The nine category winners are:
Best Food Pub sponsored by Musgrave MarketPlace: Murph’s Gastro Pub at The Derragarra Inn, Butlers Bridge, Co Cavan
Best Tourist Pub sponsored by Molson Coors: Malzards Pub, Stoneyford, Co Kilkenny
Innovative Pub of the Year sponsored by Bank of Ireland Payment Acceptance: Paris Texas, Kilkenny
Best Local Pub sponsored by Diageo: Harry Byrne’s Pub, Clontarf, Dublin 3
Outstanding Customer Service sponsored by Heineken: Aunty Lena’s and Adare Court House, Adare, Co Limerick
Best Music Pub sponsored by IMRO: Kavanagh’s Bar and Venue, Portlaoise, Co Laois
Best Outdoor Space sponsored by Bulmers: The Courtyard on Sober Lane, Sullivan’s Quay, Cork.
Best Newcomer sponsored by Edward Dillon: The Rusty Mackerel, Teelin, County Donegal
Best Late Night Bar sponsored by Irish Distillers – Pernod Ricard: Café en Seine, Dublin 2.
Paris Texas was named National Pub of the Year at the Irish Pub Awards 2019. The Kilkenny pub was crowned national champion after winning the Innovative Pub of the Year category, one of nine categories attracting 1,700 entries and which were announced at a Gala Awards ceremony in Dublin’s RDS Concert Hall.
The Irish Pub Awards are jointly presented by the Vintners Federation of Ireland and The Licensed Vintners Association. Now in their third year the number of entries for the Awards has trebled since their introduction.
On the night VFI President Padraic McGann congratulated the finalists stating, “Paris Texas and all tonight’s winners and finalists represent the very best in Irish pubs around the country.
“Irish pubs are the hub of any community,” he continued, “They reflect the diversity and high quality of our pubs across Ireland, their ongoing investment in raising standards and their importance as community centres.”
However rural pubs were undoubtedly under severe pressure. He’d noted a 15% drop in his own pub’s sales where the lack of a taxi service was among the many factors affecting trade there.
LVA Chairman Ronan Lynch added, “The Irish Pub Awards have clearly established themselves as the definitive awards programme within the pub industry.
“The programme has been acknowledged for the excellent national and local media coverage attained along with the in-depth management training that all finalists have received that’s beneficial to their business.
“It has now become a great vehicle to highlight the vital contribution that pubs make to Irish business, community and tourism.”
The Irish Independent is the Media Partner to the Irish Pub of the Year Awards and Drinks Industry Ireland magazine is Trade Media Partner.
Overall Winner/Innovative Pub of Year
Paris Texas, Kilkenny
“Innovation isn’t just about being different” claims Pat Crotty, proprietor of this year’s National Pub of the Year and winner of the Innovative Pub of the Year category, Paris Texas.
There isn’t a week goes by, he tells me, that they don’t change something.
“We’ve a handyman coming into us every Saturday to change things whether it’s the premises, a product or a service – anything that we think will make the customer experience or our job better or easier.
“If it’s not working we get rid of it real fast so it’s a process of just being wide-awake to there being a better way of doing something.”
Pat set about re-inventing Paris Texas six years ago “to make people think before they ordered ‘the same old same old’”.
Now he can boast, “If they walk across our threshold at all they’ve already decided that they want something different.
“We want people to get new habits with us and every time you come in we’ll have a new beer or whiskey or a new ‘something’ still six years later.
Take one example: when VFI President, Pat went with a delegation to Chicago and visited the Deerbourne urban American tavern owned by Amy & Clodagh Lawless, daughters of former VFI President Billy.
“On the counter was a nine-feet tall cold infusion vessel which I was immediately enamoured of,” says Pat, “It was full of Bourbon at the top pouring through a fruit- and preserve-filled hopper in the centre before draining into the bottom where it could be served – in effect creating a cocktail.”
And so he ordered one in from the States, put it on the counter at Paris Texas and has used it – mostly for gins – ever since.
“Every gin presentation is about what fruits and spices can add flavour to it,” he says, “So we stick in a whole case of gin at the top and out the bottom comes a different gin, the result of running it through this cold coffee press.
“Cold coffee infusion is not yet a thing here in Ireland.
“But we’re using it to infuse spirits by putting in herbs, fruits, rose petals – even melons – to give a lovely soft flavour to the gin.
Paris Texas also cask-ages its Old Fashioneds.
“We’re not the only ones doing this but we leave it there for a month,” he explains, “Then it’s moved to a glass dispenser and the flavours are married together in a way that you wouldn’t get if you just put them directly into a glass and served them up.”
Now he reckons he’ll need a second cask as one is not enough each month. As he points out, “You just can’t rush it!”.
The outlet also smokes its own meats to make some of its food offering very different.
