It might have been easy for the new owners of Lincoln’s Inn off Nassau Street to overplay the James Joyce connection.
It is, after all, where Joyce met his wife and muse, Nora Barnacle, who worked as a chamber maid in the hotel. Between the two rooms that make up the inn is a door with an inscription: “This was the original front door of Finn’s Hotel – Nora Barnacle worked here in June 1904.”
But Ian Lacey and Shane McCloughlin – who reopened the revamped pub a week last Friday – seem to have acknowledged its literary legacy without descending into garish excess.
“We were determined to restore the Victorian appearance and highlight the original features,” said McCloughlin, as he showed off the refurbished pub and tended bar last Saturday afternoon.
There are no life-size statues of Joyce and Barnacle. No piles of memorabilia. Just black-and-white photos, the inscription on the door, and the trio of beers: Joyce Stout, Bloomsday Lager, and Norah Barnacle’s Red Ale by the Rye River Brewing Company in Kildare.
You can only get those Joyce-themed beers here. “We wanted to be certain to have a genuine, locally produced craft product in the taps,” said Lacey.
They decided to go with Rye River Brewing Company based in Celbridge, Co. Kildare, because of their reputation for quality, said Lacey. (The company also produce McGargles beers.)
Once the bar of Finn’s Hotel, after a name change to the Lincoln’s Inn it remained a small old-man’s pub for 76 years until 2002, when it was purchased by the Thomas Read Group.
They extended it to the current size, taking over part of another old building, which used to house the Turkish baths until 1900. The group made it a café-bar, but it didn’t work out. In 2009, they went into receivership, and the Lincoln’s Inn was passed between a number of managers.
Lacey says the pub was neglected. By the time he and McCloughlin took it over, it was “a shadow of its former self”, he said.
The pair decided to restore its glory by emphasising not only the James Joyce connection, but all the features of the building that tell the story of that era.
Dark green paint draws attention to the original coving and features. There’s lighting around the large antique mirrors, comfortable high seating and a brand-new bar.
They have kept the antique chandeliers inside and put in other old-fashioned light fixtures. The pub has huge windows at the front so it gets a lot of natural light.
On Saturday, a week after it reopened, Aoife O’Sullivan was headed into the bar. “It’s a massive improvement. I mean it’s a lot of the same stuff as before but it seems like new. They’ve done a great job,” she said.
This isn’t the first time that Lacey and McCloughlin have tried to turn a pub around.
Together, they own the Shamrock in Finglas and Lacey also owns Becky Morgan’s on Grand Canal Street Lower. “When I took it over it wasn’t in a great way. People thought I was mad putting in all the money I did, but I saw it turn around,” said Lacey, of Becky Morgan’s.
To change the fortunes of a pub takes time and money, he says. As he sees it, the owner should spend a lot of time in the place, leading by example. Lacey says the idea for Lincoln’s Inn is simply good food and drink, and excellent service. Prices are reasonable, too.
The Joyce-themed beers are €5, among the cheapest pints of craft beer in the city. In the coming weeks, they plan to launch their food menu, with traditional home-cooked hearty meals such as Irish stew, and bacon and cabbage. They may do an Irish breakfast as well.
Behind the bar are several casks of their own Lincoln’s Inn wine: three reds and three whites, and a frizzante on tap.
The organisers of the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl have said they will include the bar in their tour, and, given the location – opposite the National Art Gallery and close to the Oscar Wilde house – coupled with the theme, it should be a stop-off point for tourists.
“Of course we hope tourists will come, but we also want to appeal to local office workers, and while we are not going to be a student bar, we would hope to attract students and workers from Trinity as well,” said Lacey.