DUBLIN — With its long bar, Tiffany glass fixtures, and thick, sturdy tables, L. Mulligan Grocer has all the trappings of an old Irish pub. Bartenders pull pints from brass taps at a fast clip for a thirsty crowd. The menu features classic pub fare: Scotch eggs and black pudding. But these emblems of tradition belie the gleefully eccentric soul of this Dublin tavern.
Take, for instance, the elaborate draft beer system. It might be best summed up by the fact that there’s a conspicuous absence: Guinness. L. Mulligan was, in fact, the first pub in the city to have a beer list without it. Instead, it features a roster of craft brews, including a few created by Colin Hession, one of the owners who visits international breweries and makes his own beers at these far-flung sites using the local traditions. It’s an enterprise called the Brown Paper Bag Project and he explains it as a “gypsy brewery.” Last fall, a crisp blonde wheat ale he made on a recent trip to Belgium was on tap.
L. Mulligan is located in Stoneybatter, one of Dublin’s most historic neighborhoods. An old coaching stop for traveling royalty, Stoneybatter was once a center of commerce known for cattle markets, thus earning the epithet “Cowtown.” L. Mulligan opened in 2010, but a pub has occupied its address for at least 150 years. That legacy is captured in the majestic, handsome, carved mahogany back bar fixture with whiskey and beer bottles lined up like sentinels. The space has a vaguely whimsical air about it, thanks to shelves filled with classic board games and jars of candy, and an antique armoire lined with modern culinary and drink books. Artsy types with Bettie Page-style makeup and tattoos rub elbows with a few older gentlemen outfitted in scholarly tweed.
Up a few stairs in the back, the space opens into a dining room adorned with vintage signs and antique knickknacks. Menus are fastened into old books with tattered bindings, many of them melodramatic Victorian pulp fiction. On first glance, the old-school fare appears just as dated, but a careful read reveals that each dish is a study in creative, modern cooking with hyper-local flourishes. The menu ends with a veritable who’s who of local farmers and purveyors who supply the kitchen. And in another rebuff to tradition, there’s a suggested beer pairing for every starter, main dish, and dessert.
Those Scotch eggs, typically fusty, sausage-wrapped ovals, are presented here as a vegetarian delicacy with free-range eggs, local cheese, and piquant house relish. Mulligan’s take on chicken Kiev, a retro pub staple, is a surprisingly delicate entree of free-range chicken prepared with whiskey butter and hazelnut crumb alongside seasonal sides like beetroot coleslaw and yellow corn “smoosh,” which is blarney for “puree.” You’ll also find black pudding croquette, and apple and red-onion boxty, a classic Irish potato pancake. And the fish and chips offers fried haddock with a delicately crunchy shell and a heap of chunky hand-cut, twice-cooked fries.
Like the rest of L. Mulligan, the food blends nostalgia, pride of place, and creativity. The owners do a marvelous job of maintaining another rich Irish tradition: storytelling. A quick chat with co-owner Saeneen Sullivan yields tales of foraging for wild nettles on the hills surrounding the American ambassador’s home in Dublin, the bread bought from the bakery down the street that uses a 20-year-old sourdough starter culture, the black pudding supplier who is known for singing orders back to clients over the phone to the tune of a traditional Irish folk song.
“A lot of people call us a ‘gastropub,’ but we don’t see ourselves like that,” says Sullivan. “We’re just carrying on the tradition of feeding people and watering them, a tradition that existed in this building long before we did. We’re just picking up the mantle. It’s a fine balance to strike. And a fun balance to strike.”
L. Mulligan Grocer,18 Stoneybatter, Dublin 7. 01-670-9889,