Friday 27 April 2018

There's a spring in our step as capital spirits rise

Dubliners throw off sackcloth and ashes and embrace going out again

ON THE WATERFRONT: Workers enjoy the good weather as they begin the Easter bank holiday break outside the Barge pub on Charlemont Street in Dublin. Photo: Gerry Mooney
ON THE WATERFRONT: Workers enjoy the good weather as they begin the Easter bank holiday break outside the Barge pub on Charlemont Street in Dublin. Photo: Gerry Mooney

JEROME REILLY

Something strange has happened. Dublin has got its mojo back. Don't tell the IMF or Angela Merkel, but since spring has sprung Dublin has been partying like it's 2004.

It's not economic recovery. Far from it. But there has been a sea change in attitude and the cut of our jib. It's as if the people, particularly the young, are sick of sackcloth and ashes; tired of being the sick men and women of Europe.

In Greece, they rioted on the streets. In Dublin, they are drinking and eating with renewed and refreshing vigour. 'Let's party tonight, and tomorrow worry about the IMF and bitch about the bankers' appears to be the mantra now.

For 18 months, Dublin on a Monday night was a dead zone. What was once the stag and hen party capital of Europe was as stagnant and empty as the State coffers. Restaurant customers were as rare as hen's teeth, but for the mysterious foreign gentlemen wearing IWC watches, tapping away at their BlackBerrys and poring over the cold numbers on Excel spreadsheets that told the story of our economic implosion.

But if those still shaking a Teutonic fist and wagging a Gallic finger at our profligacy thought we would stay indoors until 2014, they were wrong.

Last Monday night Dublin was hopping, Tuesday was busy, Wednesday was the calm before the storm, but Thursday was mother of all parties.

For some brave souls our natural reversion to type -- to party at least a little through the recession, has been a godsend. Joe Macken opened the award-winning Jo'Burger restaurant in Rathmines in 2007, less than a year before the economic axe fell. There have been trials and tribulations along the way, including the closure of a Jo'Burger outlet in Blackrock and another sandwich eaterie.

In February he opened Crackbird, an eclectic pop-up restaurant down a side alley at the unfashionable end of Temple Bar on Crane Lane. It was financed on his credit card for around €15,000.

To say it has been an astonishing success is an understatement. A quick interview at Thursday teatime was interrupted because the waitress needed a table for four, pronto. A steady stream of punters packed in for skillet-fried buttermilk chicken (€9.95 per half bird) or super-crisp soy garlic chicken for the same price. Crackbird doesn't serve chips, but a range of relatively healthy sides of potato salad, coleslaw, carrot and cranberry salad and couscous. It's fast food with a college education.

"There has never been a better time to get into business. We are looking at possibly opening four new units before the end of the year. If you are smart and work hard, there are customers out there. I cannot believe how busy it is. People want to go out. They don't want to spend a fortune, but as a people we are not going to stay in every night watching satellite TV," said Joe.

"I'm in here at nine in the morning and will still be here at 1am. I am opening on Good Friday. We are just putting our head down and getting on with it.

"The people have changed. That brashness has gone, that national malaise. It was all flash, flash, flash, spend, spend, spend. That's over now. We have an unbelievable cross-section of people coming in. It's good food, but at the right price. People are embracing the recession in a way. But they are not about to curl up and die and not go out. It's not our way," he said.

From the 'Italian Quarter' to Temple Bar across the Liffey, there was hardly a pub or restaurant not doing spectacular business.Yes, it was Holy Thursday, a traditional night of excess before the abstinence and small collations of Good Friday yet, it is clear that nighttime footfall in the city centre has risen sharply in recent weeks.

In the south city, gourmet hot spot Fallon and Byrne was doing a roaring trade; there were more than 100 people drinking outside the Stag's Head by 6pm and Coppinger Row, and the Urban lounge on South William Street was jammed. The pavement outside Dakota, the night spot on Dame Lane, was thronged. The same scene was replicated across the city. The Barge Pub on Charlemont Street had hundreds of teatime revellers enjoying the spring sunshine on the banks of the Grand Canal. It was like the old days.

Back in the city centre, Brian Kennedy was launching his latest initiative: cut- price cocktails at his venue, Lost Society, in Powerscourt Townhouse. The idea is to have a Thursday night cock-tail club.

"We are going to have different mixologists from all over Dublin and beyond, working here in the Cocktail Club. The idea is to give people really good cocktails while keeping the price really keen and in a really upmarket venue. We are working with the Bartenders' Association of Ireland, and Bacardi. We want to bring in the best talent. We just think there is a market for this.

"I think the vibe for going out in Dublin has really improved," said Brian.

The new Minister for Transport , Tourism and Sport, Leo Varadkar, says the Government is aware that the hospitality sector does need help from the State.

Speaking at the Restaurants' Association of Ireland conference in Dublin, he accepted that the industry had gone through a very difficult time. "I know that you have been hit hard by falling tourism numbers, the credit crunch and a collapse in domestic demand due to falling incomes and rising unemployment," he said.

Minister Varadkar added that the hospitality industry had responded as any good business should: by reducing costs, reducing prices, changing menus and promoting special offers.

"But I know you have not been helped by rising costs and intractable costs, many of which are imposed by Government or its agencies. While prices in the food, hotel and hospital sector continue to fall, Government-influenced prices continue to rise," the minister admitted.

As part of the job budget in May there will be a reduction in VAT from 13.5 per cent to 12 per cent and PRSI will be halved on jobs paying up to €356 per week.

But what may be more important is the attitude of the Irish people.

It looks like we are getting sick of staying in and beating ourselves up.

Sunday Independent

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