By the time my 21st birthday rolled around, I had been living in Ireland for 7 months. In those 7 months I had never crossed the threshold of the Shelbourne Hotel. My parents flew over from the States to celebrate with me, to meet my new friends from Trinity, and get a sense of my life in Dublin. They stayed at The Shelbourne and suggested hosting a little drinks party with my friends in the famed Horseshoe Bar.
My father and I stopped in an evening earlier to ask if we could reserve a few booths in the back corner. The bar tender told us that this would not be possible, as it is such a popular bar and the hour we requested (5.30pm), was a busy one. I watched in amazement as my father pulled out one crisp $100 bill, and handed it to the bar tender and said politely, “well, just see what you can do.” I had never seen anything like that without a box of popcorn in a movie theatre. All I could do was follow my father out of the bar in stunned silence. The next evening there were two booths reserved in the back.
That night is still legendary among my friends group. For one thing, we 20 and 21 year olds had never spent a huge amount of time in fancy bars. For another, having parents pay for drinks (or someone else’s parents) when you are that age is better than Christmas. My parents and I had to leave the party to get to a play, but the party went on at the Horseshoe for hours.
Since that long ago evening of merriment I have not been back to the Horseshoe. The Shelbourne was bought by a global hotel company, was renovated inside, cleaned up outside, and is now, as ever, a posh place to have a drink of any kind. When friends suggested we go for a drink before another friend’s wedding on Friday, the Horseshoe was named as the spot.
The hotel lobby is a bit flashier than it was twelve years ago, and it was bustling on Friday afternoon. But The Horseshoe is exactly the same as I remember. Dark, red, wood, brass, and bow-tied bar tenders to mix the drinks. The two bar tenders who were there on Friday were far too young to have been the lucky recipient of my father’s bribery.
I was handed a menu that was about 10-12 pages long. Most of the pages were filled with cocktail options. Apparently the Shelbourne participates in “cocktail challenges” and a few of their in house concoctions have won international acclaim. In our little group we managed to try three of those five “famous” cocktails. They were all delicious, but I think the Number 27, the most successful of all, wins. Sometimes all those people can’t be wrong.
The wine list includes hilarious descriptions of the wines on offer. Can a wine be voluptuous? Head to the Shelbourne to find out.
Yes, the Horseshoe is a bit over-the-top. Expect to throw away 15-20 euro. Not many local Dubliner’s spend time in there. But it has an old-Dublin charm and is absolutely the place to go to celebrate with the ones you love. Oh, and there are free nuts.