Irish Pub Award Winners Review
The Porter House was crowned Irish Pub of the Year at the inaugural Irish Pub Awards which took place last November in the RDS. Below we talk to all eight Category Award winners about their pubs, winning their Award, what it means to them and what it means to their business.
9 January 2018 | 0
Most Innovative Pub
Roadside Tavern, Lisdoonvarna
Walking through the door of Lisdoonvarna’s Roadside Tavern one gets the impression of an old-fashioned pub but this pub hosts the smallest professional craft brewery in Ireland, the Burren Brewery, one of only three in Ireland mentioned in the Lonely Planet’s Global Beer Tour (alongside Franciscan Well and Galway Bay).
An accredited member of the Burren Ecotourism Network, The Roadside Tavern on the edge of the Burren forms part of an assortment of businesses such as pubs, B&Bs, walking tours etc that operate using the best environmental practices such as recycling waste, using low-energy lightbulbs etc. Proprietor Peter Curtin educates staff in this while also transmitting that message to visitors.
“We endeavor to provide services and products to people while being mindful of the environment,” says Peter. Members of the BEN, the first place in Ireland to be ecotourism accredited, are monitored annually.
The pub also houses a 4,600 sq ft “minimal industrial utilitarian Open Plan” space on the other side of the building housing a foodservice operation where customers can comfortably view the cooking activity in the kitchen.
A translucent roof sits atop an entirely glass-fronted building here to provide the customer with “outside-inside” feeling and with natural light on a rainy Summer’s day. On good days, half the building can be concertina’d into the open.
A 20ft by 15ft screen means that when Ireland play, the players are practically life-sized “… and the base bins would vibrate the trousers off you,” claims Peter.
The screen can also be used for culinary demonstrations and as part of the Food on the Edge event in Galway last October Lisdoonvarna held a banquet for over 45 chefs with 80 Michelin stars between them.
The pub houses the largest rotisserie-motored charcoal oven in Ireland and is the only pub in Ireland to offer its own gruit beer made from wild yeast (also used in the production of its sour dough bread).
Says Peter of the pub’s winning the Innovation Award, “On a personal note it’s a bit like the idea of somebody being acknowledged by their peers. I’m an innovator having started off the Burren Smokehouse in 1989 offering the best smoked salmon and similarly with beer from the Burren Brewery in 2011 and the open space building itself now part of the Roadside Tavern scene, so I feel it’s a personal clap on the back, but in business terms it goes out into the press and wider world and gives people hand-holding comfort in visiting the place.”
He also pointed out that just down the road in Lisdoonvarna is a Michelin Star Chef while just up the road sits the most innovative pub in Ireland.
“We can leverage that.”
Best Music Pub
Matt the Millers, Kilkenny
Brendan Treacy has music in Matt the Millers in Kilkenny 362 days a year.
“It’s a hook and an added-value element of our food offering as a tourist destination,” he explains, “It’s our Unique Selling Point.”
The arrangement has been ‘in situ’ seven days a week for the last three years from 6pm onwards and it’s definitely working and will continue, says Brendan.
Brendan knows that as the evening goes on, the dynamic changes and so he gears the pub’s music to the tourism trade from 6pm to 9pm, to the “20 to 30-somethings” between 10 and 12 and from midnight to 3am the pub boasts a late-night bar with DJs.
“It morphs as the night goes on,” he explains.
Matt the Millers tries to support local bands whenever possible. Its Monday night resident band will have been playing there for 22 years this July and remains the longest-running residency in Kilkenny, says Brendan.
He promotes the pub on social media via just one person who promotes it via facebook and instagram etc as well as on the pub’s newly-formatted website.
“Winning this award has been a pleasant surprise” says Brendan, “and social media has gone ‘mental’ on it. The amount of goodwill and support and awareness it’s created in terms of social media has been amazing.” Hospitality providers – not only in Kilkenny but countrywide – have sent him goodwill messages but he’s unlikely to get carried away entirely.
