Wednesday 23 October 2019

King of cafe society Giorgio may have lost his palace, but he'll reign again

SAD DAY: Giorgio Casari and his wife Noreen outside the Unicorn last Thursday, just minutes after it closed abruptly
SAD DAY: Giorgio Casari and his wife Noreen outside the Unicorn last Thursday, just minutes after it closed abruptly
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

AT 5pm on Thursday, Dublin's 'king of cafe society' Giorgio Casari was a king without a kingdom when the Unicorn – the restaurant he had run since 1994 – closed abruptly.

In January 2012, Giorgio was effectively served with an eviction notice by landlord Jeff Stokes to evacuate the premises within four weeks.

At the time, Jeff and his wife, Pia Bang Stokes, said business would continue as usual at the Unicorn, with Jeff adding that "in this tough market" he intended to run the restaurant directly himself.

At 5.15pm last Thursday, Giorgio rang me and said the famous restaurant was closed.

Photographs of himself and his wife, Noreen, show the heartbroken couple just minutes after it happened.

The notice on the door, written in wonky capitals, said it all: "To all our customers and friends, thank you from Giorgio, Noreen and the team."

A notice on the Unicorn's website gave further explanation: "Giorgio, Noreen and Rudy would like to thank you all for the wonderful 18 years that we have had here at the Unicorn. Circumstances have meant we have to leave and the restaurant is now closed."

Giorgio told me: "I was very sad yesterday, saying goodbye to the staff – some of them I've worked with for 18 years." But he sounded optimistic: "As the saying goes, there are no endings, only new beginnings."

Sources believe Jeff Stokes will reopen the Unicorn in the next few weeks under new management.

The restaurant was the centre of Dublin's social scene, and Giorgio was invariably in the middle of it, bringing a bowl of steaming pasta to the table of a former US president (Bill Clinton was a regular with Bono when in town) or a glass of champagne to a media figure on the terrace (Eamon Dunphy could often be found singing to friends).

Friday afternoons were legendary – full of big-spending property developers such as Johnny Ronan and Sean Dunne mixing with gadabouts, social butterflies, multi-millionaires, penniless chancers, spin doctors, musicians and actors.

"The Unicorn is the hub of social activity and Giorgio set that up – gave it that spirit of culture and theatre and fun," said Gate Theatre director Michael Colgan, who held Brian Friel's 80th birthday party there in 2009.

I don't think we've heard the last of Giorgio. The man from Milan doesn't do last orders.

Irish Independent

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