Discreetly situated in the residential cul-de-sac on Prospect Square at the secondary gates of Glasnevin Cemetary, John Kavanagh “The Gravediggers” has been with the Kavanagh family since 1833.
Taking its nickname from its position near the graveyard, the pub has a rich history including patronage and relationships from figures such as Daniel O’Connell, to more recent visits from Anthony Bourdain and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, as well as featuring in historic biopic pieces and as a stop on the Ghost Bus Tour.
Recently, The Gravediggers also won Irish Hospitality Global’s Best Community Pub Award, and on visiting the premises, tasting the food and experiencing the comfortable atmosphere of the pub it is not difficult to see why. We spoke to couple – chef Ciaran Kavanagh and his wife and communications manager Alfreda O’Brien-Kavanagh, on how they felt about their recent win, the menu, the changes that the pub has undergone and how to successfully run a family business.
The couple enthusiastically discuss the history of the pub, of which Ciaran is the seventh generation, from furnishings that date back to the 1870s to the long dynasty of Kavanaghs that have had a hand in running the bar through various economic environments. Ciaran, who is a classically trained chef, worked in a variety of countries including Italy, before returning to Ireland to help with the family business after 15 years abroad. Alfreda comes from a background in window display and although she handles a variety of tasks across the board she is mainly involved in the social media aspect and communications of the business.
“It is social media but if you are clever you can use it as a sales tool,” she explained, attributing social media to the continued success of the bar. When asked how they maintain their social media, Ciaran said that they kept it simple: “We just post what we do and pictures – nothing else”.
The Best Community Pub Award deeply touched the employees of The Gravediggers, with Alfreda saying: “The pub is special and it is great to get that recognition”. In fact, winning this award was more important to her than their Best Chef nomination.
It is clear that there are locals in the bar that are looked after, as well as new custom and newer generations of regulars. “There is a difference between a ‘regular’ and a ‘local’ though,” said Ciaran. Not only is the pub a little community of its own, but Alfreda is also involved in community issues that look after the interests of those who use the pub as a social outlet.
Being family run is also an important element to the atmosphere of the pub, with nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters all working together to create a close-knit environment. Alfreda states that the ‘family-run’ part of the business has most definitely had an impact on her work ethic: “My dad always said if you work somewhere and if you have the sense that you own it yourself you will give 100%,” and that the whole family chip in as if it is “An automatic thing that gives each staff member a sense of pride” in the establishment. Clearly proud of the staff and what each individual member brings to the pub, there is no nepotism in the bar, with all staff starting at the same level.
The pub has also gone through many physical changes, particularly with the refurbishment of the restaurant area, whilst still retaining the older more authentic feeling of the 19th century. A massive advantage that the bar has is that is it completely separate to the food serving area. It is unusual in the sense that there is no music, live or otherwise, and no televisions.
In terms of alcohol selection, the bar is famous for its Guinness – ranking as one of the best pints in Ireland according to a variety of publications. Staff have even been sent over from bars such as The Dead Rabbit in New York to learn how to pull the perfect pint of the black stuff as well as the history of the brand. The spirits offering in the bar is slightly more basic, but Alfreda says that if requests are made for a certain product they will get it in for customers.
In terms of the menu of the tapas bar, The Gravediggers has a lot to offer. Ciaran loves to try new things, often influenced by his travels aboard – infusing Irish food and a variety of other styles into the tapas dishes such as black pudding croquettes, Irish spring rolls and chicken and salami pasta bakes.
The menu is changed up regularly and as storage is limited in the kitchen area, ingredients are sourced daily from local suppliers so the offerings are always fresh. The star dish on the menu is the coddle, and despite the potential simplicity of the meal, it is clear that Ciaran’s classical training has come into play, making it a favourite with locals and foodies alike.
“It is nice to share the authenticity of the Irish pub,” Alfreda said, as she considered The Gravediggers’ market position. Most certainly, the authentic, cosy and relaxed atmosphere of the bar, as well as the amazing variety of fresh tasty dishes, provide a delightful way to spend an evening. The fact that this establishment is a family business and has for the last few generations had a lot of love poured into is a testament to its success.