My spouse, spouse’s mom, and I were sitting in a “farm shop” at Aillwee Cave near Ballyvaughan, Ireland. We had vague plans to go into the cave, but more than anything we were just exploring the west coast by car, stopping at the side of windy narrow roads for pictures, looking at all the sheep, stone walls, castles, and stone-house ruins. When we arrived at the cave and realized it would be 18 Euros each, to tour it, we opted to just take a break instead: drink some Americanos, and sample all the cheeses that were made right in the shop. We picked up tourist maps and brochures, spreading them open on the counter in front of us. I noticed one point of interest, the Burren Brewery at the Roadside Tavern, in Lisdoonvarna, which just happened to be en route to our way back.
My impression of Irish beer so far had been that there are essentially three kinds: a light lager, a red ale, and a dry stout. The blurb about this brewery confirmed that: “The Roadside Tavern which was established in 1865 as a pub, was expanded into a bakery and now harbours a micro-brewery under its roof. Stop by and sample the taster menu of Burren micro-brewery beers: Burren Gold, a delicious colourful lager; Burren Red, a spicy, slightly sweet ale which even features a hint of smoke; Burren Black, a smooth and full-bodied stout.”
The town was so small that we just parked on the main street and walked up and down, looking for the Roadside Tavern. When we found it, it looked closed and there was a sign on the door that food was not being served for the next couple of months – the off season for tourists. We tried the door and were surprised to find that it was in fact open. An old gentleman was tending bar, and there were three locals just shooting the breeze. It was only 4pm, but it had the vibe that it didn’t really get much more crowded than that, even on a late night in January. It was already getting dark out, and the place was dimly lit. I ordered one of each (my spouse’s mom got the Gold, I got the Red, and my spouse got the Black.) We found our way into a second room, where a fire was blazing, giving off a warmth and a glow.
This was also an opportunity to go on our phones – WiFi was spotty throughout the trip; our airbnb didn’t have a connection. Since I don’t have a smart phone, I just stared at the fire, trying to overhear the conversations. I couldn’t make out a whole lot, but the language was definitely colorful.
The bartender went into the back for a while, and I snapped a few photos. Then I started to wander around, looking for the restroom. I went up some stairs and through a door which led to a more of a dining area, completely empty. When I came back, my spouse said they were joking about how I was leading my own micro-brewery tour. I said I was looking for the bathroom (just called “toilet” in Ireland.) My spouse’s mom pointed to another door. “It’s always down the stairs.”
I went through and there was the bartender. I looked to my left, “ladies,” and to my right, “gents.” I made a move like I was going left, and the bartender firmly, simply, gestured me the other way. I thought to myself, “well, his place, his rules. I don’t feel unsafe. Here we go…” and I went in. While I was in the stall, another guy came in and approached a urinal. I flushed, washed my hands, dried my hands, and left. No problems.
This wasn’t the first time I’ve been directed to the men’s. It happened once in Turkey. And also at a clothing store, to the men’s dressing room. This felt more deliberate though, ceremonial almost. And although I don’t plan to continue frequenting men’s bathrooms, it felt validating. I really do feel like I am inhabiting a middle ground, finally.
Before we left, the bartender asked how we liked the beers. My spouse said of the Burren Black, “Better than a Guinness!” The bartender just nodded, knowingly.