Hidden away above the Palace Bar on Dublin's Fleet Street, right in the centre of town, is the recently launched Whiskey Palace. I feel seriously conflicted mentioning it because I'd like to keep it all for myself, reserving a seat there on an otherwise hopping Friday night in the adjacent Temple Bar area.
The Palace Bar has long been one of the best spots for a tipple. Owner Willie Aherne has put together a list of over 120 Irish whiskeys, including some that have never retailed in Ireland (that reminds me, I still have to try the Concannon and 2 Gingers). And, of course, the bar has its own exclusive Palace Bar Fourth Estate whiskey. Now Willie has dedicated the upstairs lounge to whiskey and classic vinyl.
A fifty-year old Dansette radiogram spins timeless LPs from John Lee Hooker, Nina Simone, Rory Gallagher, Jimi Hendrix and other greats. The smooth grooves bounce off walls lined with bottle-filled cabinets. When the eye becomes accustomed to the dim light thrown off by period lighting, the shadows reveal old books, typewriters, bentwood chairs, a long case clock, the black-and-white photos of long gone patrons. Up by the ceiling, pure decadence: a custom made neon "Whiskey Palace" sign.
There is curatorial and creative flair at work here. Willie's collaborator in creating the space is Richard Levins who seems to have mastered every artistic discipline. He is a signwriter, a painter, a glass etcher, a cabinetmaker... you name it. The whole Palace Bar is worthy of attention as a work of art, from the painted woodgrain on the outside (an effect rarely seen today) to the carefully distressed fittings of the upstairs room. It's proper old school. Could the age-old craft of Irish distilling wish for a more fitting backdrop?
There will be a whiskey menu eventually but if you are looking for a place to start, how about the Palace Bar's own Fourth Estate bottling (€8.20 per measure) or the rum-finished Teeling blend (€5.90).
You don't have to drink whiskey to enjoy the vibe: there are Irish craft beers and ciders behind the bar (I spotted the exceptional Stonewell Cider in the fridge) and the usual suspects on tap, like Harp, Carlsberg and Guinness. But I'm betting you won't be able to resist a short one or two once you're kicking back to James Brown and pals.