Under the Radar
1 Portobello harbour, Dublin 8 01-475-1423
Facing the Grand Canal, with its grey, gauzy waters and very serious looking swans, BelloBar is a basement space dedicated to revitalising the Portobello neighbourhood's long-standing relationship with live music.
Descending the stairs, you enter a low-beamed jazz club-type room, lovingly, and very astutely, tricked out with vintage decor. The space is a mere 10 minutes from town (less if it's raining and you're running, as Barfly discovered) but, once ensconced, it's as if you've been swept to another time and place. With the dim lighting and underground vibes there's a whiff of speakeasy about the subterranean room, while the eclectic music policy locates BelloBar firmly in the hipsterverse, somewhere between Berlin and Williamsburg.
Best of all, there is an eagerness that caters to all stripes of punter. If you're the kind who likes to heft a beer and watch a gig at close quarters, there's plenty of room for that (though the low ceiling means you probably shouldn't pogo too much). On the other hand, if you're a tad old and grumpy and would rather absorb events at one remove, comfortable seating is plentiful. Taking in the performance from the back of the room, the feeling is akin to watching a gig at gallery (albeit an underground gallery that, wahey, serves beer).
BelloBar is run by a trio of young scene-sters (sorry for dropping the 's' word – but it could be worse, we might have called them hipsters).
Ciara Coyne, Anna Gallagher and Shane Masterson were approached by the owner of the room with a view to reviving it as a venue (it can accommodate up to 80 sitting patrons or 250 standing). All three have experience as both performers and music bookers and thus felt they could make the most of the opportunity.
What they've created is the perfect hangout for the Instagram generation. One particular strength is that you can go to a gig without feeling as if you're AT a gig. There's none of the usual sense of being corralled and reaching the bar isn't a spirit-sapping trek. Squint and you could be hanging in the den of a fashionable friend with great taste in vintage decor (a gramophone on the mantel piece, Mad Men-style lampshades, etc).
Upstairs, the contrast couldn't be sharper. Upon entering the Lower Deck (yes, the ground floor venue is the Lower Deck) the first sight that confronts you is one of those fruit machines that proliferate in hostelries in Britain and the United States. Around the corner, you enter a wide, "auld fella"-style pub (this is literally the case – when Barfly swung by the clientele consisted of a bunch of grizzled 60-somethings scowling furiously at their stout).
On a video projector, footage of a race meeting was beamed: several other screens provided updates on UK soccer.
Should you have arrived direct from BelloBar, there's a definite not-in-Kansas vibe. Not that you'll feel intimidated exactly.
However, the "experience" is definitely different – saltier, grittier and very, very Dublin. Who's to say if one is better than the other? In late evening socialising, as in life, diversity is always welcome.