Monday, March 24, 2014

5 Tips for Having the Craic and Saving Money in Dublin City Centre

While it’s a fair city to live in, enjoying yourself in Dublin has become an increasingly pricey enterprise - for a fairly small European city, it is guilty of being a bit of a tourist trap, with many of it’s key attractions diddle-ee-eyeing it up for the sake of tourists (especially Americans) looking to part with 50 euro notes. Far too many stories are being heard of pints costing 6 and 7 euro, and far too bloody often the selection is the same supermarket slush you can get anywhere. Negotiating your way through the pricey labyrinth of The Big Smoke without injuring your wallet is difficult, but doable. Let's take a look at five easy ways to soften the blow.

5. Stay away from Copperface Jack’s

The international notoriety of Copperface Jack's and its Harcourt Street brethren is known to all, far and wide and it's unlikely to lose its seedy lure for rural, hormonal twentysomethings anytime soon. If you want a paint-by-numbers Night Out, with a standard crowd (there's always a crowd there), basic drinks and an increased chance of nocturnal romance (he said, an eyebrow raised), there's not much of an argument to be had against Coppers.

Except that it's sweaty, expensive and crap.
Something that will come as a surprise to no one is that Copperface Jack's is a meat market, full of shady characters looking to Make a Sale and Bail. Far as the eye can see, it's as jam-packed as a tin of spam, with people pressing each other up against walls, glowing with condensation and remorse, awkwardly licking each others faces because they're so drunk off Carlsberg, Budweiser and other boring beers. Just like the ambience, the music is meticulously 'Does what it says on the tin', with chart hits spat out by a soulless DJ, followed by a smattering of sure-fire 1990s Nostalgia Choons. Look, everyone will guiltily confess to having had at least one epic night there, but it's the McDonalds of Dublin nightclubs - it's as condensed, processed and unhealthy as you can get. Unlike McDonalds though, it's expensive - last time I checked it's a tenner in, and the pisswater they serve is the same boring supermarket tipple you can get anywhere.

Instead of immediately leaping into the queue for Jack’s, think further toward the Liffey. Doyle’s of College Green is a perfectly fine establishment that doesn’t charge a cover, and offers a very similar experience to Coppers - minus the exorbitant drink prices for shit beer, and the sinister meaty ambience. Downstairs is a friendly, welcoming pub (although I did overhear a man there say that he thought ‘The Big Bang Theory’ was the best American sitcom he’d ever seen) while upstairs is a fun, vibrant night-club with the same “Play the hits” mentality that works for Coppers - but it’s less depressing because of the drinks promos, and the ability to sit down. For the best compromise between affordability, and ease of location (especially if you’re relying on public transport), Doyle’s is the happiest medium.

Style and affordability meet in The Workman’s Club and its accompanying pub, The Bison Bar however. It’s just a really cool place, with a reliably eccentric crowd and drinks promos that range from the sublime to the amazing. Where you’re stuck paying €5.50 for a Budweiser in Coppers, in Workman’s it’s a fiver for a Whiskey Sour. Even less still, is the ‘Gail Platt’, named after the eternally annoying Coronation Street character. On Sunday night’s Karaoke Night (where patrons were recently taken by storm by soulful reimaginings of Common People and Danger Zone) I managed to enjoy the company of Ms. Platt four times, for less than €20. The Rovers can’t compete - I say can’t compete with that, Ashley.

4. Cinemas: Choose Irish

Cineworld on Parnell Street (The Artist Formerly Known as The UGC) has some fine facilities, fairly friendly staff, is well-laid out and because of its exclusive IMAX screen is largely unavoidable when a big Summer blockbuster comes out. Unfortunately, it’s ferociously expensive, with tickets on the wrong side of €11, and for reasons that remain a mystery to me, it is basically the Hellmouth of cinemas; a hive of scum, villainy, and people who have loud, ignorant conversations throughout a film while waving their iPhone around like a floodlight, as though it were somehow the key to their release from this dark prison. I have actually been known to stand up and tell people to be quiet during films there. I can’t explain why, but it attracts utter dickheads and I always try to avoid the place for the sake of my sanity.

The Savoy on O’Connell Street is a classier gem, too often forgotten by modern Dubliners. While it has fewer screens (many of them smaller than its Parnell St. rival) and thus less choice of cinema times, it boasts undeniably better ambience (I love the way the staff still wear bow ties and some of the ushers look like they’ve worked there for decades) and is crucially a lot cheaper than Cineworld. It’s just a nicer place to be and I have fond memories of my recent trips there.

For less mainstream cinema, The IFI is the secret weapon of the city, with regular and affordable screenings of independent films, documentaries and classics (my girlfriend and I saw Casablanca on Valentine’s Day there two years ago and it was delightful). A similar venue is The Screen, a quiet little resource around the corner from d’Olier Street. Like the IFI, bigger Hollywood films generally aren’t shown there, but it’s a good place to see subversive character dramas, and usually the big Oscar nominees will be shown there. It also warrants a mention for its showings of all of the Batman movies in the Summer of 2012.

