Toners Pub on Baggot Street in Dublin is famous worldwide for its historical richness, catering for patrons ranging from Will Ferrell and Bob Geldof to Seamus Heaney and Patrick Kavanagh over the years.
The listed building has a long and interesting history, even featuring in the film A Fistful of Dynamite (1971), starring James Coburn and Rod Steiger. Established in 1734, the premises even predates the emergence of Guinness, and current owners Frank and Mick Quinn aim to preserve it as an authentic experience of Irish history. I spoke to Mick about the history of the pub and how it fits in with Irish culture.
"I see myself as a curator of a museum," said Mick, who bought the pub with his brother, Frank, in 1987. "Not much has changed since then." In fact, Toners has employed the same bar manager, Paul Corcoran, since the Quinn brothers took over, with many other long serving staff members employed for more than a decade and counting.
Mick attributes the success of the bar to the staff, as well as the historical value of the building, which is furnished with original features, including the old stock drawers behind the bar, the brass bar taps and flagstone floors. There are a lot of old memorabilia and old-style photographs in old cabinets which really add to the authentic feel of the interior.
"We are a left of centre social political pub," explained Mick, stating that the clientele are a genuine mix of people including regulars and local office workers, as well as tourists. The bar also caters for birthdays and large gatherings, with an upstairs event space and a basement floor. Although not specifically a music-oriented pub, Toners does regularly host traditional and rock music on a Sunday night upstairs in the venue. The basement also has close links with the music industry in Ireland - Mick explained that, during the 1970s, "Anyone who was anyone was down there".
Toners has been a massive hit with celebrities in recent years as well. Prior to the premiere of Anchorman 2 in 2013, the main cast and crew were treated to a trip to the bar to experience some of the best pints of Guinness in Dublin, in a real Irish setting. Star David Koechner was such a massive fan of the bar that he returned with his wife in 2014, as part of Esquire’s travel show, The Getaway. Participants in the show where given free flights to visit any destination of their choice and Koechner enjoyed his experience at Toners so much that he went back to pull pints. Other celebrities that have visited in more recent years include Shaggy in 2016 and in 2012 Mumford & Sons played a secret gig on Arthur’s Day in the beer garden.
Speaking of which, the pub also sports a large heated beer garden, built on the site of an original Massey Ferguson showroom with an old bank safe to the side. The garden was opened in 2009 at the peak of the recession. "Necessity is the mother of invention," quipped Mick when explaining the decision to expand on the beer garden, which included the relocation of the toilets to the rear of the building, beyond the beer garden, adopting what he calls "An outhouse feel" that incorporates corrugated metal walls.
Toners has had quite a lot going for it in recent years, winning several awards for categories such as Snug of the Year (2010), Best Dublin Bar (Sky Bar of the Year Awards 2015) and Best Traditional Pub (National Hospitality Awards 2014 & 2015). It also received a mention on CNN Travel as one of ‘16 artist hangouts that you can still go to’ worldwide. Rory Guinness, the earl of Iveagh, also vouched for the quality of the pints of Guinness in the pub, giving it another huge seal of approval.
The appeal of Toners can be seen in the comfortable and cosy atmosphere, making it a favourite with a broad spectrum of customers. Staff are friendly and the décor is rich and inviting, it really is an important touchpoint in preserving Dublin’s rich history and culture, even beyond its purpose as pub. Mick says that they have no plans to change the pub in the near future, but rather keep it exactly the same - and judging by its success why would anyone fix something that is not broken?