Stylist contributor Johanna Derry returns to the Irish capital to meet the generation of young creatives putting the recession behind them
Guinness. Dancing. Pubs that open at seven in the morning. Like many visitors, the first time I visited Dublin, I never made it past Temple Bar. This time around, I was determined to delve a little deeper than booze and blarney, and experience Dublin’s hotly discussed cultural resurgence. Today most young Dubliners agree that one good thing to come out of the dramatic decline of the Celtic Tiger (as the booming Irish economy was known) was that rent settled at sane levels again, which in turn created an abundance of opportunity for enterprising start-ups, artists and designers. Today the scars of recession are largely healed, and just two years after an emergency rescue by the IMF, the Irish economy is once again on the up.
And nowhere is this more evident than in Dublin’s regenerated docklands, where I check into my hotel, The Marker, a luxury design hotel that has become a symbol of the city’s design and tech revival. Dominating Grand Canal Square, it’s across the water from the gleaming Google HQ, and a pedestrian walkway of bright red resin and glass marks the way to the waterfront along the River Liffey. This area – dubbed ‘Silicon Docks’ – feels refreshingly untouristy, but you’re just a 20-minute walk to the National Gallery of Ireland, the shops and galleries of Grafton Street and, indeed, Temple Bar.
It’s with some trepidation that I return to Temple Bar, but I find it transformed. The pubs haven’t gone anywhere, but these streets are now home to a host of artistic enterprises. I duck into Cow’s Lane Designer Studio, a collective of designers and makers, where I come across milliner John Shevlin, the only Irish maker of real Panama hats. His handmade cloches, trilbies, and pork pie hats have graced many an esteemed head – Stephen Fry is a fan. Meanwhile the Temple Bar Gallery + Studios (templebargallery.com) houses 30 artists working in subsidised spaces and features slickly curated exhibitions. Skip the high-street chains of Grafton Street itself and instead turn off into the so-called ‘creative quarter’ between Grafton Street and South Great George’s Street. This web of streets is very much a hub of independent fashion labels, designers, and jewellery makers colonising small studio spaces in the city’s former Garment District, interspersed with the yoga studios and hipster cafes that the creative classes clamour for. For fashion, Drury Street is an afternoon’s shopping in its own right. Vintage obsessives should start at Jenny Vander, a Dublin institution showcasing statement gowns from the Twenties onwards. A few doors up, at Om Diva, atelier Ruth Ni Loinsigh has curated some of the most interesting examples of Irish fashion design over three floors, along with vintage finds. Check out Atelier 27, a group of up-and-coming Irish designers including Capulet & Montague and De Loup, on the first floor, and vintage clothes from the Fifties to the Eighties in the basement. Finish your Drury Street crawl at Industry & Co, a gorgeous concept design store selling mid-century modern furniture and lighting. It also houses a cafe that is the perfect place to linger with a notebook and a flat white, dreaming up grand plans.
Suitably refreshed, I head next door to the Irish Design Shop. Only my luggage allowance stopped me from buying up one of me&him&you’s clever prints of iconic cities, illustrated with their tallest building and the local tipple. Other standouts include gorgeous ceramics by Portstewart-based Adam Frew and Kilkenny potter Andrew Luddick.
On the next street over sits Powerscourt Centre, once the Georgian party house of viscounts, and now a light-filled three-storey townhouse showcasing designers like jeweller Margaret O’Rourke at MoMuse. What design and fashion buffs find so intoxicating about Dublin’s creative scene is that most designers and makers have their workshops out the back of their shop, and I watch O’Rourke hand-finishing a beautiful pendant as we talk. Upstairs at the Loft Market collective I’m seduced by the striking geometric print creations by Jennifer Rothwell.
After such a visual feast, I venture to Parfumarija in Westbury Mall for an olfactory experience, where classically trained perfumer Marija Aslimoska creates her own cult fragrances in store, and also stocks a range of hard-to-find bottles from the likes of Frederic Malle and Le Galion.
If just reading this exhausts you, thankfully, there’s further caffeination to be had at Kaph, tea at Clement & Pekoe, and chocolate sustenance at Cocoa Atelier. For a nourishing feed, head to award-winning slow foodhall Fallon & Byrne, whose old school creaking wooden floors welcome you to an extensive basement wine cellar, a cornucopia of beautiful whole foods and organic veggies on the ground floor, and an excellent restaurant upstairs.
Now, of course, you could stick around for the craic in Temple Bar, if you’ve still got the energy. But I was lured back to The Marker, tempted by the thought of chef Gareth Mullins’ Wicklow lamb, a glass of Dublin’s Teeling Whiskey on the rooftop bar and the promise of views out to sea and the Wicklow mountains. How I missed all this the first time round in Dublin, I don’t know. But I’ll be coming back for more, that’s for sure.
Hotel-hopping in Dublin
Splash the cash: The Morrison
Right in the city centre on the river by the Millennium Bridge, The Morrison hits that sweet spot between being relaxed and refined, with stylish leather sofas and minimalist white walls lending a fashionable flourish, while the cookie you’re handed upon check-in is a fun, friendly touch. It’s close to all the action, but the rooms are superbly soundproofed, making this a great option for night owls who really, really relish their beauty sleep. Quay 14, the well-stocked cocktail bar downstairs, is the best spot to get to grips with local, small-batch distilleries; try Dingle Gin, Teeling Whiskey and, if you’re feeling brave, potent poitin. (Double room from £150; morrisonhotel.ie)
Save your pennies: The Dean
Don’t be deceived by the grand Georgian townhouse exterior of The Dean. Inside there’s a party going on – live music at the weekend, and a more relaxed vibe mid-week. It’s warm and quirky, with chrome tables and concrete walls contrasted with parquet floors and original, specially commissioned, Irish art on the walls. On the roof you’ll find Sophie’s, a glasshouse restaurant with incredible panoramic views over the city – when the weather is the wallpaper it’s hard to tear yourself away, so fortunately you can eat there from dawn till dusk or, rather, brunch till cocktail hour. (Double room from £77; deandublin.ie)