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
BY JON MARCUS
PHOTOGRAPHS BY BRIAN PARK
“YOU’RE VERY WELCOME.”
That traditional Irish greeting will likely be the first thing you hear from every taxi driver, hotel clerk and maître d’ in Dublin, and it’s seldom seemed so heartfelt. Since Ireland’s so-called Celtic Tiger economic boom went bust in the 2000s, this island nation has weathered some harsh economic times. But while that pushed down restaurant prices and hotel rates — propelled not long ago to previously unimaginable heights — it hasn’t slowed the confidence or entrepreneurship of a generation raised on energy and affluence. Talented chefs are launching innovative restaurants, and whole neighborhoods of hotels and theaters that appeared overnight are now thriving. The new Dublin is fashionable, cosmopolitan and confident, yet it’s also, in a way, returned to basics, with a tempo that has slowed down to the leisurely pace of a pour of Guinness. But for all the changes, there’s one thing this city never lost: its Irish hospitality, the warmest anywhere. You’ll be very welcome.
DAY ONE | Check in at The Morrison (1), a sleek boutique hotel favored by visiting musicians and actors (Beyoncé, Rihanna, Colin Farrell, Katy Perry and Christina Aguilera, to name a few) with an eclectic East-meets-West motif devised by the Hong Kong–born, Dublin-based designer John Rocha. Tapering hallways, high ceilings, dark wood, leather furniture and aromatherapeutic toiletries contribute to the feng shui of this laidback, comfortable place. It’s also centrally located on the River Liffey just across from the rowdy Temple Bar nightlife district — but not so close that you’ll be disturbed by the nighttime clamor — and near the Henry Street shopping area.
Stroll across the Liffey on the Ha’penny Bridge (named for the one-time toll) and start your visit with a breakfast of tea and fresh-baked pastries at Bewley’s Café (2), a Dublin institution. In warm weather, ask to sit on the second level in the James Joyce Room (it was a favorite haunt of not only Joyce, who mentioned Bewley’s in Dubliners, but also fellow writers Samuel Becke and Sean O’Casey) overlooking Grafton Street, the bustling main pedestrian shopping strip. Bewley’s has stayed up to date, with lattes crafted by artistic baristas, but there’s one arguably appealing throwback: no Wi-Fi.
Dublin is eminently walkable, and the Dublin Tourism Centre (3), in a high-steepled decommissioned Presbyterian church, makes for a good starting point. Arrange to meet up with witty Lorcan Collins, who leads the 1916 Easter Rising walking tour (4) about the event most associated with the long Irish struggle for independence. It’s best to have at least some knowledge of the uprising in advance, and prepare to learn much about Collins’ politically incorrect takes on religion and the British monarchy, complete with a raft of Irish curse words. It’s a good way to circle the city center, including Trinity College and O’Connell Street, whose monuments — most famously, the post office, which was occupied by the hopelessly outgunned insurgents — still bear the bullet holes of the rebellion.
Next, stop for fish and chips from Dublin’s hands-down best “chipper,” Leo Burdock (5). A single portion is big enough for two, and since the little takeaway joint has no tables, carry your lunch across the street to the park at the cathedral and enjoy it outdoors. To wash it down, stroll over to the Guinness Storehouse (6) a few blocks farther west — but not just for the tour. Enjoy a fresh-brewed pint, included in the cost of admission, in the Gravity Bar atop the seven-story storehouse, which has the best, most breathtaking views of low-rise Dublin. Most of the Guinness for the Irish, European and American markets is brewed here, but nowhere does it taste as fresh as it does from a tap in Dublin.
For dinner — the Irish eat around 8:30 — hit Michelin-starred Thornton’s (7) in the Fitzwilliam Hotel on St. Stephen’s Green. This is one of those “new Dublin” kinds of places where Irish-born, French-trained chef Kevin Thornton performs alchemistic twists on Irish standards, such as rabbit, suckling pig and black sole. The mullet appetizer, for example, arrives at the table in a glass bowl filled with wood smoke that’s released with a flourish by the server.
If Paris has its cafés, the Irish like to say, Dublin has its pubs — close to 1,000 of them in this city of 1 million, or one for about every 1,000 people. Skip the ones in Temple Bar for now; with some exceptions, they’re for tourists and students. Strike out for the real thing on Baggot Street, where you can bar-hop with the locals from O’Donoghue’s Pub (8), which has live music every night, to Doheny & Nesbitt Pub (9), a popular hangout for journalists and politicians. O’Donoghue’s, one patron says admiringly, hasn’t been repainted in 50 years, apparently the sign of an authentic Irish pub. You linger a while to discuss this topic further.
(1) The Morrison Lower Ormond Quay; Tel: 353-1-887-2400
(2) Bewley’s Café 78-79 Grafton St.; Tel: 353-1-672-7720
(3) Dublin Tourism Centre Suffolk St.; Tel: 353-1-605-7700
(4) 1916 Rising walking tour International Bar, 23 Wicklow St.; Tel: 353-1-868-583-847
(5) Leo Burdock 2 Werburgh St.; Tel: 353-1-454-0306
(6) Guinness Storehouse St. James’s Gate; Tel: 353-1-408-4800
(7) Thornton’s 128 St. Stephen’s Green; Tel: 353-1-478-7008
(8) O’Donoghue’s Pub 15 Merrion Row; Tel: 353-1-660-7194
(9) Doheny & Nesbitt Pub 4–5 Lower Baggot St.; Tel: 353-1-676-2945