“We do 120 Kg of pork shoulders at a time which takes 14 hours.”
Pat is happy to look for things different and better to give Paris Texas the edge.
“If we can improve one little thing per week by the end of the year we’ll have improved our business by a considerable factor without anyone noticing any big change”.
It’s a good adage to have.
Best Music Pub
Kavanagh’s Bar & Venue, Portlaoise, Co Laois
This year’s Best Music Pub winner Kavanagh’s Bar & Venue in Portlaoise is really three venues in one. Music is indeed integral to the business of the pub and it’s not unheard of for Kavanagh’s to host three gigs at the one time with performances in the main bar, the Upstairs venue (for intimate gigs) and the Courtyard venue (for larger gigs).“Music’s a big driver for our business overall,” says PJ, “We started by doing comedy and small gigs 20 years ago when there wasn’t much comedy outside of big cities and we gradually built up a name for it.”
Now Kavanagh’s gets the big names.
One person is dedicated to social media and a graphic designer comes up with a lot of the artwork for social media comment.
“We also use TicketWeb, a subsidiary of Ticket Master, to build-up a bit of a database for each gig so it’s easy enough if a comedian or a band is coming back we can ‘autocall’ people who purchased tickets for previous gigs.
“We also have a good relationship with the local media between radio and newspapers.”
PJ sees winning the Music award as “a bit of a reward first and foremost for our staff and the acts and the different people who’ve worked here over the years such as the sound and lighting engineers. We love supporting and developing the music in our business and getting acts recognition.
“Since we won the award we’ve been inundated with messages of congratulations,” says PJ, “It’s also given us a bit of leeway in opening a few more doors to acts such as Hamsandwich and the Blizzards.”
With a music school also on the premises PJ reckons that the pub’s ability to use the space at the back for local artists whilst also hosting guitar, drum and keyboards lessons five days a week helped win the title.
“The facility is used almost seven days a week,” he says, “Over the last 20 years we went from a small bar at ground-floor level to evolve into different areas and facilities. It’s something we continually work on by developing all the different sections of our business of which music and entertainment seem to do well for us and so hopefully the judges will have seen our investment into that side of business.”
Best Tourist Pub
Malzard’s Pub, Stoneyford, Kilkenny
Fred Malzard is the fifth-generation of the family to run this 200 year-old establishment. But the ideas that have brought it to the point where it’s a “must-visit” pub for up to 170 coach parties last year are completely contemporary.
The pub has managed to create an experience that involves music and dance, how to pour a pint and how to play hurling (not to be done at the same time).
Naturally, “meeting the locals” is also an important part of the pub’s tourism appeal.
“The key to the success of Malzards as a tourist pub has been a vision and a will to turn an ordinary rural pub into a viable thriving business,” comments Fred who returned to the licensed trade after 20 years in banking and met with a tour guide who alerted him to the possibilities of coach tourism at the pub.
“We did our first couple of coaches in 2014, then that doubled in ‘15 and now we’ve a very sustainable business on top of local trade,” he says.
When a coach arrives its occupants are greeted by Fred, the host, who introduces them to village life and the importance of the pub in a rural community.
“It’s not about drinking” he explains, “but about the social side of it, with older people sitting down and having a chat.”
Fred moves on to tell them about the importance of Shopping Local.
“There’s rural parts everywhere in the world and you know you’re hitting a few notes then from the heads nodding in the audience,” says Fred.
The party is taken through the old bar where there are always a couple of the locals and they have the chat and a bit of banter with them, explains Fred who then tells them about hurling.
“We’ve a visual running in the background for about 10 minutes before they’re taken out to the field at the back of the pub for 10 or 15 minutes to learn how to play the sport. We then have a race before going back into the pub where they’re greeted by musicians who play a few tunes for around an hour.”
Malzard’s is a family business and this is emphasised by having the guests become part of the family by pulling pints behind the bar and generally helping out – a bit of fun before getting a prize for the ‘best pint-puller’ and ‘best hurler’.
Add-ons such as a seanchaí or Irish Dancing can be arranged too where requested and lunch is supplied via an outside caterer onsite.
“It’s greatly appreciated considering that we’re a small rural village in Ireland and this is what we’re doing to rectify that,” says Fred,
“It’s important that it’s a small business in rural Ireland. The day is no longer there when people just walk in the door, so we need to tweak it that bit.
“Too many are giving out instead of doing something about it,” he concludes, “This can be done in any corner of Ireland.”
Best Outdoor Space
The Courtyard on Sober Lane, Cork
When proprietor Finbarr O’Shea bought the complex back in 1979 it was known as the Flying Enterprise. He changed it to the Courtyard in 2006.
