Looking for a night on the town? Galway’s bar and club scene is one of the best in the country, says Colette Keane.
Going to college in Galway traumatised me, or rather, the weather did. All other memories of my year in the City of the Tribes have faded in the face of what seemed to me to be unrelenting rain, storms and more rain.
If Eskimos have more than 40 words for snow, the Irish must have more than 100 for rain, I would mutter darkly, making the daily crossing of the Salmon Weir bridge while being buffeted by gale force winds and battered by rain determined to saturate my very bones.
These were the days before Aldi and Lidl introduced us to affordable waterproofs and the concept that there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. So having made the daunting journey into college, I would then have to sit soaked and steaming in my clothes for the rest of the day, face burnt off me, blue fingers stiff from the cold.
When the chance came to have an overnight in Galway, I knew what I what have to bring – sturdy waterproof boots and my trusty Helly Hansen knee-length coat. Whatever Galway was going to throw at me this time, I was ready for it.
But I wasn’t. For one thing, the sun shone and as we wound our way around its pedestrianised cobbled streets. Amid the hustle and bustle and street performers and market stalls, I was reminded of a whole host of memories I had hidden away and the real reason why people go to Galway. Galway has an unique atmosphere, one of youth, of hope and vibrancy.
It has great bars, cafes, restaurants and quirky shops ideal for pottering away an afternoon in, all in an historic setting which reminds you why people have been coming here for centuries.
I was introduced to its revamped Latin Quarter — often referred to as the cultural heart of the city and home to many of the those quirky and best-known shops, pubs, restaurants and hotels, along with historic landmarks, events and attractions. Amazing smells assault your senses as more and more of the restaurants have outdoor seating areas in its seemingly ever-increasing pedestrianised zone.
The area is defined by some of the city’s most historic landmarks and stretches from the Spanish Arch at Long Walk to O’Brien’s Bridge to St Nicholas’ Church and back (via Buttermilk Lane) to An Taibhdhearc on Middle Street. It is home to the Saturday Market, Galway City Museum and the internationally acclaimed Druid Theatre Company.
We stayed in the House Hotel, a stunning old stone building just off Quay Street which has been transformed into a stunning boutique hotel. Its modern makeover only complements the unassuming historic exterior with its classic grey palette and hot pink couches.
The hotel has 40 bedrooms, each uniquely designed with minimal fuss and maximum style. The House Hotel reception/lounge area is designed to put you at ease from the moment you check in with large couches and comfy armchairs, ideal for snuggling up with a good book or chatting over high tea.
The hotel also has a Cocktail Bar with an award-winning mixologist – cocktail maker to the uninitiated – making the House Hotel an ideal meeting point for a night out, whether you are staying there or not. With a number of cocktails under our belt it was time to venture once more onto the streets.
Don’t be fooled by the exterior of Galway’s pubs. Many may look like small, traditional pubs, but inside they take on a Labyrinthian quality, with all the glorious chance meetings such explorations can result in. The Quays bar, The Front Door and The Dail Bar are three such pubs and well worth checking out.
In The Dail Bar, we struck up conversation with a Sligo man whose friend had got lucky and he was lamenting his luck with the ladies, yet undeterred to the possibility of finding love. There was also a group of American women hoping to find love so they had an excuse to stay in Ireland a little bit longer.
Galway is that kind of place. It seems a bit easier to start a conversation at the bar, everyone is out for a good time and the possibilities, particularly for a bit of romance, seem endless. I had forgotten how much fun I myself had had in Galway all those years ago and how many times my friends from Cork were willing to make the journey up to visit me — or rather the city.
Another of the more well known bars in this area is The Kings Head, and it was there we went for something to eat, at its Chop House restaurant. Its tasting menu was simply incredible. From scallops to crab claws, oysters to venison, each course was better than the last. All dark wood and high benches, The Chop House is getting a well deserved reputation for its fine food and despite the dizzying array of restaurants in Galway, we will definitely be going back.
The city has a special relationship with the sea, not only evident from its great selection of seafood on offer in its restaurants. From May, tours of Galway Harbour on a Galway Hooker are hoping to kick off, which would be the ideal way to banish any cobwebs from a previous night out on the town.
For the little less adventurous there is always the chance to take a walk along the prom at Salt Hill or take a wander around the Spanish Arch.
Galway has so much to offer, all within walking distance, that it is not just a place to go for its annual racing festival, but a year-round destination. I’ve finally dealt with my weather related demons. No one goes anywhere in Ireland for the weather, and Galway has something special that will warm your very soul.
www.thehousehotel.ie - Prices start from €99 a room.
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