52 South William Street, Dublin 2
Tel: 01 6777007
All-American diner style hits Dublin
I've said it before, but there is something of a renaissance taking place in Dublin around the block from George's Street to Clarendon Street, a bloom of individualistic bars and restaurants that has made this one of the most enjoyable parts of the city to hang out of a Saturday night. From Fade Street's high-density selection of the No Name Bar, L'Gueulton, The Market Bar and the newly-opened Fade Street Social to the Clarendon Bar a few streets over or the old-school Grogans on Castle Market; this is a populous and vibrant square mile. And now the Damson Diner has added its name to the list, opening in the South William Bar's old spot.
When I walk in, there's a guy in a flat cap with a scarf and intricate facial hair doing the Guardian crossword. I almost laugh at his perfect representation of the fabulous hipster life.
There's a long American-style diner on one side, behind which the chefs are flipping burgers and grilling up a storm.
The 1980s child in me immediately wants to sit at the bar and order a slice of cherry pie, but I pull myself together.
A mix of rock'n'roll, tasteful indie and perfectly chosen retro guilty pleasures plays through the stereos at just the level that your mother would find a bit too loud.
I'm seated at one of the bank of high-table, two seaters. It's all very close-proximity and a bit bright too, when I had been hoping for a cosy chat in a dark corner.
My boyfriend says I need to learn how to better hide my feelings on my face, but I'm just not that evolved yet. He might advise me, as Lady Macbeth once said to her husband, to "look like the innocent flower but be the serpent under't." But no, if I'm a flower, I look like a flower. If I'm being a serpent, I look scorpy.
The waitress obviously gets a bang of sourpuss off me, as she's back in a couple of minutes asking me if I'd like to sit at one of the lower tables down the back. My face is now a sunny flower and off we go to a dark corner down the back.
My friend arrives and we have serious things to discuss, an intensely private saga. We're practically nose-to-nose during the telling of said saga and just as we're thinking the music is a bit too loud, even for young, hip folks like us, it is magically turned down. I am impressed.
This kind of thing happens right through the night. I have a coughing fit at one point (still have the old man's cough) and the barman brings a glass of water to the table and wordlessly places it down with a sympathetic smile.
My companion tries to outdo me with her impressive smoker's cough, and she does a good job too, at one point her tongue pokes out of her mouth like a tortoise's head straining from its shell, but she receives no valedictory glass of water.
The men behind the Damson Diner are Oisin Davis, who ran the Sugar Club for 13 years, and Marc and Conor Breen, the fraternal duo behind Coppinger Row.
Conor designed Damson Diner, which begins as a retro diner and gets progressively darker and more contemporary as you head towards the back. There are fabulous details, like a junglish decal on the wall of the stairs.
Both Davis and Marc Breen are there on the night I go for dinner and the staff are incredibly friendly. At one point Breen passes by and asks how our food is, and fills us in on their plans.
I have to admit I had expected the Damson Diner to have bit of a bar feel, but Breen tells me there will be a downstairs lounge area opening soon, which will cater for that aspect. There is also a private dining room to serve 12 people.
We order from the menu, which is nicely casual, a mix of grill and 'bites'.
I order a classic cheeseburger (€14.50), which comes with some nice crispy fries and dip and my friend goes for the American ribs (€10.50) from the bites menu, which are cooked in a bath upstairs for 12 hours.
We order a side of Asian slaw (€3.50), which is deliciously spicy. The ribs are sticky and spicy and there are plenty of them. These must come with a not-safe-for-first-date warning, unless there is a covered-in-food fetish involved.
The food is basic but good. My burger comes wrapped tightly in bacon and just as I'm wondering 'where's the cheese?', I bite into it and discover the cheese all melted inside.
It is the cocktails, however, that really set Damson Diner apart. I have a Double Bubble (€10), mainly because it has two of my favourite drinks (limoncello and prosecco) together in one glass. It's also filled with lychee bubbles, which give it a fruity fun kick.
My friend goes for the Strawberry Blonde (€10), which is prosecco, strawberry and elderflower. I'm tempted to try the Tequila Mockingbird, just for the inventiveness of the name, but the last time I tried tequila I did a version of Riverdance on a Chicago bar. So I try the Heming Way (€10) instead, which is just the right side of bitter. They know their cocktails here and along the back wall of the bar is a line of giant pickle jars in varying shades, from red to yellow, that look like a mad professor's specimens, but are actually the spirits that Damson Diner infuses and spices on site.
We order a chocolate fudge brownie (€5.50) with ice cream to finish. Again, there is nothing original about this, but it is very, very good. Moist and sticky in the middle and a big enough slice for two.
Damson Diner have taken basic classics, priced them at mid-range point and put them in a pleasant and relaxed hipster habitat.
They've cleverly done the showing off in an area that is under-served in Dublin, the cocktail menu and their drinks list (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic is inspired). It's a perfect place to hang out, have a bite and catch up and the front diner is incredibly welcoming to solo diners so you can see this place becoming a kind of home from home. We stayed for three hours and only left because everyone else had!
Recommended: The ribs are finger-licking good.
The damage: €97.50, for two mains, two sides, one dessert and three cocktails each.
At table: Meta-hipsters.
On the stereo: A fabulous playlist of retro hits like The Crystals' And Then He Kissed Me, Joe Jackson's Is She Really Going Out With Him? and Don Henley's Boys Of Summer.