3. Antidotes for the Starbucks Infection

Like most European cities, Dublin is suffering from an outbreak of Starbucks coffee houses that have poisoned the city overnight, with new ones sprouting up like warts on every side of the Liffey, as Irish-owned businesses are ritually sacrificed to the American behemoth. Everybody in the world knows that Starbucks is overpriced, pretentious and rubbish - their coffee is so drab and tasteless that unless you order an expensive, syrupy, foamy cup of swill, you’re not going to enjoy your drink at all. The vacuum-packed food is so expensive that the fact that it looks stale and repulsive isn't even the reason you avoid it. The Wifi has rarely worked very well in any of the many outlets I've visited and while the staff are undoubtedly friendly, it’s that creepy, overenthusiastic, manufactured Stepford Wife-brand of friendliness that is more off-putting and repellant than it is welcoming. These places are magnets for ageing hipsters, loud and annoying tourists and complete assholes.

There are plenty of beautiful, gourmet coffee houses around Dublin, but the problem is that Starbucks isn’t trying to cater to these people. It understandably provides a service to people in a hurry, on-the-go, in a rush, etc. For a more affordable facsimile, with more down-to-Earth staff, dramatically more affordable coffee and reasonable food options, I've really fallen in love with Centra Foodhall on Abbey Street.

Don’t let its newsagenty title fool you - while it is fundamentally a shop, it works well as a café as well, with a cosy seating area and plenty of hot food options as well as self-service coffee machines, negating the need to deal with an Americanised automaton awkwardly asking what your name is so they can scrawl a hasty misspelling of it onto a paper cup. Get a loyalty card and you’ll quickly find yourself with a free cup of coffee, even though you’ve barely spent a tenner there over a two-week period.

If you’re not in a hurry, another cheap option is, strangely enough, The Decent Cigar Emporium on Grafton Street, which also offers coffee at insanely competitive prices (last time I went there it was 1.90 for an Americano). Also, it goes without saying that if your a motorist, Topaz is a caffeine-godsend.

2. Dealz is the greatest thing ever

Pound shops (a term so well-known that it has retained its iconic power long after the introduction of the euro) have always been an essential secret weapon to getting by in any major Irish town. Dublin is awash with these wonders, many of them loaded with budget-friendly eccentricities that presumably found their way over here in some kind of bulk trawler.

Dealz goes above and beyond, not just providing the bare essentials, but the nitty-gritty requirements that you find yourself needing, but not wanting to spend money on. Little things like white-boards (or chalk-boards) for the kitchen, thermoses, various bodycare products (don’t buy underarm deodorant anywhere else) and fiddly little entertainment requirements (HDMi cables, coaxial audio cables, USB chargers, blank CDs, DVDs and VHS tapes!) are all available there for pennies (149 to be exact). Also, if you’re stocking up for a movie marathon and you need some junk food, don’t bother throwing money down the toilet in Tesco - Dealz have got you sorted on that front as well, with lots of interesting confectionary that’s pricey or difficult to find elsewhere as well as the usual stuff for as little as half the price you’d pay in the supermarket.

An honourable mention must go to Tiger as well - they’re not quite a pound shop, as many of their products cost as much as €5, but they’re well-deserving of a mosey as they have a wealth of weird little oddities you didn’t know you needed (everything from herbs and spices to wind-up robots and fake moustaches).

1. Temple Bar by day, not by night.

This is common knowledge for anyone who has spent more than ten minutes in Dublin, but for those on the tear, the Temple Bar area is a ridiculous, stereotype-promoting, cliché-ridden tourist trap with legendarily expensive pubs. Don’t get me wrong, there are some truly wonderful, completely-free cultural events and unmissably quirky shops and stalls there that make it an essential spot to be during the day, but when night falls, the place rapidly deteriorates into an almighty dive.

If you want to actually experience Irish culture and not the tawdry ‘Darby O’Gill and the Little People’ version of it, go to Club Chonradh na Gaeilge on Harcourt Street - a bastion of truth, drinking and an tslí Gaelach. Conceptually it’s an Irish-speaking pub and at any given time, at least 80% of its patrons will usually be speaking the language - but don’t let this put you off. It’s got one of the friendliest atmospheres in Dublin and the barmen are only too happy to teach you the cúpla focal so that you can order a pionta leánn dubh. If you really want to go full-Irish, there’s traditional Irish music there quite often and even a bit of the auld damhsa. Worth mentioning that their pints are reasonably-priced as well and you’ll get a great Guinness there.

By now you’ll have realised that I hate shelling out money on crap, supermarket beer like Budweiser or Carlsberg. If you’re in town having a pint, you can enjoy far better and at cheaper cost. Places like the Portherhouse Central on Nassau Street, the Bull and Castle in Christchurch and my favourite J.W. Sweetman’s (The Artist Formerly known as Messrs Maguire) are awash with freshly brewed craft beers, on tap and often for less than a fiver (while the tasteless Budweisers are often at least a euro or two more expensive). I recommend Porterhouse’s Red Ale and Kölsch Pale Ale is a great choice if you’re in J.W. Sweetman’s (or Cologne - where it’s from, for that matter). 

Unfortunately, our national tastes are drab and uninspired even in the best environments - despite certain pubs having an abundance of these tasty treat-beers, people always favour the drab foamy rubbish they know, but you can be the change you expect in other drinkers. Hopefully I've highlighted a few money-saving spots. Even if you don't actually save any money per se, you may at least find that you've enjoyed spending it that bit more. Vive le Capitalisme!


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