Whoa – a bar on a boat? For the average, unsophisticated pub-goer – by which we mean Barfly – truly this is a case of 'not in Kansas anymore'.
As Barfly stepped aboard the MV Cill Airne, curiously but a bit warily too (in our student days we'd watched Das Boot several times too many and the flashbacks were starting), the thought occurred that what awaited us was as close to knickers-in-the-wind zany as you find in Irish hospitality. Not to generalise but, as a nation, we aren't really ones for themed boozing or wacky embellishments – give us four taps, a decent range of snacks (historically our definition of 'five-star' service was a choice of Tayto or King crisps) and the vague possibility of a seat and we're your customers for life. You can even jack up your prices in the middle of a recession and we'll continue to dutifully darken your doorway!
In that context the Cill Airne represents a voyage into the unknown, no matter the one-time student training vessel never actually leaves its moorings at Dublin's Docklands. You enter via – yikes – a gangplank, trotting up a clanging set of metallic stairs to the first 'floor' White Bar (with adjoining bistro for the peckish). You haven't ordered a drink yet and already it feels as if you are on a high seas adventure (consider our timbers officially 'shivered').
In less cautious hands you can imagine the 'bar on a boat' concept having toe-curling potential – if this was America the staff would inevitably dress as pirates, the walls festooned with Jolly Rogers and stuffed parrots.
Happily the Cill Airne is a tat-free zone – if it wasn't for the occasional tilting and the views of the grey, sullen Liffey literally lapping up and down outside, there would be little to distinguish the White Bar from any of the hostelries in this part of town, where financial services' workers from the IFSC loudly intermingle with tourists and O2-bound concert-goers squeezing in one sneaky last pint.
Thus the atmosphere is low-key but not stiflingly so. On an uncharacteristically calm evening Barfly schlepped across the threshold all alone (thanks, your pity is appreciated) and pulled up a stool near a window. It would be a terrible exaggeration to describe the view as spectacular – I think we're all over the Samuel Beckett Bridge by now – but it's always interesting to observe a familiar place from an unusual angle (regardless of vantage point the Convention Centre, of course, remains a plexi-glass snooze).
There we sat, enjoying the sensation of the room creaking imperceptibly back and forth (or was it simply our over-ripe imagination?) while drinking in the entry-level buzz of a busy midweek night. Would we trek all the way from the city centre for a pint here? Of course not. But the downstairs restaurant is well regarded and the bar is the perfect berth for a pre-dinner sup.
Also, it's amazing how often random errands seem to bring you to this part of town nowadays. As a stop off for a quick pint, Cill Airne is just fine, and there's no novelty about that.
The bar at the Cill Airne exudes a clubby, old-school ambience. Maybe that's a reflection of all the suits who call in for a post-work drink or perhaps it speaks to the Irish pub-goer's instinctive assumption that varnished wood and the absence of a TV blaring Sky Sports are signs of immense poshness. Either way, we were mildly smitten.
Frankly, the prospect of an extended trip to the loo – on a BOAT! – filled Barfly with existential dread. Actually you'd hardly know you were bobbing up and down on the Liffey.
Loads of lounge staff, only too happy to enquire if you'd like another drink or something to eat (the fries, incidentally, are enormous to the point where it's mildly terrifying).
Not the smartest selection in the world. You can enjoy a Budvar but mostly it's the same old same old. What? You expected interesting views AND a dazzling selection of brews? Come on!