The International Bar Revisited

I have a soft spot for the International Bar in Wicklow Street. It was a regular haunt of mine in my Post and Telegraph days. Wicklow Street is a busy shopping street connecting Grafton Street and Sth Great George’s Street. It was developed as part of Exchequer Street in 1776 having previously been a lane. This eastern branch was renamed Wicklow Street in 1837.

The International Bar dates from 1838 and is housed in a fine, early Victorian, gothic redbrick four storey on the corner of Andrew’s Street, which continues as South William St south of the junction. This was the venue I chose for my twenty first birthday party. Friends and workmates gathered round, and, of course, the divine Ms M. Gifts, besides copious pints, checked shirts and scabrous greeting cards, included some music of the day: Horslips second Celtic symphony the Book of Invasions, AC/DC’s debut High Voltage and Thin Lizzy’s breakthrough album, Jailbreak.

I’d imagine these were played full volume and the final verse of The Boys Are Back in Town lingers strongly in the memory. 

That jukebox in the corner blasting out my favourite song

The nights are getting warmer, it won’t be long

Won’t be long till summer comes

Now that the boys are here again

Near enough seven years since they were formed in Dublin, Thin Lizzy had at last scaled the dizzy heights of international fame. Jailbreak was Lizzy’s first album to go gold in the USA. Phil Lynott had adapted his poetic muse to powerhouse rock with spectacular effect. The following summer, myself and M would be amongst the tens of thousands at Dalymount Park to give the heroes a memorable return to Dublin town. The Boys Are Back! 

Happy days. I remember a wall poster that night in the International advertising Billy Connolly, the comedian posed in front of a Scottish Flag. Suitable backdrop, as my birthday falls on Saint Andrew’s Day, and I’m half Scottish; probably three quarters Scotch that night. The International would go on to host nightly comedy shows since the 1990s with live music downstairs. Dara O Briain from Bray is one of a generation of comics to cut their teeth there. Outside of the music and laughter, life at the International goes on as always, a jewel of an oasis, the best of times suspended in amber. 

Walk in off the street to the high ceilinged narrow room. The bar is spectacularly set off by an ornate hand carved mahogany reredos. Brass fittings, mirrors and optics are set ablaze by light streaming in the large windows. When the canopies are out, high arched transom windows allow solid shafts of light to stream diagonally onto the bar.

This scene captures that snapshot of heaven, and perhaps some of the more subdued stories in the weave. There is a slight allusion to a painting by Degas, In a Cafe, in the couple seated to the right. But this painting is phrased to convey a sense of warmth, and our heroes may be enjoying a moment of easy silence. Remembering those golden days.