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As I stand at the bar, watching bartender Michael O’Donovan expertly pour my pint of Murphy’s, I can’t help but think that this country pub in the heart of the city captures the essence of Cork. The stout settles in the glass, its creamy head forming slowly as O’Donovan gauges the perfect moment to top it off. Nearby, a tiled fireplace radiates warmth, casting flickering shadows around the room, creating an ideal atmosphere for conversation to unfold.
Located on South Main Street, just a short distance from Cork’s bustling center, the Castle Inn embodies the spirit of tradition. With a history dating back to the 1870s and still managed by the same family since the 1930s, the pub offers a glimpse into the past. Inside, a snug area by the window, worn red-and-cream wood paneling, and snuff jars behind the bar contribute to the authentic atmosphere. The walls are adorned with vintage beer advertisements and black-and-white portraits of sports legends like Christy Ring, the hurling champion of yesteryears. This pub’s interior design remains timeless.
While the night falls outside, casting reflections from streetlights onto rain-slicked pavements, the interior of the Castle Inn is a haven of warmth and light. After paying for my drink, I join the soft-spoken conversations orchestrated by the bartender around his station. We discuss a range of topics, from hurling to gas bills, taxis, and technology. The man next to me rests his glasses on a rolled-up newspaper.
I inquire about photographing the fireplace, and O’Donovan nods in agreement. He shares how the chimneys interconnect like hidden passages throughout the old building above. “If these walls could talk,” he muses with a smile.
Cork, the second-largest city in Ireland, presents itself as a unique blend of urban life and small-town charm. Nestled by a sprawling natural harbor and divided by the River Lee, the city’s quays and waterfront areas exude a classic, open ambiance. Yet, its labyrinthine alleys and steep slopes add a touch of intimacy. Renowned markets like English and Marina Markets, along with a plethora of independently-owned shops and restaurants, highlight its cosmopolitan character. Princes Street, adorned with colorful canopies, spearheads Ireland’s newfound passion for outdoor dining.
Reflecting a post-pandemic era, Cork reveals elements of dereliction alongside reminders of its rich heritage. This compact yet diverse city possesses an introspective and outward-looking nature. A mural on Parnell Place captures this sentiment: “Ireland is like a bottle, it would sink without a Cork.”
With approximately 100 bars scattered throughout the city, Cork’s pub scene embodies its dual personalities and rebellious spirit. Options range from traditional pints at the Castle Inn or Mutton Lane to upscale venues such as the Glasshouse rooftop bar at The Montenotte hotel. Trendy establishments like Arthur Mayne’s, a former pharmacy turned wine and tapas bar, offer a unique experience. The Franciscan Well Brewery & Brewpub beckons visitors to enjoy their backyard beer garden alongside a pint of Hazy IPA and a delectable pizza. And then there are the indescribable, like the Hi-B, a vintage lounge on Oliver Plunkett Street that encourages interaction by boldly stating, “No mobile phones. Talk to each other.”
Before embarking on my pub crawl, I gathered suggestions from friends and Twitter. One recommendation led me to Cask, where I asked the bartender to surprise me with a cocktail. Located in Cork’s Victorian Quarter, Cask boasts a changing menu focused on seasonal, nature-inspired drinks. It’s a perfect fit for a city that prides itself on showcasing the best local seafood, farm produce, and artisanal ingredients.
Taking a seat at the bar, I engage the bartender in a discussion about my preferences. After a brief exchange, we settle on the glass curtain cocktail—a tangy and potent lowball blend of Jameson Black Barrel whiskey, shiso, and blackberry, served over a large ice cube. It’s exactly what I needed—smooth, spirited, and comforting.
Cask’s menu is an exploration of Irish brands, producers, and ingredients, resulting in unique and delightful concoctions. From a mix of Glendalough Gin, Longueville House Apple Brandy, and Mary O’Connell’s damson jam with Cava rosé to the intriguing combination of Blackwater Vodka, Cashel Blue Cheese distillate, and Hivemind honey in the pure mouwldy, each cocktail showcases Ireland’s distinctive flavors.
While Cask’s atmosphere differs from the cozy fireside feel of the Castle Inn, it radiates its own warmth and charm. With exposed brick walls, apron-clad bartenders adorned with tattoos, and a counter brimming with herbs and mixers, the setting is modern and inviting. Though different, both pubs, in their own ways, capture Cork’s essence. A handwritten note on my bill reads, “Thank you, my dear.”
This article was featured in the UK & Ireland supplement, included with the Jul/Aug 2023 edition of National Geographic Traveller (UK).
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about PubCulture
What is the Castle Inn known for?
The Castle Inn, located on South Main Street, is renowned for its traditional ambiance, historic significance, and cozy fireside atmosphere. It has been a family-run pub since the 1930s.
How does Cork’s pub scene reflect the city’s character?
Cork’s pub scene offers a unique blend of old and new, showcasing its dual personalities. From classic pubs like the Castle Inn to modern cocktail bars like Cask, visitors experience the city’s diverse social fabric.
What is Cask known for in Cork?
Cask, situated in Cork’s Victorian Quarter, is known for its ever-changing menu of seasonal, nature-inspired cocktails. The bartenders curate drinks using local ingredients, creating a taste of the city’s culinary scene.
How many bars can be found in Cork?
Cork boasts approximately 100 bars scattered throughout the city. These establishments reflect the city’s rebellious spirit and diverse social offerings.
What makes Cork’s pub scene special?
Cork’s pub scene is unique due to its combination of historical charm and modern innovation. Visitors can enjoy a traditional Irish pub experience at places like the Castle Inn or explore contemporary cocktail culture at venues like Cask.