Ireland's pubs uncovered: Porterhouse
Our anonymous barfly trawls the country looking for the perfect pub, so you don't have to
Porterhouse, Strand road, Bray www.porterhousehotel-bray.com
How curious that the rise of the Porterhouse chain and Ireland's craft brew boom should seem to have occurred in parallel universes. Nearly 20 years have elapsed since the Porterhouse pioneered bespoke lagers and ales in Ireland and yet when aficionados applaud the explosion in 'real beer' outlets around the country, it is rarely mentioned. Somehow the brand has found a way of hiding in plain view. Presumably that was never the intention.
Perhaps the situation owes a little to the tourist-y accent of the original Porterhouse, at Dublin's Parliament Street, a place where reaching the bar may involve negotiating a gauntlet of confused Americans weighed down with Guinness Storehouse merchandise and Continentals standing right in front of you because... where else are they going to stand?
Happily, in its further flung outposts the sense that you have visited the pub version of a touristy gift shop is much diminished. Located along Bray's freshly restored seaside promenade, a very agreeable mash-up of Victorian elegance and fair-ground charm, the Wicklow branch is a deeply appealing prospect, especially in a county where boozers often toil beneath the dead hand of suburban blandness (there's a certain kind of dreary Dublin pub that extends all the way from Rathmines to Maynooth via Drogheda and Wicklow town).
A whopper of a place – a former hotel, there are 12 guest-rooms upstairs – Porterhouse Bray is dimly lit, with a labyrinthine lay-out and with a spread of beer brands that probably surpasses the number of sunny days we'll get this summer (sorry, it's true). Plus, there's a vast outdoor area so that, when the weather does decide to be nice (it happens once or twice a year), you can simmer in the sunshine and enjoy the view of Bray Head, an angry carbuncle of rock and gorse rising like something from a cut-price Lord of the Rings.
To be clear, Porterhouse Bray is not, of itself, reason to visit Bray. However in summertime, there are plenty of other attractions to make the trek worthwhile – on a balmy day, Bray can resemble a calmer Dun Laoghaire, it has a reasonably well provisioned aquarium or maybe you are attending a soccer match at the nearly Carlisle Grounds. Plus, who doesn't like the seaside? In all those cases, should liquid sustenance be required, we have little hesitation recommending Porterhouse Bray as your first, last and always stop-off.
A neat replicate of the Porterhouses you may have visited in the capital.
Spacious, clean – what's not to like!
No condescending jaw-jawing! Always a plus.
Lots of exclusive brews on tap – plus dozens of bottled world beers.
First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday's Irish Independent