The Courtyard offers, “a unique experience to relax” and enjoy a dining and social experience “unlike any other in Cork” according to Finbarr who, with his wife Dolly, now runs three bars, four dining areas (including a takeaway), a separate restaurant, apartments and penthouses there – a mixed business indeed!
“Business changes at least once in every decade if not twice,” he explains, “I made money during the recession and never missed a bank payment so I felt I should start investing.”
He’s certainly done that, for since February 2014 to March this year he’s had builders in every week to make The Courtyard on Sober Lane so attractive, contemporary and capacious that it’s able to take a booking for 1,000 people, competing with the biggest hotels in Cork.
An outdoor kitchen with an Italian-style pizza oven for stone-baked pizzas is an alternative to the barbeque which runs 52 weeks of the year there.
“I’ve also got extremely good staff out on the floor, some of them with me a long time and who know how to operate the place,” he says, “I’ve great office staff too, which would be the first contract with the customer.”
For the last 20 years The Courtyard has provided a purpose-built hospitality building.
“We make it a nice place to work in too,” he adds.
It’s clearly also a nice place to sit in of an evening and take in Cork’s streetscape.
Outstanding Customer Service
Aunty Lena’s & Adare Court House, Limerick
“If every customer leaves wanting to return or to recommend us to their friends and family, only then are we doing our jobs right,” says proprietor Charlie Chawke, “We strive for excellence. We take nothing for granted and continually train our staff, updating them on new practices, new menus and new products and encourage everyone to take feedback from customers to highlight areas we can improve upon.”
This is reflected in what Doreen McDowell, Manager at Aunty Lena’s, says.
“We’ve a great team here” she explains, “the staff of 32 includes kitchen staff, floor staff and bar staff; we want them to train and have as much knowledge as possible so that our guests can enjoy themselves to the full when they’re here.
“We renovated the place about two years ago, building on a restaurant and a little museum upstairs so we’re just getting used to it and delighted that we’ve improved our services and offering and we’re delighted with the recognition this has brought.
“We always try to give the customer what they want and we love people tasting our beer selection and the different types of food we offer. We’re always promoting the outlet and showing what we’ve got to offer.”
Private parties can be taken to the upstairs restaurant and museum and there’s good live music every Saturday and Sunday.
But while Doreen expressed herself delighted with the win and very proud of what they do there, she’s also aware that there’s always room for improvement.
“… so we’re looking forward to next year!” she tells me.
Best Late Night Bar
Café en Seine, Dublin
Following purchase by the Mercantile Group Café en Seine underwent considerable renovation. Today it boasts five distinct areas for its late-night clientele: the cocktail bar, the Grand Bar, the Loft and the Balcony, but the Parisian-inspired street garden with its avenue of real trees and shopfronts has proved the most popular.
“It’s our newest feature and tends to draw people down to the ground floor at the back of the premises,” explains David Murray, one of the managers there, “It has become really popular as a lively lunch spot during the day – the retractable roof helps here – and it’s the same at night when it transitions into a really high-energy part of the building.”
DJs play every Thursday, Friday and Saturday while it hosts live music during the day in the garden on a Sunday.
It’s open late every night of the week “depending on the time of year” explains David.
“This time of the year we’re busy and go late seven nights a week whereas in January it would only be on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday.”
Being a higher-end venue, Café en Seine enjoys “a really good clientele” with the doormen engaging an over-23s policy.
Training ranks highly here. Everyone who comes to work in the premises must go through a full company induction and there are different training tiers: Junior Bartender, Senior Bartender, Head Bartender etc.
“Everyone has to go through those levels before they’re allowed go out on their own,” says David, “We need to make sure that every waiter and bartender knows the menu inside out before letting them out to the customer.”
It’s paying off as the venue has enjoyed crowds every weekend since it re-opened.
“There are queues to get in the door late at night,” he says.
So why does he think Café en Seine won this award?
“We’ve been quite innovative with some of the promotions and activations, trying to do stuff that hasn’t been done,” says David, “Hopefully the judges noticed that we’re trying to bring something new to Dublin but also the general public has responded well to our promotions which means that we’ve listened to them.
“We’ll keep listening to what our customers say and acting on it accordingly,” he concludes.
Best Local Pub
Harry Byrne’s, Clontarf, Co Dublin
Harry Byrne’s is recognised as being the cornerstone of the local area.
Owned & run by the Byrne family since 1947 the current owner, Alan Byrne, is third generation. His son, Harry Jr, recently joined the team.
“One of the aspects you’d notice when you walk into Harry’s is that it is 90% high stools,” says Alan, “Over the years we’ve discovered that having everyone at the same level encourages customers to move about and mingle, which makes for a very friendly and social atmosphere.
“We don’t do background music; the only background noise you’ll hear is the hum of conversation and laughter.”
Being a fourth generation publican Alan reckons it’s “in the blood”.
