It’s difficult today to imagine being scandalized by a woman sitting at a bar enjoying a pint. But in Victorian Ireland, a traditionally Catholic country, a woman drinking in public — though legal — was practically sacrilegious. Such social norms gave rise to the snug room, a small, enclosed space cordoned off from the remainder of the bar where women and others who wished for some privacy while imbibing could participate in drinking culture outside their homes without the threat of getting caught.
Somewhat resembling Catholic confessional — and even anecdotally referred to from time-to-time as confession boxes — snugs started appearing in Irish pubs in the late 1800s. A tiny, walled-off space at the end of the bar, snug rooms typically included small, privacy glass windows near the ceiling. Some were even complete with a lock on the door, securing complete privacy for whoever was inside. Most importantly? They were equipped with private windows to the bar, allowing the bartender to pass drinks into the snug inconspicuously.
Though it was typically more expensive to drink in the snug room than it was to sit elsewhere in the pub, many found the privacy to be worth it and soon, some male drinkers began taking up residence inside Ireland’s snugs — including the police.
When the Garda Síochána, Ireland’s police force, was founded in 1922, the vast majority of the officers were members of temperance organizations. Following Irish independence in 1926, any guard — no matter if they were on or off duty — found consuming any alcohol or taking “the slightest departure from strict sobriety” was subject to disciplinary action. As such, the snug room quickly became a popular hotspot for officers to engage in illicit behavior without their supervisors or colleagues catching on.
In urban areas, the snug room also became a place for businessmen to engage in private dealings from the comfort of their favorite pubs. Such meetings are frequently depicted on the popular television show “Peaky Blinders,” where protagonist Tommy Shelby and his brothers are often carrying out seedy business deals in The Garrison’s snug room.
By the 1970s, it was more acceptable for women to drink in public, and many pub owners started viewing the snug room as a waste of space. Pushed into a back corner and taking up an entire section of the bar itself, snug rooms typically only fit a few people inside at most, making it more feasible for the bar to allow more people in — and thus sell more drinks — if they were removed entirely. Now, only a handful of authentic snug rooms remain in Ireland that date back to the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Today, despite the popularity of Irish-inspired pubs, the snug room has yet to make a comeback, with only a few pubs stateside featuring them. If you do happen to find yourself in a pub with a snug, be sure to snag a seat immediately — it’s typically the most highly coveted space in the building.