Guinness Storehouse visit results in buzzkill
This is the first of a two-part series on Neal Pollack's visit to Dublin, Ireland, during St. Patrick's Day festivities. The second part will be on the St. Patty's Day parade.
I love visiting Ireland. It offers so much for the traveler: Unmatched natural greenery, a rich, soulful, cultural history, and most important, some of the kindest, most authentic people on Earth, who have borne seemingly endless misfortune with shockingly good humor.
The Guinness Storehouse, the most popular tourist attraction in the country, bears basically none of those qualities, though it does offer good beer. The Storehouse is a thin simulacrum of the place it’s supposed to represent. But people seem to love it anyway, so I thought I’d check it out when I was in Dublin.
The Storehouse sits on the grounds of the St. James Brewery, where they make the Guinness, or at least some of the Guinness (in fact, the largest working Guinness brewery in the world is in Lagos, Nigeria). For almost a hundred years, Guinness used the Storehouse as a yeast-fermentation plant; it wasn’t a tourist attraction then. In 1988, Guinness shut down the plant. Nine years later, the Guinness brand, one of the international symbols of Ireland, was bought by Diageo, a British multinational corporation that also owns Smirnoff Vodka, Captain Morgan’s rum, and many other popular brain-cell-killing brands.
Diageo set to work selling the hell out of Guinness. Even though the beer’s popularity has declined modestly in Ireland, it’s never been bigger around the world, a testament both to the beer’s unshakable quality and Diageo’s seemingly bottomless branding budget.
The Storehouse is the centerpiece of their plan--a mammoth Beer Vatican framed by beautifully restored steel girders originally installed by turn-of-the-20th-century Chicago-style architects. It soars seven stories, centered on a glass atrium shaped like an enormous pint of Guinness. There are restaurants and interactive exhibits on beer making, on the history of Guinness advertising, and an unpopular but probably legally required section about “responsible drinking.”
Your admission, which runs more than 20 bucks for adults and around 16 or so for college students (who make up a lot of the Storehouse’s clientele), gets you a ticket for a Guinness on the top-floor bar, which offers 360-degree views of the city. They advertise the beer as “complimentary,” but given the ticket price, it’s actually the most expensive pour in Dublin.
I arrived at the Storehouse the day before St. Patrick’s Day, two hours after I landed in Dublin. All I wanted to do was sleep, but instead, I was plunged into the maw. It turned out to be the busiest day in the facility’s history, with more than 10,000 paid visitors, and it showed. The streets strained with thirsty tourists, who were lined up like they were waiting to see Coldplay.
I got a private tour of the facility, though you could only call it “private” because I was walking around with one other guy who was being paid to pay attention to me. Large numbers of slack-mouthed visitors buzzed around us in tipsy clumps, and the Storehouse boomed with PA messages, both recorded and live. Guys were yelling into headset microphones at every corner. Everyone working there, understandably, looked a little stressed-out and overwhelmed.