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Can you still do Dublin on a shoestring?

FINDING a (clean) telephone box in Dublin was one of the many items on my to-do list. I had been handed a colourful assignment to compare today's prices and culture in the city to those from a 2002 guidebook.

The man in the business suit appeared to be in a hurry. "Why do you need a telephone box?" he asked. Good question -- I can't even remember the last time I used one.

"Well, I need somewhere to change into my costume, right?" He wasn't amused.

"But your mobile is in your hand," he replied. Again, good point. And on it went, until eventually, we both realised that there were two telephone boxes across the road. Well, at least he had been helpful.

Indeed, The Dublin Bus Guide to Dublin on a Shoestring, edited by Kathy Tynan and Derek Nagle (published 2002), recalls a time when the economic boom had "left its mark on every aspect of the city's life". An enjoyable, highly informative, and often humorous read, the pocket-sized publication offered 263 pages of history, advice on where to stay, places to shop, where to eat lunch, where to find the perfect pint, where to see the best live music and theatre, and much, much more.

But how accurate is this guide in 2012? How many of the record stores it told me to visit are still there? Not many. Is it really that difficult to find a telephone box in the city? Sometimes. And when is the last time you saw a yellow and red 'City Imp' bus? Exactly.

At its heart, Dublin is still the same old city. Our guidebook mentions the differences between the northside and the southside, and very little has changed.

They both have their ups and downs, and many of Dublin's southside residents ("ohhhh my gawd, like ... "), along with several Northside characters ("wood ya stop ihhh ... "), generally live up to a stereotype that's existed for decades.

Take to the streets on a sunny week like the one in which we did our experiment, and you might pick up on the strangest of vibes. Everyone is smiling. Food menus are everywhere. Parks are full. People are queuing to buy ice-cream. Yep, the sun came out for a week -- all the more reason for tourists to escape from their hotel rooms and enjoy a little sightseeing.

And while some folks love nothing more than a leisurely stroll through a foreign city, others prefer to be chauffeured around. In 2002, a Dublin Bus City tour (as in, the old 'hop-on-hop-off' jaunt) would set you back a tenner. Today, it'll cost you €18 -- but with with added stops, further discount rates, and a second-day-free.


Hop off for a drink along the way, and you'll find that a pint of Guinness just isn't as cheap as it used to be. My guidebook tells me that, in the city centre, I would generally pay "between €3.40 and €3.80 for a pint." Oh, how times have changed. I tried the Brazen Head (€4.80 for a Guinness), Doheny and Nesbitt's (€4.80), Hogan's (€4.55) and the International Bar (€4.60). It's still a decent price for a pint, mind.

I tried to reason with a barman over the prices. I even showed him my guidebook, asking him why he couldn't just let me pretend that it was 2002. That's when he asked me to leave and I went looking for the nearest record store.

There used to be five Golden Discs stores in or around the city centre. Now there is only one (upstairs in the Jervis shopping centre). Various independent -- and major -- outlets have disappeared. For example, Road Records on Fade Street is now the RAGE (The Record, Art & Game Emporium). And then there's Virgin Records on Aston Quay. It's now a SuperValu.

But what about the city's live music venues? Well, the old Point Theatre is now, of course, the O2. Our guidebook mentioned that the Ambassador used to be a cinema. "It has now changed medium," it reads, "and is generally host to bigger acts than appear at the Olympia or Vicar Street."

Hmmm ... but that was 10 years ago. And when is the last time you saw anything at the Ambassador that wasn't an exhibition of video games, princesses, or human body parts? Yep, its sweaty concert days are long gone, folks.

The Red Box? Gone. In fact the entire Pod complex (Tripod and Crawdaddy) is now closed. So, too, is the Odeon Bar and Grill next door (according to the posters outside, it's "on a spring break"). We do, however, have a number of new additions on the live venue front (the Academy, the Grand Social and Twisted Pepper, to name a few). Oh, and Whelan's has a whole new look, too.

Getting around the city, it's no surprise to hear that train and bus prices have gone up. A lot. I took a bus trip from Dame Street to the Tenters (four to seven stages) and it set me back €1.90. Ten years ago, that same journey would have cost only €1.05. In 2002, fares for a single DART journey were between €1.05 and €2.95. In 2012, the same fares are between €1.80 and €3.60.


Eating out is always a pricey business. There are plenty of places that provide early bird menus, but the main courses at Milano on Temple Bar no longer range between €7.45 and €10.50. You'll need at least €12-15 to enjoy their meatball Bolognese or some of their pizzas.

But at the 101 Talbot, just off O'Connell Street, time has been kinder. According to our guidebook, their a la carte menu ranged from €13.90 to €17.15 in 2002. Today, 101 Talbot's main-course menu will cost you between €15 and €22.

The real pain in the behind is cinema prices. Ten years ago, Cineworld on Parnell Street was the UGC Multiplex. An afternoon screening would only cost you a fiver, or €6.35 after 6pm -- not bad at all. I was there last week. And I spent €11.30, on one ticket.

But hey, it's still a great city, ain't it? You know, even if the shopping bag tax has increased by nearly 50pc. And guess what? We didn't even have the Spire 10 years ago.

Ah yes, here's to the next 10 years ...