Words by Sammy Hemmings and Dave Mulligan
Photography by Havana Club
"I am totally dedicated, committed and slightly obsessed with the revival of Irish poitín while making it a respected and requested global category amongst craft cocktail bars," says Dave Mulligan, bar owner of Dublin's Bar 1661.
"Our goal is to change public perception of what poitín is and what it can be while introducing a bar community to a wide range of producers, styles and flavors and how they will work in a cocktail," Dave says. "I will forever be proud of the work I have done in the promotion of Irish poitín, the true native spirit of Ireland."
Opening its doors in 2019, Bar 1661 champions Irish poitín, its name a nod to the very year poitín was deemed illegal in Ireland. Now a forerunner in Dublin's bar scene, the bar walked away with Best Cocktail Bar at The Irish Craft Cocktail Awards 2019.
But finding a site and establishing Bar 1661 came with challenges. "The biggest risk I took on this venture was the location and the venue itself. Dublin, a city divided between rich and poor, north and south of the river Liffey," Dave says.
"On searching for a venue and walking every side street and every lane throughout the town I came across a venue on the junction of Little Britain and Green St," Dave recalls. "I have red bricks, I have fruit markets, I have the oldest part of Dublin city, I have James Joyce Ulyesses as a neighbor...this was the site alright and after six months back and forth with the landlord and a tenant who was in arrears getting his affairs in order and vacating the site, we were in."
Dave values strong leadership. "I set the highest possible standards throughout the venue while always trying to lead by example," he says. "I was first in and last out for many months doing everything from bar back to bartender and doorman to cleaner. From build and design to service, drinks program and promotion I have been hands on at every point to give us the best chance at being one of Ireland's best cocktail bars and giving Poitín the home it so needs."
A dedicated entrepreneur with a passion for the traditional Irish spirit, Dave also produces his own poitín named Bán Poitín. "My biggest promotional challenge was always in my home market," he says. "With little to no government assistance, a lack of bartender education and a misconception about the nature of our national spirit I decided to move back to my home town and be the spotlight the category has been missing."
Facing the pandemic as an entrepreneur, Dave says, "The biggest challenge of my career and in the history of our industry is without doubt Covid-19. With over twenty years experience in bars, restaurants, kitchens and brands never in my wildest dreams did I think something would come along and shut us all down overnight."
For Dave, as for many bar operators, his business had to pivot to survive. "Bottled cocktails of course were the obvious choice and I set about making a plan," he explains. "We did well with our own deliveries not just to create revenue but also to keep the brand alive. We were in multiple publications both digital and hard copy and even made it on to TV with our Redbreast Whiskey collaboration cocktail for Fathers Day."
And Dave is not only positive about the future for Irish poitín, but for his business as well. "We have already taken on new staff and I am more confident than ever our business and team will come out the other side of this," he says.