Saturday 20 January 2018

A special place that lives in our hearts

In a good establishment, they will serve you without being servile
In a good establishment, they will serve you without being servile
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

You could be forgiven for thinking that hosting an establishment is a dying art in this country. There is a new breed of shops, restaurants and pubs where the aim seems to be less about making the customer feel comfortable and more about making them feel privileged for being there. There is an increasing number of restaurants that don't take bookings, the idea apparently being that you fit in with their plans rather than them fitting in with yours. In many of these establishments we are invited to pay to come and admire the chefs or proprietors, to treat them as artists.

The phenomenon of more and more limited choice has also hit these shores. It seems this new breed of hospitality workers even knows better than us what we should choose to eat.

Which is a shame. Because we have always been a nation of great shopkeepers and hosts. There is a reason why you will find Irish people working in some of the greatest hotels in the world, and why Irish hotels are often recognised as being the greatest in the world.

There is a reason too why the concept of the Irish pub has been exported all over the world. Our warmth and friendliness and sense of fun is not a myth. If you don't believe me, go to some pubs abroad.

And this nation of shopkeepers, of traders, of talkers, still knows how to run an establishment, whether it be a hotel, a pub, a shop or a restaurant. We still know how to make somewhere feel special.

This week we publish your choice of the best eating experiences in Ireland. And this week we are also putting out a call for your choice of Ireland's best establishments - the pubs, clubs, shops, eating houses, cafés and hotels that make you feel special, that make you feel at home.

We want to know the places that have that special charm, the places where you feel a little bit of magic when you walk in the door, the places where you feel special, where you feel instantly at home, or indeed the places that transport you.

Establishments are the texture of Irish life in many ways. Public life is still to some extent lived out in work, in clubs, at Mass, outside Mass or in school and outside school - but more and more we conduct our public lives, and indeed some of our private lives, in commercial establishments.

This is where we interact, where we bump into people, where we catch up with old friends, where we gather with our families.

And establishments are also part of the daily ritual of our lives. For some people, that small interaction in the shop when they go to buy the paper, that same chat had every day with the barman in their local, that cup of tea in the local café that breaks up the morning can be a valued part of the day. In a good establishment, we all connect. We remember that we are all human beings.

A good establishment also delights us. It's a treat to go there. It adds a bit of colour to your day, maybe a bit of escapism. In a good establishment they will serve you without being servile. You'll be treated like royalty, but in the most casual way.

It could be your local pub or shop, or the hotel you go back to every year, or the place you bring your Granny for afternoon tea once a month where they make her feel special. Equally it could be your local ethnic food shop, a weekly market. It could even be a street food stall.

Lots of shopkeepers and restaurateurs and publicans and traders can be the sort of people who are the cornerstones of the local community. So maybe you'll pick an establishment that is the heartbeat of your community, a place that brings people together, a place that has reached out beyond its own doors and become more than just a place.

We need your entries in as early as possible in the week. And remember, everyone who sends in a suggestion is a potential winner of our fabulous prize this week.

Next week, we will print your guide to Ireland's best establishments.

See pages eight and nine for your great eating experiences.

Tell us about Ireland's best establishments by emailing, or tweet using the hashtag #Great LittleCountry. Or visit to submit your entry, or post it to A Great Little Country - Experience It, c/o 27/32, Talbot St, Dublin 1.

Sunday Independent

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