Until the mid-nineties Dublin was a grim, sprawling port town, persistently grey and devoid of any redeeming features.
Except this was its redeeming feature. Utterly lacking in any sort of pretension, the city and its people welcomed all with open arms to a nearby bar to while away the hours. Dublin pubs were the social, economic and political backbone of the country, where the high flyers mixed happily with the barflies. The city moved at a slow pace and no one cared much about anything except the price of a pint.
Riverdance changed all that. It was the spectacular Irish dancing stage-show that mesmerised audiences the world over for six years running. Suddenly, everyone had Irish ancestry and Dublin, as the capital of the green kingdom, assumed a cool cache.
The Celtic Tiger upped the pace and the developers moved in to revamp the ‘dirty ould town’. For ten years cranes dominated the Dublin skyline. The result: a new and improved version of Dublin, leaner than the old, with shinier surfaces and shaper edges.
Almost overnight, Dublin also became a multicultural melting pot, due to an influx of African refugees, Asian students and Eastern European immigrants attracted by the thriving jobs market.
Dubliners stepped up on a rung on the socio-economic ladder and with a ready wave of labour to assume the lower positions, for the first time, felt empowered.
By the late nineties, the height of the Celtic Tiger’s success, the mood in Dublin was high. The locals were drunk on the country’s newfound prosperity and partying hard. When droves of wild hen and stag parties from England arrived, the city’s hard drinking reputation peaked; the weekends turned into a melee of madness. Such was the chaos created that most bars and clubs barred pre-nuptial celebrations and they remained barred to this day.
Today, Dublin’s party scene is more sterilised affair with an affluent celebrity culture setting the tone. The choice of bars is overwhelming. Super-clubs, themed bars, traditional snugs or upmarket lounges cater for every taste and serve every tipple. But in most of these places, the people and the furniture are plastic. Drowning in their own success, young Celtic cubs prowl the streets with their Paris H rip-off looks and pissy attitudes. And that’s just the boys.
But a cooler, more laid-back Dublin still exists; it’s just a matter of seeking it out. To find a genuine Dub den, head west to Thomas St. for some of the city’s oldest bars and encounter some real seedy customers.
This is the heart of inner city Dublin and the boom has yet to infect the territory or its locals. Here lurk the ‘real Dubs’. Identifying a ‘Real Dub’ from a Celtic cub is easy; the Dub will be the one in the tracksuit and will probably try to rob you while selling you drugs.
For mayhem, head to Temple Bar, the old hen and stay party haunt, where any given weekend a mishmash of tourists and locals maintain the madness. It’s not a pretty sight. Pass by, don’t take a photo and keep going south to George’s St. where bars like the Globe and Hogan’s are old reliables and always attract a funkier crowd.
Cut through a back lane to Grogan’s on South William Street and find a lively mix of Dubs, Culchies (Irish people from outside Dublin) and visitors sitting outdoors under mushroom heaters telling tall tales. One welcome side effect of the smoking ban, introduced in 2004, is the creation of a hardy al fresco scene.
Dublin may have modernised but its bars are still the backbone of this city’s life. A recent Europe-wide survey voted Ireland the European country with the worst alcohol abuse record, again. When visiting this city it’s best to ignore the shopping malls, tourist traps and overpriced restaurants. Make a beeline for the nearest bar on Dame Street and get comfy. Just remember to bag yourself a sugar daddy or a bank loan first.