Extracted from ‘The Irish Pub’ (Thames & Hudson, 2008)
Although they undoubtedly mourned his passing with genuine grief, Patrick O’Brien’s staff had good reason to celebrate his death in 1966. In his will, the octogenarian publican had left the entirety of his celebrated Victorian bar to his six staff. However, a division soon emerged between the former bar staff with half wanting to sell and the other half wanting to keep the premises running. The premises duly went under the hammer and were purchased for £80,000 by Gerald Vincent Houlihan. Some time later, Mr. Houlihan bought much of the original contents at a further auction held on the premises.
Built by Lockwood and Mawson in 1877, The Long Hall occupies the ground level of a four storey listed building on Dublin’s South Great George’s Street. The memorable red doors and red and white canopies have made the pub a landmark for many Dubliners. The pub looks across the street to 18th century Georgian red-bricks with the magnificent fairy tale turrets and spires of the Georges Street Arcade just to the north.
The Long Hall is the sort of place Brunel would have created if he’d taken to pub design. The room is vast and spacious, reminiscent of a mid-Victorian train station, its rich red-hued carpet split into two distinctive halves by an elaborate arched partition. The pub takes its name from a long hallway that apparently ran the length of the left hand side of the building. Up until 1951, the bar was men only but women sitting in this hallway were served through hatches. One of the regulars in this era was notorious Dublin bad boy Brendan Behan whose father worked across the road in Dockrells.
Entering the bar, a line of aubergine-topped stools wait by the long, timber topped counter running along the right side. This was the counter at which Dublin rock legend Phil Lynott sank his stouts during the filming of the video to Thin Lizzy’s ‘Old Town’. The back of the bar comprises a warren of deftly shaped baroque mirrors, rebounding light back into the room. The mirror is fronted by shelves, glittering with pewter mugs, brandy glasses, bronze dishes and shapely bottles. At the dead centre of the bar stands a mantel clock called ‘Old Regulator’, designed by the Frengley Brothers of Dublin, which confidently declares ‘Correct Time’. On the wall, a short poem by Frank Holt called ‘In Praise of Guinness’ reads:
‘In Dublin there’s a beauty that has no match,
It is brewed in St. James’s, then thrown down the hatch’.
A rich ceiling of deep red embossed oak is further enhanced by elaborate cornicing, some 18 inches in depth. All lamps are Victorian in style but of different shapes and sizes – globe lanterns, gleaming brass lamps and miscellany of chandeliers over the bar, each one set into its own individual rose of fruits and flora creating an entirely different effect different each time. Willie Davitt was one of the six staff who inherited the pub in 1966. He remained behind this bar until 2000, retiring after 43 years service.
Half way down the premises, a stunning Art Deco arched doorway signifies the end of the bar and the entrance to the main drinking lounge, originally oval shaped and built on to the original pub in about 1915. The piece features an antique clock, designed by Wekler and Schlegel, with the initials of Patrick O’Brien and Gerald Vincent Houlihan below it. Mirrors either side of the clock bear the same initials. Beyond the partition, the lounge is a dark and comfortable room, dimly lit by lanterns and the merry wisps of daylight that seep through a stained glass window overhead. Chairs gather along either wall, like boys and girls waiting for the music to begin so they might dance with one another.
Along the deep red wall to the left, hang a series of framed prints, ‘The Criers of Dublin’, painted by Hugh Douglas Hamilton in the style of Francis Wheatley. Each print focuses on a uniquely Irish object: a “Noddy or Chaise for two Persons”, a “Tumbler or Little Cart”, a convoy of donkeys hauling “Hand Turff”, a “Hearse or Sedan used at Cork for people of Middling Station” and such like.
Spanning the wall above the ‘Criers’ is a pair of large prints depicting scenes from 19th century Poland, bordered by antique single-barrelled muskets.
Above the panelling on the right hand wall, portraits of double-chinned Georgian women, the beauties of their age, are juxtaposed with elaborate mirrors, brass crockery, a Jamaican rum barrel, an old letterbox and classical prints of orientals and deities. A charming grandfather clock patiently ticks to the right.
The Long Hall came in at No. 2 on a list of the most popular pubs in Dublin city published by Tripadvisor in February 2022. The Confession Box, near the Pro-Cathedral, on Marlborough Street was No. 1.