Ireland's pubs uncovered: Knight's Bar, Castlemartyr
Our anonymous barfly trawls the country looking for the perfect pub, so you don't have to.
This week: Knight's Bar, Castlemartyr Resort, Castlemartyr, Co Cork. www.castlemartyrresort.ie
In a previous life, the Knight's Bar was a church – and prior to that, the dining room of a grand country manor. In its present day incarnation, it looks once more to the past, with jazz tooting over the speakers and gilded decor harking unabashedly back to a Gatsby-ish yesteryear.
The jewel in the five-star Castlemartyr Resort, tucked away in deepest East Cork, the Knight's Bar champions old school bling. The paintings look worthy of an art heist, and the furniture – vintage and luxurious – could have come straight from the set of James Cameron's Titanic.
Splayed across one of the vast divans, you are seized by the urge to order a Prohibition-era cocktail and spout delicious witticisms (a shame your stock of twinkling wit doesn't go much further than knock-knock jokes).
The hotel was once the southern headquarters of the Carmelite Order of priests. Back in the day, however, it was the bucolic repose of Richard Boyle, First Earl of Cork. He had the sprawling mansion built in the 18th century, on the site of a crumbling 800-year-old keep constructed by the Knights Templar – the military order known for intense secrecy and arcane rituals.
A walk of the grounds reveals fragments of the original castle (from which Castlemartyr takes its name), though rather than the site of cabalistic activity, the ruins nowadays serve as a home for crows.
A similar sense of mystery hangs over the Knight's Bar. Outfitted with a vaulted ceiling and atmospherically lit, what a fantastic period drama backdrop it would make. Not that it is quite the retro waxwork it initially seems. One modern trend, at least, has reached Castlemartyr – the craft brew revolution. In a corner of the county where the biggest dilemma drinkers face is whether to order Beamish or Murphys, the Knight's Bar serves up a smorgasbord of lagers and ales from the Eight Degrees Brewing company. Of course, should that prove a shade too hoity-toity, there's plenty of the usual Heineken/ Budweiser etc too.
One small warning: if you have an issue with vaguely dotty American tourists bending your ear, the Knight's Bar might have a downside. The hotel is popular with US visitors, and it is possible you will find yourself conversing with a sightseer counting down to their visit the next day to "Yug-all" or "Cobb" (Youghal and Cobh, as if you needed telling).
They're perfectly sweet but, goodness, you need to be in the mood. Otherwise the Knight's Bar is a sword-swinging triumph.
Imagine Baz Luhrmann's Great Gatsby without the trying-too-hard camera work.
You'll need to return to the hotel proper, but it's worth it, with the loos being larger than some student apartments.
It's a five-star hotel so as top-notch as you'd expect.
Eight Degrees Brewing craft beer and an extensive cocktail list.
First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday's Irish Independent