“This award won’t do my job for me” he concludes “but it’s a nice element of recognition for the last 22 years.”
Best Outdoor Space
The Terrace @ Dinn Rí, Co Carlow
The Terrace @ Dinn Rí has a uniquely designed electrically motorised retractable glass roof. The addition of very powerful heaters gives total control over the elements allowing patrons to enjoy that outdoorsy feeling all year round.
“Winning this award is great recognition for all of the hard work the team have put in” says the Dinn Ri Group’s Marketing Manager Rosie Dunne, “but not only that, we expect that there will be a spin-off in terms of raising the profile and public awareness of The Terrace @ Dinn Rí via increased media publicity and positive word-of-mouth.”
The Terrace was created around the concept of ‘indoors meets outdoors’. During the Spring and Summer people come to The Terrace to enjoy every little bit of sunshine and open air they can. During the colder months The Terrace also offers a unique experience in warm surroundings under a captivating night sky. The venue’s popularity speaks for itself.
Many patrons grab a casual bite to eat or carvery lunch from the Deli & Food Hall @ Dinn Rí on a daily basis and take it out to The Terrace which offers a pleasant change of scenery from the office on weekdays. The Deli & Food Hall at Dinn Rí offers an extensive selection of menu options for breakfast, brunch, lunch and evening meals as well as scrumptious home-baked treats throughout the day. The décor, plants and foliage are continually changed at The Terrace to reflect the seasons and occasions such as Halloween, Christmas and Easter.
“We’re also in the process of creating new areas within The Terrace” says Rosie, “namely a Potting Shed which sits nicely with the overall garden theme, a Gin Shack, a Whiskey Hut and a Beer Booth – and no doubt there will be further additions in 2018.”
Outstanding Customer Service
The Bog Road, Portlaoise
Winning this Award has already made a huge difference to The Bog Road’s Donal O’Gorman and Kate Forrestal.
“We’ve only been open six months” says Donal, “and we can see in the last week or 10 days the increase in footfall, so the media coverage and facebook have made a serious impact on our doorstep.”
Of course the fact that customers putting money onto The Bog Road’s Loyalty Card means that the amount will be uplifted by 10% is quite an incentive.
“We introduced this card back in 2008 in our sister pub O’Gormans in Portlaoise before bringing it here,” says Donal, “Customers have really endorsed it and like the fact that they can put €50 onto the Loyalty Card and get €55 as a bonus as well as extra points for purchasing food and drink.
The bonus points are available at all times, not just one or two days a week.
“Every time you buy a lunch you get 10 points,” he says, “so every 10 meals you get a free lunch. I can safely say that 80% of our regulars have that card.”
And there are some 3,000 active out of the 8,000 to 10,000 cards out there.
“Some only pass through here every two months but they come in because of the Loyalty Card.
“It’s all about volume,” he continues, “Wednesday night gets a 40% discount and it’s our busiest night of the week. With the Loyalty Card we can be doing up to 300 or 400 meals.
“The a la carte menu begins at around 2.30pm and we find some of the older people getting out here between 3 and 7 and then we have it constantly from 5pm to 9.30pm when we have a waiting list, so for a Wednesday night it’s great business. People passing through can’t understand why we’re so busy.”
Donal has also spent time extensively training the staff on everything from the menu to all the HACCP knowledge they’ll need.
The pub also looks after its more elderly clientele as best it can, delivering hot food directly to their door.
“It was first done with my father years ago who did ‘meals on wheels’ locally,” he says, “One or two are unable to get down here so we offer them a choice of six dinners which goes down well with our regulars, some of whom have a mother or father as part of that.”
For those who can make it into the pub, their favourite tables are saved for the days they always come in.
Best Tourist Pub
The Stag’s Head, Dublin
The Stag’s Head is both a famous and a historical Dublin pub. Though a tavern has existed on this site since the 1780s, this premises first attained great fame in the 1830s as ‘John Bull’s Albion Hotel and Tavern’. This was one of the most sought-after premises of the age and this Award will be very beneficial to the Stags Head, says Louise Fitzgerald of The Fitzgerald Group.
