Not much of a secret these days. In fact it's one of Dublin's top rated cocktail bars. However, the Blind Pig did begin as a pop up speakeasy style bar. I can't remember how I discovered it; it was years ago in any case. Back then, you called a mobile number and they directed you to meet at the ATM opposite Louis Vuitton's window in Brown Thomas. You were escorted in via an alley, down through the bowels of a bar, past empty crates and through dingy hallways until you arrived at a subterranean cavern with a cute little bar in the corner and a serious bartender manning it. I never managed to make any of the Blind Pig speakeasy nights but they were popular with the vintage crowd who donned fedoras and suspenders for an authentic twenties vibe.
My sister, two friends and I booked in one Sunday afternoon for a cocktail making class. This was the start of our years long relationship with the Blind Pig and its sibling bar Upstairs which it transpired was a genuine speakeasy and was shut down by the actual pigs (RIP Upstairs... you're sorely missed). More on this disaster later.
In any event, we had a ball at the cocktail making class and fancied ourselves experts upon leaving. We learnt about the origins of a classic Daquiri and about the best rums, vodkas, gins... you name it. Paul Lambert is an expert when it comes to libations.
The Blind Pig has found a permanent home in recent years. It's tucked away under Pacino's restaurant on Suffolk Street, opposite the Avoca shop. As you head down the stairs, a bookcase slides open and the cavern appears, usually thronged and with some live jazz playing in the corner. Booking is essential and if I'm honest, if there are two of you, you should try to aim for a seat at the bar to see the magic happen.
House rules are above but when it comes to their drinks, rules go out the window. A favourite party piece is that the bartender will ask you what flavours you like and what alcohol you prefer (vodka, whiskey, rum etc.). A bespoke surprise cocktail appears moments later. Of course there is a menu if you're feeling uninspired. My favourite Blind Pig recipe is the Corn'n'Oil. Not always on the menu but always at the tip of Paul's finger and always delicious.
As you may know I drink vodka martinis. Before dinner I favour a lemon twist and afterwards I prefer olives. I would NEVER order a dirty martini (where the martini is flavoured with the brine from the olive jar) which is an abberation in my view. On a recent visit with a friend, the rules were assiduously applied to me when I ordered my usual. They refused me and gave me a lemon twist instead on the basis that they can't condone a dirty martini! One olive does not a dirty martini make...I'll forgive them because my friend and I were greeted with complimentary Champagne to welcome us back; we used to be regulars before I had a baby and she moved away to live in paradise.
We stayed out far too late on the night in question and we ended up propping up the bar trying new drinks, doing shots and having more Champagne while the guys cleaned up around us and tried to shoo us out. One new drink (to me anyway) was a South American inspired cocktail served in a copper cup with plenty of crushed ice. I could not drink this. I was finally beaten. My adventurous friend* could though. Hazy memories suggest that the drink was based on a tequila-like liquor called aguardiente. I'm shuddering at the memory. It took two shots, a glass of Champagne and a deeply regretted McDonalds to wash that taste out of my mouth!
The Blind Pig is fun but it's built on serious cocktail expertise and it's ideal for any connoisseurs. If you can snag a table for a couple of hours then you really should.
Tell them Grace sent you and that she'll be back for a Grey Goose vodka martini as soon as anyone volunteers to babysit!
And now to the sorry tale of Upstairs in Ranelagh.
Upstairs was a tiny oasis of tobacco smoked whiskey cocktails, cherry old-fashioneds, specialist cigars smoked on the terrace and many happy hazy memories. A scratchy sounding version of Minnie the Moocher played in the background and you left your worries at the door.
Paul split his time between here and the Blind Pig but this was my favourite bar and quickly became our local for Saturday night blow-outs and Thursday night pick me ups as well as special occasions and New Year's Eve. When Paul wasn't there his trusty number 2 Alan was holding down the fort and winning cocktail awards for his unique creations. Alan has since moved on to run the stylish new cocktail bar at the revamped Conrad Hotel.
It was hidden upstairs above Kinara Indian restaurant but you accessed through an unmarked door where you rang a buzzer to be let in. To cut a long story short, I believe that there was some confusion about the type of licence required to run the bar and, to the embarrassment of the owners (and the local Garda station!) it transpired that the speakeasy style bar was a genuine speakeasy operating outside of the law! So that was that.
So long Upstairs. It was great while it lasted.
*Truly the most adventurous person I know. The bartender that evening (after master mixologist Paul Lambert went home) was a Romanian guy who definitely knew his drinks (and refused me my olive martini!). He insisted we try this unusual drink in a cold copper cup and promised that we would never have tasted anything like this before. My friend took a sip and says "Oh Yes, I drank these in Nicaragua and perhaps Cuba." MIND BLOWN. And amusing to watch!