What does a 'well kept secret' look like when the whole world knows about it? That's one of the thoughts that occurs upon stepping over the threshold to the Library Bar at Dublin's Central Hotel. Somewhere between an Edwardian drawing room and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen's underground headquarters, The Library is the sort of watering hole that feels too good to have as a local. The trappings are classy and vintage, the walls lined with bookshelves and faded photographs. Simply by installing yourself in a corner and quaffing a lager, you have the sense of becoming a smarter, more sophisticated person, someone of impeccable taste and bearing.
Alas, word about this old timey gem got out a considerable period ago, so that in addition to being your favourite boozer it is everybody else's too. This can engender headaches, especially at the weekend, when, unless you're super-early, locating a seat may be a difficulty.
One of the Library's charms is that it seems to have been laid out with elegant supping in mind and so, design wise, no effort is made to cram as many drinkers in as possible.
There are magnificent armchairs, and long circular tables – fantastic if you've managed to grab a pew, less wonderful should you rock up to find the room already spilling over. Required to stand and stand you will likely end up gawping enviously at those lucky enough to occupy a perch (chair envy can suck the fun from even the classiest boozer).
For many years, it appeared that the Library Bar was happy to get by on charm and good looks.
It wasn't coasting, but it knew what it had going for it. Lately, though, its non-aesthetic offerings are much improved. Several boutique taps were installed about 18 months ago (finally you can once again order a decent pint of Kronenbourg in Dublin) and the wi-fi is fiddle-free (well done chaps on no longer insisting on a password).
However, the truly winning quality and the thoroughly anti-social Barfly feels strange saying this, is the clientele.
This is one of those bars that can make your world feel a little bigger, a little richer.
On one occasion, Barfly found itself seated beside some American theatre types, animatedly discussing the Chicago musical scene, on another we eavesdropped on a would-be music manager pitching his services to a young singer-songwriter (not smitten in the least, the young musician was desperately looking for an excuse to leave).
Those are the sort of lives you often brush up against in other cities, but rarely, it seems to us, encounter in Ireland.
If for no other reason, The Library Bar deserves our love for introducing to Dublin some cosmopolitan mystery, a sense of infinite possibilities just a table away.
If you like your British Raj bling, you'll adore The Library Bar. Apart from the staff and most of the punters, everything in here could pass for 150 years old. Plus, the high windows offer reasonably atmospheric views of Exchequer Street. A discreet snug at the back of the bar, meanwhile, feels like Sherlock Holmes' secret hideaway in Victorian London.
Used to be a shade inefficient – how is it that hotel staff can spend 10 minutes languidly pouring a pint and mixing a cocktail when the bar is heaving? In the last two years, though, the improvement has been dramatic. Table service is standard (and very fast) and the people manning the taps seem alive to the fact that, at the weekend especially, punters can't afford to fritter away the entire evening trying to catch their eye.
By hotel bar standards: excellent. Beamish Red and Kronenbourg 1664 on tap, plus an impressive spread of bottles. Brew snobs – no need to compromise!