The Sweeney Mongrel 32 Dame street, dublin
What the name means we have no idea – nor did the barman when we asked – but The Sweeney Mongrel (sometimes styled Sweeney's) has carved for itself a very distinct niche, a niche you may not have otherwise thought existed.
It's popular with Continental ex-pats and the sort of person who goes out in the evening with their shoulder tattoo showing (actually you might feel a little out of place if you DON'T have a shoulder tattoo showing).
The 'not in Kansas' vibe is ratcheted further by the retro decor, dim lighting and a highly individualistic music policy: Sweeney's is one of those boozers where it's equally easy to imagine Tom Waits propping up the bar and someone producing a set of pan-pipes and tooting to their hearts content (without anybody staring or even really noticing).
All of which may suggest a pub trying to work out its identity. Actually, this is not at all the case. Sweeney's has a perfectly clear vision of where it fits in – it's just that the rest of us may have a job working out where, exactly, that is. Split over three levels and connected to an upmarket boutique hotel, the premises are long and narrow, with a tumble of stairs rising from the entrance and a highly individualistic smoking area that incorporates a battered school desk and which spills out onto Dame Lane.
A diverse range of live bands – blues, jazz, gypsy folk are staples – attracts a devoted clientele. Indeed, maybe it's the (relatively modest) ground floor dimensions but any time Barfly has visited Sweeney's has been heartily packed, with native English speakers often in an apparent minority.
Surrounded by so many nationalities the atmosphere was exotic and a little sweltering – it was as if you'd vanished down a rabbit hole to somewhere a good deal less dreary than Dublin in November. Also, the cosmopolitan crowd meant that you were less likely to stumble upon that staple of Friday night in Ireland, the guy trying to carry four pints back to his table (while clutching a pack of Tayto with his teeth) but who, oh dear, has just slopped a quart of ale down the front of your pants (he'd pull up to apologise only he has beer to deliver).
For jazz fans, checking out the basement venue is more than a box-ticking exercise. It rates as a must-visit. Here, a rotating cast of promoters put on regular sit-down concerts (it is one of the few spots in the capital where you can watch quality jazz on a regular basis).
Upstairs, meanwhile, leads to a second bar and gigging area, where more conventional rock holds sway. However, regulars will tell you that the best fun is to be experienced in the (aforementioned) smoking zone, where you will inevitably end up mingling with patrons of the several other bars looking onto Dame Lane.
It's a unique experience in the context of going out in Dublin and may explain why its fans love The Sweeney Mongrel wholeheartedly.