The Celtic Tiger may have lost its growl, but this auld town is as energized as ever, with bustling pubs, fast-evolving culinary and theater scenes and the warm, witty hospitality that’s given the Irish such a good name
DAY TWO | The best cure for a hangover may be an Irish breakfast — the “full Irish,” in the native vernacular: a fried egg, sausage, bacon, potatoes, mushrooms, blood pudding and beans. And you’ll find the best Irish breakfast in Dublin in a pub, of all places: 300-year-old O’Neill’s Bar & Restaurant (1), across from the visitors center, which begins the traditional “fry-up” at the civilized hour of 10:30 a.m. and uses all local ingredients, including Guinness in the sausages and brown sauce, all served with sympathetic smiles. Next up, for a needed infusion of high-mindedness and decorum, enjoy a tour of Trinity College (2), whose courtyard is open to the public and provides a quiet respite from the crowded city streets. There are short, student-led tours from mid-May through late September, but if you’re lucky enough to come during exam time you’ll be shown around by Joe O’Gorman, a junior dean whose operatic delivery is accented by a mane of gray hair, dark glasses, academic gown and handkerchief billowing from his breast pocket. The tour ends with the famous Book of Kells, the four gospels of the New Testament illustrated around the ninth century by Celtic monks. But the real payoff is the 200-foot Long Room of the university library, with 200,000 antique books, busts of scholars and a three-story barreled wooden ceiling that evokes a certain book and movie serial about young wizards and conspiratorial academics.
Now go to Temple Bar. Although it’s worth a wander after dark, you’ll find decent sandwiches — try the distinctively Irish chicken and stuffing on multigrain bread after a starter of local Galway Bay oysters — at the pub straightforwardly named the Temple Bar Pub (3). It offers something else rare in this neighborhood — live music at lunch — and the traditional setting of dark polished wood and brass with a sunny courtyard beer garden.
The weather’s nice, so you while away the afternoon in St. Stephen’s Green (4), where you’ll be joined by what seems like all of Dublin. Small by European standards, it’s a well-used, welcome refuge in this teeming town, with duck ponds, gardens, walking paths and a sea of locals sprawled out on the grass and benches. Then take in the view of the park from the high windows of the Lord Mayor’s Lounge in the 187-year-old Shelbourne Hotel (5), just across the street, which serves a proper Irish afternoon tea daily from 2:30 to 5:30 under a high ceiling hung with Waterford chandeliers. Sink into so easy chairs and linger over sweets and finger sandwiches.
You can’t leave a city of culture without going to the theater, and Dublin has a few new ones of those, too, including the Grand Canal in the Docklands, which runs West End musicals and other popular productions. But the principal stage for works by Irish artists and writers is the Abbey Theatre (6), founded by one W.B. Yeats, whose auditorium was renovated in 2007, and whose ticket prices are far lower than you’ll find in London or New York.
After the show, good luck finding somewhere to eat late. The Irish are more interested in liquids than in solids, as one Dubliner puts it, after 10 p.m., when most kitchens close. So you hunt down The Odessa Club (7), a private restaurant on narrow Dame Court near Great Georges Street, which serves late; you’ll find it three flights up behind an unmarked door just to the left of the restaurant entrance. Ring the bell to be admitted for tapas-style plates called “fivers,” such as pork and beef meatballs, and full-size entrées like the Irish-Moroccan fusion-style lamb tagine with couscous. Since most pubs close at 11:30 p.m., or 12:30 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, a er dinner you call it a night.
CABBAGE BE GONE!
Gray boiled meats and listless starches have for years earned Ireland scorn in culinary circles, but the Celtic Tiger brought with it kitchens full of new talent and creative approaches to the maligned native cuisine. Dublin lies at the center of the renaissance. Dylan McGrath’s Rustic Stone opened last summer (after the closing of his ambitious and top-rated Mint), supplying its customers with volcanic rocks on which to cook their fish or meat themselves. Stephen Gibson’s buzzing Pichet Café serves a brasserie-style menu in a contemporary setting done up in blue with white piping, as if a symbol of the simple-but good new Dublin cuisine. And Stephen McAllister’s The Pig’s Ear offers updated takes on traditional Irish fare, inspiring one Dubliner to note, tellingly: “It’s Irish without being bad.”
(1) O’Neill’s Bar & Restaurant 2 Suffolk St.; Tel: 353-1-679-3656
(2) Trinity College College Green; Tel: 353-1-896-1000
(3) Temple Bar Pub 47-48 Temple Bar; Tel: 353-1-672-5286
(4) St. Stephen’s Green
(5) Shelbourne Hotel 27 St. Stephen’s Green; Tel: 353-1-663-4500
(6) Abbey Theatre 26-27 Lower Abbey St.; Tel: 353-1-887-2200
(7)The Odessa Club 13 Dame Court; Tel: 353-1-670-3080