Tuesday, 4 October 2011

A pint of tea?

Tea anyone?

One of the things I both love and hate about Ireland is our inescapable love affair with the public house.  There's something so innately Irish about meeting in a cosy little snug, settling in to a couple of pints and talking about....what?...who knows? The beauty is it doesn't really matter. The beauty is in the act itself. Where the conversation takes you is an unknown and that's what makes it so special because it gets you away from the regular chat of daily life and allows you to dream. You might talk about X-factor, you might talk about what you would do if you were President, or you might plan out in minute detail what you will do when you pack in that job you hate so much and move to a hermit's cave in Clare to keep bees. The point is the world is your oyster for as long as you're in that snug with that pint in front of you and your imagination turned up to 11. So in my head Dublin pints lead to dreams. 

After nine years of living in London, where finding a pub that is capable of inspiring this kind of engagement is next to impossible, I, understandably I think, have perhaps over romanticised the notion of the mid-week pint. 

However, I find it an undeniable truth that I do some of my best communicating over a pint down the local. I find it particularly true when the pint in question is had with a family member, partner or close friend. Someone you see and speak to regularly but with whom you can sometimes go for days without actually saying anything at all. Sure you ask them about their day during the ads of Eastenders, or you meet for a flying lunch in town and read off your schedules to each other before you both dash off again, back to wherever it is you're skiving off from to have the lunch in the first place. But there's something about the slowness of a mid-week pint in an old man pub that no matter how the year's go by will never really change, which means you have both the time and inclination to really talk.

Worried that this equation between pubs and good communication might be signalling some sort of alcohol dependence problem I did a quick survey of my friends and was met with a reassuring consensus of agreement. They too found that getting out of the house and into the pub led to a good old chat. But wait a minute. That can't be healthy surely? Is the best way to good communication through alcohol? The answer of course is no. It's not. Good communication comes from sitting across from someone and listening, then responding. Then they listen and respond to you. It's that simple. We should be able to do it anywhere, but given all the interruptions of modern life - phones, twitter, blogging, not to mention tv, books and of course sleeping - there simply isn't the time or the energy in the day to really keep up with people, unless we make it. And the provision of an encouraging setting where the pressure is off and the rounds keep coming seems to help us along the way.

So, I decided to try for a while and see how I would get on without the alcohol.  I feel uncomfortable with the pub being my only option. As much as I love it, I want more. And by having choices I'll appreciate it all the more for the beauty that it is. With no pub on the cards I was faced with a tricky dilemma. How would I do my socialising? Where would I go to have that long talk about nothing with my best friend. What alternative would I find to facilitate weekly chats with Dad. Would it result in never actually saying anything of real importance to my boyfriend ever again? What an experiment. 

I have to say I was fairly stumped for options. Aside from the pub, there are few places to go of an evening in Dublin where you can while away the hours without spending an absolute fortune. You could go for dinner, but this is expensive and will probably give you a max time of about an hour and a half before staff start hovering at your table anxious for you to leave. It's ok but not for a real and regular alternative to the pub. You could go for coffee but few places stay open late enough, and being a one cup girl I find the guilt of taking up valuable table space starts to kick in after about forty minutes. Cinema, theatre, exhibitions....there's no chat in them, you do that in the pub afterwards. In short there's few places with the same relaxed environment as the good old fashioned pub, where, lets face it, we've all nursed a pint for a couple of hours and not had the slightest shred of guilt about taking up space. That's what pubs are for.

It seems that the Irish psyche is just geared towards the pub. Any cafes that do stay open late seem not to do that well and don't keep up the practice for long. I'm hoping against hope that with the increasing variety of cultures in the city we can be encouraged to explore how other nations do it and adopt some of these practices for ourselves in the future. And it does indeed seem to be happening. 

Which brings me to the real point of this blog. My new spot de jour is Wall and Keogh on Sth. Richmond Street. Open until 8.30 you won't be rolling out of there at closing time but it beats the early closing of many of Dublin's city center cafes. It offers over 150 varieties of loose leaf tea and for the price of a pint you'll get a pot of tea big enough to last you at least one dream. Its relaxed atmosphere (which I'm presuming is tied in to some all good things come to those who wait/everything in it's own good time tea philosophy) means you never get hit with guilty feelings of 'I must vacate this table'. In fact the prolific aray of books and board games practically begs you to while away at least a significant portion of the afternoon (without the guilt of afternoon drinking!). Other pub busting benefits include not getting bored of your drink of choice and the ability to choose a drink which actually helps your liver instead of damaging it. Ironically on Saturday afternoon, when I last went, the liver relief tea jar was almost empty. Dublin's nothing if not reliable. Oh and don't forget the wonderful smug feeling you'll have when you wake up the next morning not feeling the worse for that last pint the night before. 

So tea is my new thing. There's so much more to it than a cup of Barry's and with Ireland being such a tea drinking nation this shouldn't seem like such a jump for the Irish psyche.

No doubt I'll be in the pub for a pint at closing time. 

Don't mind if I do...

Lovely outside seating area

Beautiful teapots at Wall and Keogh