IN AN era suffering an epidemic of monster and faux-vintage pubs, Neary’s on Chatham Street has managed to hold its own.
Its Victorian-era grandeur persists unscathed by the rush to modernise and raze to the ground.
An elegant red brick frontage, with double-door entrance bookended by two large lamps, leads the way to an inviting, low-lit interior begging the visitor to sui sios agus lig do scith (sit down and relax).
The barmen, in their sparkling white shirts and black bow ties, are efficient, friendly and on the ball.
There is nothing faux or monster about Neary’s – a favourite haunt of true-blue Dubs for decades. Writers Brendan Behan and Flann O’Brien are remembered as frequent barflies there.
At lunchtime, the venue is dedicated to nurturing conversation over food and drink. In the evening, the focus is on the latter. Neary’s doesn’t do tea or dinner – it is strictly lunch on Chatham Street.
Amid the gleaming brass, polished wood and giant mirrors, The Picky Eater recently slipped into a plush banquette and sat back to savour the atmosphere.
It had been a while, and it was a minute or so before I realised that the lack of background music created an unusual and welcome calm.
There were several diners scattered about. A renowned Dublin poet sat quietly nearby with his copy of The Irish Times, salmon sandwich and glass of wine, unrecognised and happy not to be.
A couple – clearly in the heyday of their romance – giggled and kissed at the bar over a bottle of chilled white and a pair of salads.
A couple of older thespians sat near the Gaiety entrance, intoning musically while sinking themselves into an afternoon of creamy pints and toasted sandwiches.
A flurry of Italian tourists tumbled in and gazed about, chattering in their native language in what sounded like “What’s all the fuss about this pub?”, before exiting. What a mistake! They were denying themselves the experience of the truly authentic Irish pub.
I perused the limited menu (an interesting history of Neary’s on the back): fresh/smoked salmon or crab, ham, cheese and simple salad-only sandwiches which are converted into de-luxe open sandwiches, or a salad at your wish. Having less to choose from can often make life simpler.
I opted for a salmon sandwich and a pot of tea while my visitor friend, who had heard about Neary’s and wanted to try it out, had crab salad, dressing on the side.
Deliciously fresh seafood and soft bread were served. Our empty plates were collected with a smile from our cheerful, chatty barman.
All in all, Neary’s offer a low-key lunch hour with a difference – no queues, no generic music and good quality service.
It’s fair to say that the visit was more about ambience than a life-changing dining experience, but it’s heartening that the old-fashioned pub lunch thrives on Chatham Street.
The Picky Eater recommends Neary’s as a welcome interlude amidst the excesses of the 21st century.