It may be early on a Wednesday afternoon in December but there’s already a decent crowd in Grogan’s pub, chatting over coffee or pints. Tommy Smith, co-owner of the pub for over forty years, greets many of the regular faces as they come in, enquiring how they’re doing since he saw them last. Less familiar faces are treated the same way, with Tommy and the staff serving drinks with a smile and some friendly chat. Grogan’s is one of Dublin’s most famous pubs and has attracted people from all walks of life – from artists and writers to tourists and the ordinary working folk and they proudly claim to serve the best pint of stout in the city.
Tommy has always been happy to promote Grogan’s as a place where anyone can come and enjoy a drink, regardless of who they are or where they’re from. “I’ve always said that this was an egalitarian place,” he says. “No one gives a damn about what you’ve done or what you didn’t do.” For Tommy, it’s important that all his customers feel comfortable and that’s the big attraction of a pub like Grogan’s.
“I like to think people are comfortable here,” says Tommy. “This pub is more a person’s sitting room than a bar.” Grogan’s does have an incredible, cosy feel and as soon as you walk in, you feel you could happily while away the day here, soaking up the atmosphere of this bustling city centre pub. It is one of the few pubs left in the city that doesn’t have television, background music or live entertainment, encouraging patrons to talk to each other and enjoy each other’s company instead.
Although there isn’t scheduled live music, Tommy is quick to point out that this isn’t a draconian policy and a sing-song or two has been known to break out on occasion. “There’s always exceptions to every rule,” he says. “And that makes the pub all the more interesting I think.”
Famously, in August 2015, Oscar winning singer Glen Hansard, together with actor Amy Schumer and director Judd Apatow sang a rousing version of “The Auld Triangle” for a newly married couple who had come to the pub for some post wedding drinks – a performance that made headlines all over the world. “Somebody’s wedding and an Oscar winning performer? Why not?” Tommy chuckles, recalling the day fondly.
Grogan’s have always been keen to promote the arts and they have a permanent art exhibition on the walls, which changes periodically to give any artist who would like to exhibit a piece a chance to display their work. “Anyone can get a space when they can get in and get hung on the wall,” says Tommy. In keeping with the pub’s ethos, there are no barriers to having your work displayed in Grogan’s and they don’t take any commission on any works that are sold. “I’m happy to see an artist get €50 or €5,000 and they’ve got both here,” he says.
What an artist displays is entirely down to the artists themselves. “I always say to people, select what you’re happy with or comfortable with,” Tommy says. “I actually trust an artist, whether they trust themselves or not, to put up on the wall what would be considered their best piece or their best achievement in their art.”
It’s a policy that allows for fairness and ensures that artists of all standing and standard have a place where they can display their work, with some amazing artworks hanging on the walls all year round.
It’s another aspect that adds to the unique charm of Grogan’s, a place where you’ll receive the warmest of greetings whether you’re a regular or visiting for the first time. It’s a timeless, traditional place and Tommy is proud of the fact that the pub has stayed true to this philosophy. “It’s a place that hasn’t changed with the times,” he says. “I think at one stage there was quite a few pubs maybe similar to ours but nowadays they’ve all become cafe bars and that type of thing.” While these new type of bars can be attractive, there’s still a lot to be said for an old fashioned Dublin pub that puts quality drink and service to the fore. When asked about his feelings about an establishment he has been a part of for so long, Tommy replies: “I find for me, it’s home.” There are many others who have felt the same way after a trip to this grand old Dublin pub.