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A Brief History of the Irish Snug

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Though Irish pubs have been exported around the world, one very traditional Irish drinking concept is harder to find in modern pubs: the snug. Prior to the 1960s, Ireland’s drinking establishments were almost exclusively the domain of men, and no respectable woman could or would be seen drinking inside. It wasn’t a law, but it was the reigning social convention, and many bars wouldn’t let women in. But that doesn’t mean that Irish women never drank. They just did it in a slightly less conspicuous way: inside a small, screened-off room attached to the bar called the snug.

In general, Irish women largely drank at home, dispatching someone else (often, their sons) to bring back a jug of porter. Some even sat outside pubs waiting for their menfolk to come back out. But inside many Irish pubs of the 19th and early 20th century, there would be a snug where women—and anyone else who didn’t want to be seen having a nip—could enjoy their pints privately. The snugs—"confession boxes we’d call them," a pub regular recalls in Kevin C. Kearns’s Dublin Pub Life and Lore—An Oral History of Dublin’s Traditional Irish Pubswould have a small window for bartenders to pass drinks through, so no one could see the patron order. They also had locks so that they couldn’t be opened from the outside, giving whoever was inside almost total privacy.

Fans of the BBC’s Peaky Blinders might be familiar with the concept—the Shelby gang holds meetings in the Garrison Pub's snug, where they can wheel and deal out of public view. They were, however, one of the few public places that women could have a drink. In many bars, it was more expensive to buy a drink inside a snug, but for some, the privacy was worth it. 

A snug in a historic Dublin bar. Image credit: Ryans of Parkgate Street via Facebook

When the Irish police force, the Garda Síochána, was founded in 1922, a large portion of officers were teetotalers. "More than half the officers belonged to the Pioneers of the Sacred Heart, a total temperance organization," as Irish journalist Cian Molloy writes in his 2003 history The Story of the Irish Pub. "Such was the emphasis placed on sobriety among Ireland’s new police force after independence that from 1926 onwards, disciplinary action could be taken against any officer who 'while on or off duty, shows the result of consuming intoxicating liquor, the slightest departure from strict sobriety.'" The Garda might be able to sneak into a snug, though.

During the War of Irish Independence in Ireland, the Black and Tans (the UK police force fighting the Irish Republican Army) couldn’t be served in Dublin’s pubs. As one Dubliner recalled to Kearns in his oral history, "the pubs wouldn’t serve them in their uniform … they might be able to slip into a snug privately, dressed as if they were going to the theater or all that."

Men of the cloth, too, often frequented snugs. In Dublin Pub Life and Lore, Dubliner John Preston remembers that Father "Flash" Kavanagh, a local priest, was so fond of his drink that he’d rush through mass to get to the pub when it opened: "You’d see him in there with his red vestments and he’d go in right through the bar to a little back snug there … that was his berth."

However, not all snug activities were so rebellious. "The snug also played another social role," Molloy writes. "It was the place where the matchmaker was found. The matchmaker was usually a trusted old man who would discretely arrange marriages between the sons and daughters of local farmers and shop keepers."

Up until the 1960s and 1970s, women were largely not seen drinking in a public tavern. Even women who owned bars weren’t keen on having a female presence there. Mary Hyland, a bar owner in the Irish village of Ballacolla who died in 1996, didn’t approve of women drinking in her pub even when it became more commonplace. Her nephew, who took over the bar when Mary was in her 80s, says she wouldn’t serve women at all until her later years. "A few years before her death [at 83], when two women walked in and ordered pints, her reaction was 'What is the world coming to?'" he told Molloy.

But over time, as it became more socially acceptable for women to head to the bar for a pint, snugs began to disappear. Bars modernized by adding classier lounges where people of both sexes could acceptably order drinks. During the course of those pub renovations, many snugs disappeared. In an email to mental_floss, Molloy theorizes that "snugs started to disappear because they took up quite a bit of room—they were attached to the end of a bar, with only those in the snug having access to that end of the counter. Ged rid of the snug and more people can get to the bar."

You can still find snugs in some historic bars, though. Belfast’s Crown Bar, a historic landmark that opened in the early 19th century, has multiple. As does Ryan’s of Parkgate Street, a Dublin pub dating back to 1886. And there are several pubs across the world named The Snug, though not all of them actually have private snugs. On the bright side, women don’t have to worry about being seen drinking in public anymore, so few of us need a snug, anyway.

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7 Surprising Uses for Tequila
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Happy National Margarita Day! While you could celebrate by having a few drinks, you could also skip the hangover by unlocking one of tequila's amazing abilities outside of the glass. Many spirits are useful for activities beyond sipping (vodka, for example, is a great stain and odor remover), but tequila holds some particularly magical powers. Here are just a few of them.

1. SYNTHETIC BAUBLE

In 2008, a team of scientists in Mexico discovered that when the heated vapor from an 80-proof tequila blanco was combined with a silicon or stainless steel substrate, it resulted in the formation of diamond films. These films can be used in commercial applications, such as electrical insulators, or to create one big fake diamond. Who knew that spending $50 on a bottle of Don Julio was such a wise investment?

2. ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCE

Keeping with the science theme: In 2011, researchers at England’s University of Oxford suggested that we may one day be gassing up our cars with tequila. They identified agave, the plant from which tequila is produced, as a potential biofuel source—and a particularly attractive one, as the plant itself is not consumed by humans and can thrive in desert climates.

3. WEIGHT LOSS SUPPLEMENT

Scientists have long promoted the potential benefits of the agave plant for its ability to help dissolve fats and lower cholesterol. The bad news? These properties get a bit diluted when the plant is distilled into alcohol. Even more so when it's whipped into a sugary margarita.

4. SLEEP AID

Take three or more shots of tequila and you’re bound to pass out. A single shot can have the same effect—just not in that drunken stupor kind of way. Relaxation is one of the positive side effects of tequila drinking; a small amount (1 to 1.5 ounces) before bedtime can reportedly help you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.

5. COLON CLEANSER

Too much of a good thing may not bring a welcome turn of events for your liver … but your colon will thank you! Researchers at Mexico’s University of Guadalajara have identified the blue agave as a potentially helpful source for delivering drugs to the colon in order to treat colitis, IBS, Crohn’s disease and even cancer.

6. DIABETES PREVENTATIVE

If Ernest Hemingway had known about the healing properties of tequila, his signature drink might have been a margarita instead of a daiquiri. In 2010, experiments conducted at Mexico’s Polytechnic Institute of Guanajuato revealed that the agave plant (which is high in fructans, a fructose polymer) could stimulate the GLP-1 hormone, aiding in increased insulin production.

7. COLD REMEDY

“Plenty of liquids” is a well-known remedy for getting oneself out from under the weather. But expanding that definition to include a kicked-up shot of tequila makes a day laid out on the couch sound much more appealing. In the 1930s, doctors in Mexico recommended the following concoction to fight off a cold.

.5 ounce of tequila blanco
.5 ounce of agave nectar (to eliminate bacteria and soothe sore throats)
.5 ounce of fresh lime juice (for Vitamin C)

Though some people (including tequila companies) swear by its healing powers, others say it's hogwash.

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16 Geeky Coasters to Keep Your Coffee Table Safe
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Avoid unsightly ring stains on your coffee table with this delightful selection of coasters:

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Cover your counter space with the cute face of Rilakkuma.

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Just because it’s the end of the world doesn’t mean all manners go out the door: Never forget to use a coaster!

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This set comes with 10 coasters, each with a slice of brain specimen. When you’re not using them, you can stack them together to create a full brain.

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These coasters feature scenes from the classics My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl's Moving Castle.

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