The ‘snug’, an important part of Irish pub history and traditional pub design. The snug is a small, private seating area usually located near the bar or behind a partition. It was traditionally a separate area of the pub where women could enjoy a drink without being seen by other patrons in the main area of the pub, which was typically dominated by men. The snug typically features a small table and a few chairs, and is often decorated with traditional Irish pub decor such as wooden panelling, stained or etched glass, photos, prints and mirrors.
History of the Snug.
Accounts from pre Famine times indicate that women used to mingle freely with men in shebeens and grog houses. However, in the late 19th century a strongly moralistic tendency in the Catholic Church imposed strict new standards of behaviour on the Irish people. The very idea of men and women drinking together came to be considered improper, and even indecent. So the pub became a male preserve, into which women were not allowed to enter.
In these times, female drinkers were accommodated in the 'snug', a partitioned off area near the front door, where women were seated provided they did not enter the main body of the public house. In Dublin and Belfast, where the influence of the Church was never quite as strong as elsewhere, this unspoken rule was not always adhered to. In the male orientated society of rural Ireland however, women were more vulnerable to social pressure.
Although women were now mostly prohibited from entering the pub, there seemed to be two exceptions, revered grannies and hardy women street dealers. Owing to their longevity and difficult life they were excluded from the social pressures that barred other women. Women street market dealers were the most notorious female drinkers. They were a tough breed, accustomed to the raw life of the streets, able to drink, curse and brawl with the best of the men. Cloistered in their shawls, cloaks and bonnets, they would settle into these little snugs (“confession boxes” as they became to be known) with a glass of porter and a drop of whiskey.
Today, snugs are often used by groups of friends or patrons who prefer a more intimate and private setting for conversation, especially in busy pubs. In the hustle and bustle of a busy pub, a snug is a more intimate spot where you can have a chat over a pint and catch up with friends. The sense of history also appeals to patrons nowadays in a big way, as others have sat and drank in these very snugs for generations before us and will do so for many generations to come.
No snug is the same. In some pubs, the publican passes drinks through a hatch. In others, drinks are served via the door, over a wall or from the end of the bar. Framed photos, mirrors, stained glass windows and other trappings are unique to each pub’s snugs.
Many snugs were ripped out during the 1970’s when they went out of fashion. In many traditional and Victorian Irish pubs however, original snugs can still be found, and they are often highly sought after by patrons who are looking for a more secluded and cosy drinking experience. Snugs are often some of the most coveted seats in the pub, with people not leaving for hours once they claim one. There are still many Victorian era snugs, Kehoes, Fallons, Doheny & Nesbitt, Ryans, Slattery’s and Toners are all examples of century old pubs with their original snugs intact, and all of them opening a window into times gone by.