I often go racing in Ireland or to the bloodstock sales and whenever I’m passing through Dublin I always try to drop into The Shelbourne Hotel on St Stephen’s Green. A few years ago it was the subject of a major refurbishment programme designed to help it keep pace with newer, upstart rivals. But the essential character of this old Dublin institution hasn’t changed and the famous Horseshoe Bar, with its red-painted walls, red leather upholstery and Victorian racing lithographs, remains one of the most atmospheric watering holes in the city.
Ireland’s economy may be struggling but Dubliners haven’t lost their sense of humour or their flair for conversation, and in the Horseshoe Bar it always seems to be party time, especially in the early evenings. The Shelbourne is just around the corner from the Irish Parliament and the hotel has long been a favourite meeting place for politicians and journalists in need of refreshment. But one of the great things about Ireland is that all walks of life seem to overlap enthusiastically and I’ve been in the bar after an afternoon at Leopardstown races or watching a rugby international at Lansdowne Road and found myself shoulder-to-shoulder with an eclectic mix of government ministers, bankers, broadcasters and bookmakers, all trading gossip and information.
The bar staff make good cocktails, but champagne is the preferred tipple, whether drunk by the flute or the bottle.