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Irish Bars Are Styling


4 South Great George's Street, Dublin 2

Back in the mid-90s I hitched a lift to Galway with a young businessman who drove a shiny black Mercedes. His job, he told me, involved rummaging around the attics and outhouses of rural Ireland and retrieving whatever rubbish he could find: old bicycles, obsolete household utensils, even discarded road signs.

Why, I asked? He told me about a craze for Irish-themed bars that was sweeping Britain and continental Europe. Bar owners abroad were paying top dollar for the kind of crap generally found gathering dust in our grand parents' garages. Foot-pedal sewing machines were being used as tables in Bradford; High Nellies were hanging from tavern walls in Bratislava.

And the best bit was that the mark-ups on these items were enormous. The original Irish owners never asked much for their useless old 'antiques'. In fact, he said, some of them even offered him money for the trouble of taking these unwanted items off their hands!

The whole story sounded utterly far-fetched. But, of course, it turned out to be true. Even more amazingly, it wasn't too long before the craze even reached these shores. The capital is already home to dozens of fake 'Oirish' bars. So, in one respect, Shebeen Chic on George's Street is nothing new. However, this bar tweaks the formula a little, in that it's pitched, not at tourists, but rather at home-grown hipsters.

Old-style picture illustrations cover the walls. Dog-eared concert tickets hang over the bar. And the only lager served on tap is Harp. (Really? They still make that? There's such a thing as keeping it too real.) Is anything about this place on the level, I wonder?

The vintage fittings and furnishings were obviously all bought in. But what about the graffiti? Did insanely prolific biro-wielding vandals really cover every square inch of wall with suspiciously profanity-free messages ("Dutch Gold!") under the noses of bar staff?

The trad band playing in the corner look like the real deal. But, when the bearded bodhrán player approaches the bar, he orders his pint in a plummy south Dublin accent. Later he has a five-minute conversation about Ugg boots with a member of staff. Willie Clancy, he ain't.

Did someone really piss on the toilet floor, I find myself wondering? Or was urine strategically placed there to burnish the bar's student-dive credentials? I order a pint of Harp and a chicken dinner (€20) and reflect that if you wait around long enough, pretty much anything will come back into fashion eventually.

I rummage in my pocket for some money.

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Catch up with Eoin's escapades on www.eoinbutler.com; eoinbutler@gmail.com