Food and Drink: Making itself a home
Lafayette 22 - 25 Westmoreland Street, Dublin, 01-674-6335
For many years one could be forgiven for suspecting the ground-floor rooms at the apex of Westmoreland and D'Olier Street laboured under some manner of multigenerational curse. Businesses moved in and out, never quite making a go of what, at first inspection, seemed a salubrious address. It was a perennial puzzle of Dublin retailing -- why could nobody turn a long-term profit here? Did the 'ghost of bankruptcy past' reside in one of the upstairs apartments, clanking chains and flicking cigarette butts at passersby?
Some of these businesses seemed like sure-fire smashes. A Manchester United store passed through, as did a combination of bars and nightclub. Each had their devotees -- apart from the soccer shop, so empty that browsing the aisles felt almost existentially depressing. Eighteen months ago the space was rebranded Lafayette and, judging on our several visits, appears to be thriving.
What's more so it has prospered by setting itself against received wisdom, which tells us that Dubliners have had enough of glossy 'super' pubs and want to take it back to a 'real' place once more. This has been the prevailing understanding since the economic crash -- a belief that, having had our fill of prosperity, we're all aching for simpler times and, thus, simpler pubs (and if they play interesting tunes and serve pretentious beers all the better).
Lafayette stands at the opposite point in the spectrum. It's glittery (though not gauche), with an emphasis on surface charm, rather than deep down grit. That isn't to suggest a kind of high end bling-palace (there are doormen but they tend to be discreet and relaxed about dress and deportment).
However, it does pack plenty of 90s style dazzle, with acres of burnished surfaces, weird murals in the toilets and the sort of cocksure barmen who indicate you have their attention via a wink or a clicked finger (they are, however, prompt and knowledgeable).
At weekends, the clientele errs toward the young and dressy, so if you're over 25 or a bit of schlepper you will stand out -- and, more than that, feel like you stand out. In such a scenario our advice is grab a high stool and install yourself in one of the window perches, which, depending on how busy it is outside, offer 'interesting' views of downtown Dublin (though at some point a local 'urchin' will bang against the pane and pull a face).
Lafayette is a tad on the dimly lit side -- the better to conjure a club atmosphere one suspects (there is indeed a night-club downstairs).
The music selections can err towards an iffy brew of Euro-techno and chart muzak. Nothing wrong with either but everything has its place and perhaps the quiet Monday on which Barfly recently stopped by wasn't the best fit. Not to be a card-carrying fogey but maybe it is wiser to save the bangers for the weekend chaps.
Yeah, it's pretty blingy. Lots of odd looking lampshades, barstaff slathered in brylcreem, a weird metal wall adornment en route to the loo. With vividly hued cocktails a speciality, drinkswise the 'b' word springs to mind also.
Easily missed, stairs towards the back lead to the toilets. Within, the urban artwork is full of 'character'.
Be warned, Lafayette attracts the outgoing sort and the chances of chit-chat at the urinal are higher than many of us maybe comfortable with.
On several early visits, we had to grin and bear it as the staff painstakingly blended a cocktail at the other end of the bar. But things have improved -- now service is speedy and more polite than normal for this breed of establishment.
Some decent (if pricey) bottled beers but the usual suspects dominate the tap selection.