Monday 11 December 2017

could it be magic

Merrion Hotel, Upper Merrion Street, dublin, 01-603-0600

Don't get us wrong: Barfly likes Christmas as much as the next borderline misanthrope. But surely even a hardcore Yule lover dies a little inside when the door to their local is flung open and in tumble a bunch of gauzy-eyed 12 Pubs of Christmas gauntlet runners. With their trying-too-hard jumpers -- surely we're all bored of 'ironic naff' by now -- and inability to speak in complete sentences (and they've only made it to pub five), they constitute the biggest seasonal irritant this side of repetitive advertising.

Alas, with 12 Pubs mania growing ever more each year, it is increasingly difficult to side-step the phenomenon. Good luck averting your gaze from those eye-bleed sweater patterns or novelty Santa hats and even if you aren't en route to a boozer you will likely stumble upon a troupe of 12 Pubsters (or they you) tarrying at a pedestrian crossing or bus-stop.

What to do? Well you could barricade your house and spend the next few weeks catching up on your box-sets. Or, you might pay a visit to one of the best-kept secrets in Dublin pub-land, the catacomb space beneath the Merrion Hotel. Cooly upmarket, understatedly classy -- but enough about you ... The Cellar Bar is pretty great too. Best of all, it is the least 'Christmas-y' place in Dublin this time of year -- if by 'Christmas-y' we are referring to tatty acrylics, silly headgear and an air of end-of-the-world booziness.

If, on the other hand, you think Christmas should mean minimalist Christmas trees, Perry Como roasting chestnuts and an opportunity to take time out from the bustle of everyday life, The Cellar Bar may be exactly what you seek. Unlike most hotel watering holes, the entrance is separate from the premises proper one, so there's no feeling a bit scruffy as you are scrutinised by the top-hatted chap at the door. Down and down you go, as if descending into Gollum's cave (sorry, we've been binging on trailers for the new Hobbit movie). Reaching the bottom, you will find yourself in a tastefully shadowy vault (excavated in the 1700s, it has housed the Merrion's wine collection and once served as the Duke of Wellington's scullery).

Exposed stone-work makes the bar feel evocatively ancient, while the staff, serious to a fault, seem to have wandered in from the set of Downton Abbey. Given the 'cosy' dimensions, a seat is not always guaranteed -- this time of year you will in all likelihood find yourself squeezed alongside a party of strangers (and let's be truthful, Christmas is no time for striking up random friendships).

In all honesty, if you're out for a night of conspicuous over-consumption, the Cellar Bar will probably strike you as excessively fuddy-duddy. Loud conversation echoes yammeringly off the tunnel ceilings and the clientele tends not to fall under the '24-hour party people' demographic. Rest assured, nobody spills out of here at 1am, desperate for a helping of garlic chips. What The Cellar Bar does guarantee is a hearty serving of peace and quiet.

At this time of year, that can feel more precious than ever.

Irish Independent

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