What has been learned down the generations is “to have pride in our product, respect for our customers and passion for the trade”.
The building itself is very impressive with its beautiful red-bricked Victorian exterior and original 100 year-old wooden interior but Alan reckons that the tipping point would be the staff.
“We’re very proud of our staff, so whether it was a quiet Monday or a hectic Saturday night that the judges paid us a visit, they would have experienced their usual good humour along with their excellent service.”
It’s been a crazy week since they won the award, he admits.
“We’ve been inundated with visitors congratulating and praising us on our award,” he says, “We’ve also had a lot of people coming in for the first time saying they’ve heard about the win and wanted to come down to investigate.
“We at Harry Byrne’s have a unique history and a unique heritage,” he concludes, “We’re a traditional pub with traditional values. We offer our customers a safe-haven for those who prefer not to have food and other distractions around while they enjoy a drink or watch a match with friends.
“It’s a huge morale boost for the staff and our customers are delighted as well as this award belongs to them too.”
There’s that spirit of the local pub coming out again.
Rusty Mackerel, Teelin, Co Donegal
This pub has been at the foot of County Donegal’s Sliabh Liag Mountains for the past 127 years. But until Robert Lynch bought it 18 months ago and invested heavily in its renovation, it had been opening just three nights at the weekend and didn’t serve food. Truth be told, it was in a bad state.
“If I’d taken the advice of the engineer” muses Robert, “there wouldn’t have been any development carried out here.”
But being from a building background Robert saw the tourism potential that sat in a cul de sac next to the tallest accessible cliffs in Europe with only one way up and one way down.
“There are very few such spots in the world that are so beautiful,” he says.
And so he set about installing a new beer garden, kitchen, lounge and bar some 18 months ago. He added on 13 bedrooms “…. well, it’s really a mini-hotel now.”
Last June a restaurant upstairs with seating for 34 people was opened and only last month a new retractable roof covering the beer garden was installed along with a wood-burning stove.
The Rusty Mackerel employs a full-time staff of 12 to 15 going up to 30 at the height of the tourist season.
Music is played here seven nights a week from June to September and the restaurant enjoys the prospect of fish caught the night before being delivered the very next morning.
Robert believes that it’s the character of the pub that won it the Best Newcomer title.
“It’s a traditional Irish pub,” he says, “We’ve tried to retain the character by leaving well alone and we’ve even tried to increase the building’s character with a beer garden overlooking the cliffs with the walk across Sliabh Liag. There’s also a beautiful mural on the wall featuring local musicians.”
For Robert, winning this award represents “a fantastic achievement” for everyone involved.
“It’s a reflection on the staff,” he says, “I’m responsible for the building but if you haven’t got the hospitality that Donegal offers, you’re not at the races. So it’s a huge recognition for the effort that’s been put in in the last 18 months by everybody here.
“It’s a hidden gem.”
Best Food Pub
Murph’s Gastro Pub at the Derragara Inn, Derragara, Co Cavan
Moroccan Lamb and Pork Parcels, Lemon and Mango Salad, Velvet Pork Cutlet or Parmesan & Herb Chicken – what’s not to like on this wide menu at Murph’s Gastro Pub?
For Chef/Owner Fergus Murphy has worked in some of the best kitchens in the world and with some of its best chefs. For example, he’s worked in La Gavroche with Jean Michael Roux Jnr in Mayfair and in Geneva in Hotel d’Bergue and Hambury Manor in England with the late Rory Kennedy, one of the country’s top chefs, where he met Albert Roux who was a consultant chef at the time.
During his apprenticeship in The Westbury in Bond St, London, Prince Charles would visit and David Bowie became a regular for afternoon tea.
Fergus has also worked in the 5-star deluxe Spice Island Hotel in the Carribbean.
So it was natural that when he returned home in 2000 he’d set up Murph’s Bistro in Cootehill, County Cavan, in 2006 before buying the Derrygara Inn in 2014.
It was extremely run-down, he recalls and so he invested in new kitchens and furniture etc but two years later it burned down and he’d to reinvest.
The Derragara operation is a team effort so the business of food is looked after by eight cooks. With such a busy operation it’s hard not to keep the chefs on their toes but having eight allows him to ensure that they also get adequate time off.
It must be working because one of the chefs has been with him from the Cootehill days. And perhaps that’s why chefs working with him tend to stay a couple of years.
“It’s hard to get good calibre chefs so we have an in-house training programme.
“Being the chef/owner I’m very conscious of customer likes and dislikes so the menu is constantly changing.
“I therefore have to ensure that the chefs are flexible to customer needs.”
Consistency, customer service, trying to give casual dining food at the right price – all traits he believes the judges would have noted on their visit.
“That and changing the menu seasonally and always looking after both the food and the customer.”