered from our normally less clement weather and usable throughout the year.
Franciscan Well Brewery & Bar, North Mall, Cork
Early denizens of the Franciscan Well Brewery bar when it first opened in 1998 on the site of a former friary on Cork’s elegantly jaded North Mall, will recall when the beer garden, one of the very few in the city at the time, was an actual ‘garden’ and how crowds of post-office drinkers would spread out on the upper grass bank to the rear of the pub.
These days, it is very much a modern Irish beer garden, substantially protected from the elements by transparent covering and with plenty of seating.
Long before anyone else in the country cottoned on to the potential of such a move, proprietor Shane Long invited local Pompeii Pizza to set up shop within the beer garden and these days it is a permanent fixture.
Friday evening, the working week done, a pizza and a cool pint of good beer make the Fran Well beer garden one of the most popular spots in town.
Tom Barry’s, Barrack Street, Cork
The late, lamented publican Tom Barry created something very special with his eponymous pub on Barrack St, and even the most parochial visitor from elsewhere in the country will readily concede it is one of the very best pubs in Ireland, and Tom’s beer garden played no little part.
One of the very first proper inner-city beer gardens, on a summer’s day, it is sheer bliss to step into the bar from Barrack Street, adjusting the eyesight to the seeming Stygian darkness in comparison to the sunlight without, pausing only long enough to procure your libation of choice, before passing through to the floral wonderland to the rear.
What’s more, a recently added outdoor bar means a return to reality can be delayed for as long as you like.
It is also very popular in winter and why wouldn’t it be, after all, in one covered section there’s a full fireplace with a lovely blazing fire —another first, Ireland’s only outdoor ‘beer parlour’?
The Bernard Shaw, Richmond Street, Dublin
Of five beer gardens selected from across the nation, this is the only urban contender and its inclusion is largely based on the contention that The Bernard Shaw is simply an outdoor pub, such is the effort put into making their external space one of the most compelling around. I mean, a double-decker bus housing a pizza parlour—need we say more?
The very funkily-decorated pub doesn’t leave it at that, also featuring a pool table, regular top-quality live music events and a flea market.
Bunny Connellan’s, Myrtleville, Cork
Bunny Connellan’s (pictured right) is an institution for many Corkonians, a spin down from nearby Cork city to Myrtleville to this iconic hostelry is an early childhood rite of passage.
Later, it became a regular destination on a sunny weekend afternoon, the sprawling, eclectic gardens that sweep steeply down to the sea, a fine old spot to swill cold cider in the sunshine while gazing out at the bay and Roches Point.
Bunny’s has undergone a makeover in recent years, sprucing up the venue and the menu substantially, but it still remains a splendid location for an outdoor tipple.
Tigh Ned, Inis Óirr, Co Galway
Much of the pleasure of this particular beer garden is down to the uniqueness of the location and, safe to say, this little Gaeltacht island off the West coast of Ireland, with a population of less than 300, is a pretty special place indeed.
Tigh Ned is a lovely small family-run pub that does a nice line in locally-caught seafood dishes.
The beer garden, a very simple affair, may not be remarkable in itself but on a clear summer’s day, it’s something akin to pulling up a pew on the celestial balcony, with breathtaking views of Galway Bay, Clare and the wild Atlantic itself.
O’Carroll’s Cove Beach Bar & Restaurant, near Caherdaniel, Co Kerry
This is pretty much the Irish equivalent of a Spanish ‘cerenguito’, those rambling beachfront restaurant/bars are so common around southern Spain.
Sited by a white sandy beach with azure blue waters, it’s the class of old-school seaside hostelry designed to appeal to the entire family, from young to old with a food offering ranging from homemade scones and slushies to full-on steaks and seafoods and with an extensive children’s play area to occupy the nippers while you nurse a cold one and gaze out on Kenmare Bay.
The Moorings, Dungarvan
The Moorings is a beautiful little pub and restaurant in the lovely seaside town of Dungarvan, in West Waterford, so beautiful a pub, in fact, that the notion of heading out to a beer garden at all can become a tad redundant.
However, the beer garden in the Moorings is a fine spot, including secluded sections for more intimate dining.
But this splendid establishment truly comes into its own when the town is thronged, say for the West Waterford Festival of Food, and the drinkers spill out the front door on to the quays outside for some impromptu al fresco fun.
There are those who’d argue that Australia is in fact one large beer garden, that spectacular climate an ongoing invitation to blow the suds off a tall one.
In Sydney, locals tend to keep schtum about the rooftop beer garden at Glenmore on the Rocks, allowing tourists to instead make do with other locations.
With a 180 degree view of the harbour and the Sydney Opera House and plenty of top nosebag on sale within, it is a wonderful space to while away an Aussie afternoon in the sun.
Prosaically named, The Beer Mount may be, but it surely is one of the more fabulous locations for a beer garden anywhere in the world.
Atop Mt Takao, an hour from the centre of the urban jungle of Tokyo, it is accessed either by hiking up the mountain or taking the cable car and is only open between the months of June and October.
The views of Yokahama, Tokyo and Mount Fuji are truly breathtaking but the downside of an all-you-can-eat and all-you-can-drink policy, covered by your entrance fee, is you get just 90 minutes to put away the beer and nosebag — not exactly conducive to whiling away an entire afternoon, drinking in the sun.
In the context of this article, it is impossible to omit Germany, the birthplace of the beer garden, a legacy of the legislation that once only allowed brewing in winter.
To keep the beer cool during summer months, large cellars were built outside with trees planted atop to keep the ground cool and shaded.
In Munich, you can pick from any of 180 beer gardens with seating for 180,000 and there’s even one at the airport.
We plump for Paulaner am Nockherberg where they serve vast plates of spare ribs, along with Paulaner beer from the brewery across the road.
And, yes, you’re going to have to forgo your summer tipple in this instance for, surely, the best time of the year to drink beer in Munich has to be during Oktoberfest.
Naturally, there’ll be more than a few of you out there keen to sup your pint of porter with a fancy umbrella in some impossibly exotic location featuring rolling white sands and warm blue seas, so we give you the Pelican Bar, a shack built by a local fisherman named Floyd on a sandbar near to its ‘mothership’, Jake’s Hotel, Treasure Beach, Jamaica.
Accessible via a 20-minute boat trip, you can sup a cool Red Stripe, play a little dominos, eat fried fish caught from the shack itself and even dive in for a quick dip if the beer isn’t cooling enough.
In a city that near-enough invented outdoor drinking, although coffee is often the strongest liquid drug consumed by natives, it would be a crime not to tip a hat to the many splendid locations around Paris in which to tipple al fresco.
You’ll not get much change from 30 bucks when you order the ‘Raphael’, a signature cocktail of champagne, strawberry, mint and lime, in the five-star Hotel Raphael near the Champs Elysées and the Arc de Triomphe, but the splendid views over the city, and of the Eiffel Tower in particular, make for one hell of a fancy ‘beer garden’.
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