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 him? He told me about a craze for Irish-themed bars that was sweeping Britain and continental Europe. Bar owners abroad were paying ridiculous prices for the kind of crap generally found gathering dust in our grandparents’ 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, many offered to pay him for taking these unwanted items off their hands.
Of course, I didn’t believe a word it. But he was telling the truth. Eventually, this bizarre craze even reached these shores. Dublin is already home to dozens of fake ‘Oirish’ bars. So, in that at least respect, Shebeen Chic on George’s Street is nothing new. However, this bar tweaks the formula a little. It’s pitched at locals, rather than tourists.
Old-style picture illustrations cover the walls. Dog-eared concert tickets hang over the bar. And the only lager served on tap is Harp. (You know there’s such a thing as keeping it too real, lads.) Is anything about this place on the level?
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.
The vintage fittings and furnishings were obviously 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?
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 everything will come back into fashion sooner or later.
I rummage in my pocket for some money.
After a decade spent aping the habits of the Russian nouveau riche, Dublin is embracing recession-chic with a vengeance. The recession-themed accessories are fake. If only the recession were too.