On weekends, the chatter in Stag’s Head is so overpowering that I can barely hear myself thinking “gosh it’s crowded!” while looking around – in vain – for an available seat. That’s why my joy was limitless as on one stormy night me and my friends got a brilliant idea to have one last nightcap (a bottle of red wine ) before calling it a night. We happened to be around Dame Street. And it was Monday. And the time was…well, I have no accurate notion of the time, but it was late, so I thought that this was my opportunity: to Stag’s Head!
And, indeed, it was the perfect time to step under that stuffed head into the pub, also known as the Stag’s Arse.
The pub was almost empty, the gloomy atmosphere suited well our Monday mood, and the little murmur produced by the very few people around us didn’t interrupt our exchange of ideas. And while the red wine was sinking in, the dark wooden panels and cosy red seats made me feel that I had stepped into a time machine.
The pub was built in 1770 and was first known as John Bull’s Albion Hotel and Tavern. The space was redone in its present state at the end of the 19th century when George Tysen, a local menswear merchant on Grafton Street, bought he premises. Tysen hired one of the period’s leading architects, J.M. McGloughlin, to supervise the renovation. You can still see Tysen’s name on a clock hanging above the two pillars which frame pub’s entrance.
When the pub was opened after its makeover in 1894, the mighty Dublin Victorians marched in in vast quantities. At that time, Stag’s Head also switched on the electric lights as the first pub to do so in Dublin. On Dame Street’s pavement, you can still see the original Victorian mosaic advertising the pub: take a turn to a very narrow alley between two tall buildings and you end up in front of the pub. Inside you can see elements of the original Victorian interior, such as a marble floor and granite tables.
Stag’s Head is the Victorian pub in Dublin but I must say it is very modest compared to its northern sister the Crown Liquor Saloon in Belfast. Whereas Liquor Saloon is decorated with richly engraved wood panel ceiling, colourful mosaic and ten lodges, Stag’s Head’s main attraction seems to be a stuffed head of a moose, staring at you with its dead, but yet judging eyes when you approach the bar for the one last drink.
It might be given that the difference in decoration may be caused by the more general drift between the North and the South in the 19th century Ireland: whereas Belfast was a prosperous industrial city, Dublin was left behind the industrial revolution, and its streets had become slums.
Not wishing to plunge deeper into the socio-economic factors between the decor of the two pubs I come to a conclusion that the Dublin pub might well have earned its endearing nick-name. Nevertheless, if you are into Victoriana, or just cosy old nooks to have a pint, Stag’s Head is well worth a visit.
Step in and find out for yourself!