quirky and eclectic
35 Lower Liffey Street, 01 874 0076
It may take a while to get your head around the Grand Social. For starters, what's with the cavernous space out back? There's lots of room but comparatively little seating. It's dubbed the 'Ballroom' which suggests dancing, yet we've never seen anyone gyrating or jiggling here (this is a good thing). Also, whose idea was it to put a 'pew' along the rear-side wall, raised so that you can gaze over the shoulders of those patrons lucky enough to have secured a proper perch? Oh, and why so many people -- clearly not customers -- passing through, as if dashing between appointments. Is there something going on we should know about? We have no idea.
A curious place, on any given day there's no telling what odd sights may await. Barfly recalls popping around one night to discover the music policy switched up to deafening EDM, the average age of the patrons having plunged by at least half a decade. On another, more recent trek, we found it hard to secure a convenient table because the majority of the front area was taken over by budding comic book artists, stoically scribbling on sheets of paper (they were, by every appearance, performing some manner of stopwatch challenge).
The Grand Social is that sort of pub -- hovering in a Twilight Zone between fashionable dive bar (and it unquestionably has aspirations in that direction) and ... .actually we're not sure what. It certainly does seem to attract the most diverse clientele. On any given evening you might find a gap-toothed older person bending the ear of a stranger who really, really wishes they were somewhere else. Or 25 tourists will wander in and proceed to spend 40 minutes ordering Guinness by the half glass (to be torturously sipped over the next three hours). Barfly is still shaking from the occasion we blundered into a feminist poetry reading (complete with over-head slides), under the impression we'd be able to catch the final 20 minutes of the afternoon's big soccer match.
Upstairs -- or, to be technical, out the corridor, around the corner, and THEN up the stairs -- is a wonderful live venue, which, with its hippy carnival trappings, appears to have been transported to inner Dublin straight from the tai-chai arena at Electric Picnic.
Cunningly designed so that it feels reasonably full even when half empty, the venue books touring international acts and also does a decent line in quirky cover bands (someone recently had the bonkers idea of reprising all three of Bowie's Berlin records up here).
We like Grand Social, surreal touches and all, though not without reservation. The staff can wax 'too cool for school' from time to time and obey Barfly's first law of barkeeping, which states that the hipper the facial hair the snootier the service. More positively the wifi is decent and, if you are seeking a bargain, they do that whole 'pitcher of beer for a tenner thing'.
What's not to like?