Sunday 24 September 2017

Welcome to Google Town

A chip off the old dock: the now salubrious Grand Canal Dock area
A chip off the old dock: the now salubrious Grand Canal Dock area
Google HQ, Barrow Street

Joe O'Shea

Welcome to Google Town – Ireland's Tech Triangle – that little patch of Dublin that's been transformed into Silicon Valley, without the palm trees.

To the young, affluent, often ex-pat and always hard-working, hard-playing locals, D4 is now "G4", Twitter Town, Silicon Dock or (with a sense of irony), the gilded "Google Ghetto".

As seen on Google Maps, it's a triangle, with the three points situated at the Marker Hotel at Grand Canal Square, the bridge where Bath Avenue meets the Dodder River and Smyth's Pub on Haddington road.

Work is mostly around Barrow Street, home is the giant Gasworks apartments development or the terraced streets of Ringsend. And at its heart is Bath Avenue, in the shadow of the gleaming Aviva Stadium, where you will find the favourite pubs, shops and restaurants of Main Street, Google Town.

Rents are high and getting higher, increasing by as much as 25 to 30pc over the past two years. Accommodation is very difficult to find and the upmarket bars and restaurants are busy 24/7. Saturday and Sunday see the Googleheads (a term loosely applied to the entire Techie Tribe) partake in their sacred weekend ritual – Brunch.

Their favourite restaurants, cafes and gastropubs – Juniors, Farmer Browns, The Bath and Herbstreet – are jammed with young tech-workers, taking a weekend morning break to see and be seen as they tuck into bagels, French toast and pancakes.

Thousands of people now work for the big companies and start-ups crammed into a small patch of Dublin, Google alone employs around 2,500. And more are coming, with Facebook announcing last week that they are to move to bigger new headquarters in Grand Canal Dock which will have space for 1,000 employees.

And if you are not a young, high-flying staffer with companies such as Google, Twitter, Facebook, Dropbox or LinkedIn – all of whom have their international or European HQs in the area – it is easy to feel out of place.

Talk to the actual locals, the Dubs who have been there for years, and there is a slight sense of them and us, of mixed feelings about the sudden gentrification of what has traditionally been a very mixed area.

And even business people in the area will admit that while the arrival of social media and web giants has been great for them, soaring rents and old-fashioned neighbourhood bars that have suddenly been transformed into Gastropubs may be pushing long-term residents out.

"There is definitely a sense of Them and Us, that some locals feel the bars and restaurants are very snobby," says one local businessperson.

"There are bars where it's clear that the old-school locals are not really welcome, they've been pushed out to other bars and the two tribes do not tend to mix".

Daire Hickey, co-founder of the Dublin Web Summit, was up until very recently a long-term resident of Google Town. Daire recently moved to New York with his partner Mark, whom he met when Mark arrived in Dublin at the end of 2009 to work for Google.

It was around that time, following the arrival of Google to Barrow Street, close to the Grand Canal Dock, that Daire started to notice a rapid transformation.

"We were renting at the time and the rents around us just started to go up. And up. And up," he says.

"Property prices and rents were falling all across Dublin, but people were really struggling to find a place to stay in the area. When you are on a salary of one hundred thousand a year and you want to stay close to where you work, you will pay that bit extra.

Daire, now working as a journalist in New York, says the social scene in the Silicon Dock is "very busy, very vibrant".

"You have new bars like The Bath, which is a big hangout, very busy every night of the week, cafes and restaurants like Paulie's Pizza and Juniors, Herbstreet on the Dock, you would be doing very well to get a seat for brunch at the weekend.

"Even Slattery's pub, which used to be a quiet, neighbourhood kind of pub, is now packed out most nights. And pints on Friday afternoons in the summer are a bit of an institution".

Angela, who lives in an apartment block on Upper Grand Canal Street and works for a successful Cloud Computing company, says the vibe around the area is "very hip, very European, not a big drinking scene, but busy all hours of the day and night. It doesn't feel like Dublin and the locals don't get a look in".

"You could be out around Bath Avenue at two or three in the morning and there'll still be a big buzz around, people coming and going from each other's apartments, the Spar is probably the busiest in Ireland and the roads around there are just one big taxi rank day and night," she says.

"They like to party but it's pretty civilised, it's very much more European than Irish.

"And it's like everybody is on a permanent Erasmus Year buzz, they're away from home and enjoying life in a new city."

However, the sudden influx of tech companies and money into the area does bring problems.

"Rents are very high. You have people who might have been in a place for a few years and their landlords are suddenly putting it up by forty per cent. It's getting harder and harder for a lot of people to live in the area, especially if they are not earning big bucks at Google or one of the other big ones."

With a number of new companies on the way – major players Dropbox and the online community accommodation service Airbnb have recently announced plans to locate their Euro HQs in this part of the capital – there is a feeling that G4 is close to maximum capacity.

Dubliner James, who has been working for Google for the past two years, recently moved out of the Bath Avenue area after three years in the heart of the Ghetto.

"It's great for social life and meeting people, but I think I just needed a change – after a while, it just gets boring," says James.

"If you work for Google, hang out in the Bath or Slatts, do brunch at Herbstreet, you just end up seeing the same faces all of the time. You are living in a bubble, you end up working, eating, drinking and sleeping inside that bubble.

"There are a lot of people who never really go into town. Google are great to work for, but if you live in the area as well, it can get a bit much".

With more Irish start-ups and international companies arriving into the area, this enclave is set to expand still further.

The geeks may not inherit the earth. But they have already taken over one corner of Dublin.

Irish Independent

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