Barfly: Cafe Cairo
Trinity Capital Hotel, 13-27 Pearse Street, 01 6481000
Hey, you know what Dublin needs more of? Egypt-themed hotel bars, of course! That, at any rate, would appear to be the logic behind Cafe Cairo, a sprawling adjunct to Trinity Capital Hotel tricked out in the style of an early 20th-century ... um, North African hotel bar.
Dimly lit and heaving with high-class antiquities, you half expect to bump into Indiana Jones while making the epic trek to the loos (up the stairs, around the corner, down the stairs, around another corner ... ).
For sure, it's an outside-the-box concept – who even knew Egypt-oriented pubs were a "thing"? But it also gives Cafe Cairo a unique selling point. The other advantage, if that's the word, is that, on any given evening, you are 90pc certain to be the only Irish person present.
While that means you may be overcome by the desire to roll your eyes at the barman's schmaltzy tourist chatter , it does make it a wonderful location for a below-the-radar rendezvous (less WikiLeaks-y, you are also guaranteed a seat, no matter the day of the week).
Any recommendation, though, is predicated on your tolerance for moody lighting – by which we mean quasi-darkness. Truly, this is one of those pubs where the dimmers are set so low you may have difficulty reading your book or newspaper (we gave up on our Kindle after ten minutes and whipped out the laptop).
That said, it is well lit where it needs to be (there is zero danger of tripping as you make your way to the bar or toilets, for instance) and it certainly makes for a persuasive ambience – at no point are you allowed forget you are in a 'themed' establishment rather than by-the-numbers hotel bar.
There's a curiously super-sized tone to the decor too. From the ridiculous lampshades to the bas-reliefs and statues, everything feels MASSIVE (including – have we touched on this already? – the journey to the loos).
Vast leather couches raise the comfort factor – once settled in for the evening, it is genuinely difficult to muster the will to rise (besides, on the fringes of the city centre proper, where else are you going to go?).
The service is fine, though there always seems to be a misty-eyed fourth-generation American forcing an interminable anecdote upon the bar person as you are trying to catch their eye (in the old country, you are expected to hang on a visitor's every pearl of insight apparently).
The big surprise is the presence, amid the usual suspects, of a Galway Hooker tap. With too many hotel bars content to serve a limited range of brews, it's nice to encounter some diversity.
Of course, if they really wanted to push the Egypt shtick, the management might have included a few North African beers and some evocative music (indie rock 101 does not a thematic night make).
Ultimately, though, these are quibbles. Ambience-wise, it is difficult to think of a Dublin watering hole that is so far off the beaten path.
It's crazier than a basket of snakes and we like it.
The force is strong in this one. Every centimetre of Cafe Cairo screams 'theme'. Okay, maybe not EVERY centimetre. We could do without
the back area where a flatscreen TV beams UK soccer (not very mysterious, that). Otherwise, a genuine effort is made to take you somewhere other than Pearse Street on a rainy October night.
In the bowels of the building, the loos are straightforward and functional – though perhaps lacking the five-star pamper factor you often find in hotel loos. Fine – but decidedly un-chic.
Great table service – you don't have to keep eye-balling the lounge staff before they condescend to come over. Several months ago, Barfly left a sum of money behind on a table. We returned the next day to find it in an envelope behind the bar.
What a joy it is to sup a craft brew in a Dublin hotel bar – and not have to pay through both nostrils for the privilege.