“The staff are getting a just reward for the great work they do,” she added.
This is probably Dublin’s best-preserved examle of a Victorian pub and everything here is of authentic Victorian origin.
“The Stags Head is unique in its original style,” agrees Louise, “It has a big appeal to tourists and locals and our staff take a genuine interest in explaining historical features of the pub.”
Word-of-mouth has been the pub’s biggest marketing tool. It’s been featured in a number of films and is popular for TV ads. It has been included in major publications and travel books.
“Our customer reviews on social media are highly-rated,” says Louise who points out that a vast amount of entertainment is offered throughout the week. On Mondays it puts on ‘Comedy Crunch’ and on Fridays and Saturdays it claims the best traditional session in Dublin City. On the last Wednesday of every month customers can experience The Brown Bread Mix Tape with plenty of stories, music and poetry.
“Four events are held on the first floor in the Palour bar and in The Stags Tail bar in the basement,” explains Louise, “Events vary from ukulele sessions, comedy, traditional music sessions and seasonal James Joyce Story-Telling. The ground floor bar is generally acknowledged as a conversation bar.”
Next year, The Stags Head will be a big part of the Fitzgerald Group’s celebration of its 50th year in business.
Pub Personality of the Year
Johnny Quilty – The Goat Bar & Grill, Clonskeagh, Dublin
At 66 years-of-age, Johnny Quilty, Pub Personality of the Year, declared himself “shocked” on hearing that he’d won the Award.
“But I got a lovely tweet from Michael Healy Rae,” he says. Johnny works in Charlie Chawke’s Goat Bar & Grill in Dublin’s Goatstown and he says that Charlie is equally delighted for him.
To Johnny, winning this award means that he must be popular with his customers “… and obviously doing something right! They must enjoy my company and my service behind the counter”.
‘Personality’ aptly describes his presence at the ‘Goat’.
This ‘hale fellow, well-met’ has got a good singing voice and he’s not afraid to use it. When the Irish rugby team go into battle he’s often asked to reprise his practice of singing the ‘real’ national anthem for the Goat’s patrons.
“Now it’s expected of me at all national games,” he explains.
But he’s also got the more intimate touch when dealing with customers on a one-to-one basis.
“When somebody walks into your pub or restaurant you want to make them feel welcome as if they were coming into your house,” he says, “So I get to know what county they’re from and what their interests are. A lot of the time the chat would be about sport but I’ve a broad knowledge and always try to have a bit of craic with them.
“I could be talking about the weather or the history of the pub, but some don’t want a conversation and it’s a question of knowing when to speak and when to be silent.”
Described as “friendly” and “courteous”, Charlie and he are ‘Old School’, he says, “We both feel it’s the way it should always be, ‘Put your facebook and phone away and engage with the customers,’ I tell the younger staff members”.
He’s also modest.
“Any one of the other category finalists could have won the Award, I just happened to be the one they chose.”
Best Local Pub/Overall winner
The Porter House, Castlebridge, Co Wexford
Myles & Sharon Doyle were completely shocked to win Pub of the Year.
“It was shock enough to go down to Clonmel and win the first one for the region,” says Myles.
Needless to say the win has had a beneficial effect on business.
“Even at a quiet time of the year like November usually is, there are a lot of people coming in as well as people coming in to have a look too,” he says, “A lot of the locals are proud of our win and we’ve had more visits from our local customers as a result.”
Of course some are only coming in to pursue their love affair with their favourites on the pub’s food menu which seem to be the Seafood Chowder and the Fresh Cod.
Together with Sharon (born in the neighbouring village of Curraclaw), her brother Aidan and daughter Amy the quartet can only help make it a family atmosphere.
The pub has a golf society, a darts team, a pool team and a pub quiz team.
