Bar Fly: P.Macs
28 Lower Stephen Street, Dublin
Unless you've far too much time to think about these things, you probably didn't notice when Bia Bar closed. In fact Bia Bar probably didn't notice when Bia Bar closed, so low profile was this dimly-lit foodie pub off St Stephen's Green.
One of those Twilight Zone watering holes neither you nor anyone in your social circle ever had cause to venture near, it was hard to approach its demise with anything other than a mystified shrug – how do you miss a place you never really knew existed in the first instance? Now, suddenly, it has been replaced by P.Macs, from the folk behind Westmoreland Street bohemian den Cassidy's (which seems to have received its liquor licence on the understanding there will be at least one dreadlocked dude on the premises at all times).
Any fears that P.Macs might shuffle quietly into the night in the same way as its predecessor are quashed as Barfly turns the corner on to Stephen's Street and is confronted by something between a queue and a scrum. One of the yammering dudes in a black T-shirt turns out to be a stealthy doorman – 'aright there, bud,' he says, looming a little too closely and peering deep into Barfly's eyes, as if expecting our irises to be shaped like mini pint glasses.
Satisfied we aren't going to stagger past and randomly lamp someone, the security stands aside. Through the door awaits a shaggy assemblage of all our favorite dive bar cliches: the clientele is young and scruffily fashionable (can you go the 'full hipster' in your early 20s?), the decor has a familiar vintage store whiff with upside-down lampshades and dark trestle tables.
Entirely acceptable tunes – Interpol, PJ Harvey – gives P.Mac's the feel of a student disco minus the dance floor, though it's disappointing that the owners have fallen for the tone-deaf Star Wars fetishisation often embraced by those who understand little of Star Wars or why it rocks (hint: it has nothing to do with novelty Storm Trooper T-shirts). So, there's a replica R2D2 by the bar and a mural of a Luke Skywalker astride a Bantha (not quite as crazily subversive as the artist probably imagined). More positively, P.Mac's gives good snug, with partitioned areas at the back and an evocative, high-beamed roof.
Reasonably diverting late at night, for Barfly's money it's earlier in the evening that P.Mac's truly comes into its own, with candles on the tables, chill-out music and, oh look, bookshelves lined with sundry volumes.
Plus, there are such increasingly standard dive bar flourishes as board games – or at least a non gamer's idea of board games – and a vintage coin-op machine at the rear. For reasons that are truly baffling, P.Mac's also has an obsession with retro junk food, staff distributing complimentary helpings of Wheelies and other old school corn-based snacks – a mix of ironic humor and free eats.
To be honest, upon hearing Cassidy's had taken over, Barfly was in two minds. We'd visited Westmoreland Street on several occasions and were still making our minds up. You can admire the changes the new owners have wrought upon what was previously a thoroughly unremarkable premises while feeling ambivalent about the slightly blaring and gauche finished product.
However, P.Mac's goes beyond being simply a sibling bar – it feels like an older relative of Cassidy's, more grounded, less giddy and with plenty to appeal to a (relatively) mainstream clientele.
It is early days but already one thing is for sure – were P.Mac's to shutter in a heartbeat, you can bet people would notice.