This week, we’re venturing over to Parnell Street to The Big Romance.
This is our first visit to what I would class more as a ‘beer bar’ vs a ‘pub’ – whether traditional or otherwise – indeed, on their Instagram, The Big Romance describes itself as ‘A vinyl bar with a Hatchett Soundsystem serving craft beers & cocktails.’ As someone who was last vaguely aware of anything to do with sound systems (is it one word or two? Do cool people know something I do not?) based on a handful of visits to London indie clubs in the 1990s, obviously the draw for me isn’t the tunes (though they have always been excellent – more on that shortly), it’s the beer and the welcome.
Although in some respects it seems you could pick up the whole of The Big Romance and transplant it to parts of Brooklyn or Manchester without anyone noticing – certainly, the clientele looks pretty similar when it comes to beards, tattoos and hair colour – and yes, I’m very much aware my own purple hair is adding to this stereotype – there are still uniquely ‘Dublin’ touches about it that make it very much at home in this city, and that starts (for me, anyway) with the beer.
Barring tap takeovers – and this is one of the few places in Dublin where visiting breweries do such things relatively regularly – the tap list is usually majority-Whiplash, and it always has Guinness and Hofbräu for those who only want to adventure with their ears, though recently, Whiplash’s own excellent stout, Slow Lives, has been on quite frequently, and one wonders whether anyone has secretly done a Pepsi Challenge on their Guinness Enthusiast friends while visiting. There is usually a good balance to the beer lineup in any case – nearly always something sessionable from Whiplash, like their Rollover or Body Riddle, as well as a mix of higher-octane IPAs or imperial stouts from their own stable, or from the likes of New York’s Other Half or perhaps a Spanish or Scandinavian brewery or two for good measure. Also worth noting is that the bartenders always know the beers, cocktails and wines (yes, they have those, too) inside and out – they are incredibly knowledgeable, always friendly, and make sure the really heavy things get served in an appropriately-sized glass.
The preponderance of Whiplash beers is what keeps me from calling The Big Romance a more generic ‘craft beer bar’ – while it’s not as wholly dedicated to (Mostly) Things Whiplash as its half-sister, Fidelity, which we’ll cover in a future entry, it does tend to be ‘Whiplash and Friends’ – but this is no bad thing; as mentioned, this is one of the features that makes the bar feel really ‘Dublin’ from my perspective – and perhaps even just that little bit specifically ‘Northside,’ especially since Whiplash is brewed in Ballyfermot. Now, I am certainly biased, as I live a short walk away, but I would struggle to picture a spot like The Big Romance on the other side of the Liffey, but it just ‘fits’ on a place like Parnell Street, with its long, varied, not un-messy history (for which I’d highly recommend a read of Donal Fallon’s Three Castles Burning – and I’ve seen him in a few times as well), and eclectic mix of shops, cultures, cuisines and characters.
And so, back to the music; The Big Romance is owned by Hidden Agenda, who started off producing club nights and suchlike (again, I am far too out-of-the-loop to know about These Things), and they’ve made the spot a haven for the audiophile, but never in a way that seems pretentious or unwelcoming to the uncool – I’ve enjoyed a few pints over one or two of my favourite Divine Comedy albums (entirely serendipitously – I wouldn’t have even thought to ask, yet there was the vinyl, already playing) and I have always been impressed by the jazz offerings as well – I realise how awful that probably makes me sound, but that’s the kind of thing they had around the house when I was growing up, my dad was born in the 1920s, so…not my fault! But back to descriptions…
The interior also hews strongly ‘vinyl bar’ vs ‘pub,’ but it comes across as creative reuse of an old space, rather than as a cold, try-hard re-do; I’ve always found the booths and chairs comfortable, and also welcome that it’s usually quite dark inside, but again, this is a feature, not a bug: it’s soothing! It’s equally pleasant as a slightly cavernous spot on a hot summer’s day or, as of this writing, a bit of a cold, wet and miserable one – as an additional aside, if you’re curious as to why there’s no external photo this week, this is why – it suits both moods, with low lights and a few candles.
And if you’re wondering what specific ‘big romance‘ it’s named after, well, wonder no more: it’s to do with the street’s namesake, Charles Stewart Parnell, and his career-destroying affair with Kitty O’Shea – though no signs of such complications exist at this Big Romance – just tasty, tasty pints, and some great tunes.
Where: The Big Romance, 98 Parnell St, Rotunda, Dublin, D01 T2T3
Access from the city centre: 15 minute walk; buses 1, 11, 9, 13, 16, 44, 46, 155, Luas Green Line
Food: Small nibbles; pizza from a neighbouring shop can be delivered
Music: Live music some evenings, DJs & so much vinyl
Family-friendliness: Leave the kids at home for this one
Pub-crawl-ability: Medium – Kimchi Hophouse, The Flowing Tide, The Confession Box and Piper’s Corner are not terribly far, but don’t feel right on the doorstep, either – still, very central
Local sites of note: Mountjoy Square, Rotunda Hospital, Hugh Lane Gallery, Garden of Remembrance, Abbey Theatre
Haunted: No obvious tales
Other notes: Cocktails are tasty, and while there’s always (great) music, it’s only too loud for conversation when it’s really packed – the music itself is at a sensible level
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