And even for a local pub, sponsorships and charities loom large.
“I’m involved in a lot of different things having been born and reared in Castlebridge,” Myles explains, “And I’m involved in the local GAA club a lot. About a year-and-a-half ago we became the main sponsors of our local GAA club, The Shelmaliers.”
The pub is also the main sponsor of the Bridge Drama Group, All Ireland Drama Champions in 2016.
“We do a lot of charity work too which must have helped us win the award,” muses Myles.
The Porter House’s customer profile ranges from 18 to 90 – always a good sign of a good ‘local’.
“It’s part of the draw for a local pub and we wouldn’t be tied down to any particular age group,” he says, “We’ve bingo night on a Wednesday but a lot of younger people come to the bingo too.”
The Porter House has music three nights a week – on a Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday – which also draws a mixed crowd.
The 10 staff employed are all from the area, all locals themselves.
“It helps the interaction with the customers. For example one of our barmen has a big family and friends in the area as has one of the local barmaids.”
The pub is used as a meeting centre, having a separate room – the Eden Vale Room – which can be used for christenings and parties as well as for holding regular meetings.
Myles has also been known to take part in the not-infrequent comedy sketch with two or three ‘regulars’ masquerading under the title ‘The Porter House Players’.
“We do all different comedy sketches,” says Myles, “Last Friday we were asked to do a thing for Wexford Hospice Homecare and we went out to Slaney Manor and did a comedy sketch for them. We’ve another tomorrow night for the RNLI.”
He has plans for the Porter House in 2018.
“We’ve a lot of room upstairs and I’ve some ideas about doing something about one of the rooms up there next year,” he says. He won’t give too much away yet.
Best Food Pub
Mickey Finn’s, Redcross, Co Wicklow
Since winning the Best Food Pub of the Year Award, business has been “phenomenal” at Mickey Finn’s in Redcross, County Wicklow, says Leigh Williams, “… where people are booking because of the publicity and so we’re getting the feedback already”.
Mickey Finn’s has been in the Wicklow papers and when their win appeared in The Sunday Indo they were flooded with customers that very afternoon, some of whom had just walked in off the street, she says.
Ashley and Leigh have great plans to put Redcross on the map and established the Wicklow Brewery as a definite stop on the tourist culinary trail by creating the perfect destination to avail of fantastic food complimented by local beer served in authentic rustic surroundings.
“A lot of people asked how we were going to cope when the N11 changes, but we’ve always been off the main route here,” she explains, “People must want to come because they’ve heard about you. So we built the brewery to marry the beer with the food. Here, they can smell the brewery or taste the brewery product. They can find food pairings that complement.”
Indeed, the brewery and restaurant make a perfect marriage.
The pub likes to source local ingredients where possible.
“We’ve a guy who supplies organic lees from his farm and he drops them into us directly,” says Leigh, “So the beer’s from source and we use the spent grain for making bread.”
In Summer the pub uses St Kevin’s sausages, made using the Wicklow Brewery’s St Kevin’s Red Ale, in its Bangers & Mash.
“We change the menu in Winter so that the food suits the season,” says Leigh.
The pub runs various themed evenings too.
“Yes, we’re big into that,” she agrees, “It’s a lot of extra work but it’s great.”
It’s been so successful that they’re going to be doing the same ones again so expect a Cuban Night (showcasing barbecued fish etc accompanied by Latin dancers), a Spanish Tapas Evening with a Spanish guitarist and Sangria using the pub’s Ginger Beer which also goes down particularly well with anything Asian, according to Leigh.
“We find that people are really looking for the package,” she says.
2018 promises more of the same.
“We’re getting busier and busier so we’re going to make more use of the beer hall and we’re extending the kitchen to do street food and serve a lot more tables via the courtyard and our beer hall as well as in the pub itself.
“We give our customers a different type of menu to give them a better choice with one menu in the bistro and another in the beer hall: casual dining and street food.”
The sleepy village of Redcross has come alive….