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Jun 30, 2016

The Tram Café – All Aboard For Lunch!

IMG_0601I’ve been dying to check out the Tram Café ever since it pulled up to Wolfe Tone Square (the side of Jervis Shopping Centre to you & me). Such a cool idea, there was much fanfare when the tram first arrived. Well, I gotta say I wasn’t disappointed today. Dad was the perfect lunch date, being something of a transport buff (train spotter) himself. Stepping on board the tram is just brilliant. I don’t know why!

IMG_0549Our super-friendly waiter showed us to our seats. All are window-side, needless to say, with booths and roundy tables for two. There’s a counter at the back, behind which the kitchen busies away. Lovely cakes were on display, always a winner with me! A nice spot for tea & cake (duly noted), but we had arrived with rumbling bellies. The lunch menu includes a daily soup and hotpot and a daily special sandwich.

IMG_0559Dad went for the soup and sambo combo; Broccoli and Kale Soup with a Dubliner toasted sandwich on granary with chicken, cheese, caramelised onion and grapes. A grand big bowl of rustic soup arrived, the stuff of a hearty lunch. I ploughed through a good wedge of toasted Focaccia filled with goat’s cheese, sundried tomato, rocket and basil pesto, with a delish mini superfood salad on the side.

IMG_0555I’d go as far as saying it’s the best sandwich I’ve had in Dublin in a while. In terms of quality ingredients, value and service, the Tram Café is bang on. There’s plenty of places where you’d part with good money for a ropey old sambo and a crappy coffee. Here you get great food at a fair price, with gorgeous smiley staff to boot. The buzzy atmos is not just down to the tram itself. It’s a well thought out concept.

IMG_0558The beautiful vintage tram has a story of its own, of course. Found in a field in Cavan, lovingly restored by Dave and John and brought to Dublin in all its shiny retro nostalgia, the Tram Café evokes a bygone era. No generic Starbucks fit-out here. The emerald green exterior, wood panelling, soft lighting and 1920s music all make for a glamorous, old skool experience. It’s such a nice escape from modrin life.

IMG_0609The tram was built in 1902 by Brill in Philadelphia and spent most of it’s working life in Lisbon, Portugal. There’s a deadly photo story of the tram’s refurbishment inside, so you can follow the journey from ruin to former glory. There’s seats outside too, so there’s plenty of room for everyone. This particular part of Town is not known for it’s rich culinary landscape, so the Tram Café is a welcome addition.

www.thetramcafe.com / The Tram Café, Wolfe Tone Square, Dublin 1

Jun 16, 2016

Joyce & Rebellion – Dublin on Bloomsday

ReadingIt was a day of threatening rain, that didn’t quite bucket down as expected. But the gloomy clouds above did nothing to dampen the city spirit below. Wandering around were all sorts of wonderful characters. Bowler hatted gents, straw boatered chaps, flapper girls, meringue hatted ladies and modern day Molly Blooms. I’ve been mingling with these types around Town all week, but today we joined in the fun!

Bloomsday Festival guide in hand, our first stop was St Andrews on Westland Row. My church. A holy place neither breath taking nor dull, but imposing if only on the inside. Most folk scurry past this impressive building every day on their journey home via Pearse Street Station. St Andrews is not an intimate church, so its size lent itself perfectly to the concert Joyce & Rebellion: A Musical Journey.

St Andrews is one of the many Dublin landmarks immortalised in Joyce’s Ulysses. The programme evoked times gone by with a beautiful mix of song, music, poetry and story. And of course history. St Andrews’ association with the 1916 Rising is celebrated by an exhibition at the church, well worth a visit. Joyce & Rebellion: A Musical Journey reminded us of the heart and courage of local men and women.

Hosted by Elizabeth Watson and Jean Monahan, the pews were filled by plenty of well dressed Joyce enthusiasts. None under 40… Opened with a reading of Thomas Moore’s The Minstrel Boy, by Carmel Heapes, then Moore again, Silent O’Moyle, read by Connie Murray, both accompanied by Carole O’Connor at the ivories. Oro Se Do Bheatha Bhaile was performed by Greenore Community Choir.

JoyceIt really took me back to a time (the 1980s!) with my Granny and Grandad O’Shea. Being in their tiny kitchen singing old songs. The fire blazing, the wireless humming in the background. A big pot of stew brewing on the stove. Tea for the adults, lemonade for us. Grandad with the toasting fork (hot buttered toast…) in one hand and a billowing Woodbine in the other. Granny standing, stirring, chatting.

Down by the Glenside sung by Jean Monahan, followed by George Smith and Simon Heapes’ performance of The Rising of the Moon and The Wearing of the Green. Catherine Byrne read W.B. Yeats September 1913. More memories! School, this time. Too young we were to appreciate anything at all… Of course I remember these poetic rhymes, learned by heart, but how they really speak to me now.

Simon Heapes took to the stage (or altar) once again with Love’s Old Sweet Song. We helped him, nowhere near his tenor, but enjoying it all the same. He was joined by George Smith, belting out A Nation Once Again, with all of us on hand once again. Catherine Byrne brought us more Yeats with The Song of Wandering Aengus. Historical tales of our 1916 heroes knitted together the songs and prose.

George Smith sang Grace, Carmel Heapes read Pearse’s The Mother and Connie Moore sang The Last Rose of Summer. It truly was an escape from the commercial, digital world we live in today. In fact, my iPhone had run out of juice, I didn’t even have to worry about capturing shots. Just being free of technological distraction for a few hours… It’s so relaxing! How art did thrive before Twitter tyranny.

AltarTo My Daughter Betty by Thomas Kettle was told heartfelt by Carmel Heapes, Oft in the Stilly Night performed by Simon Heapes. The final curtain at St Andrews; all three, Simon Heapes, George Smith and Connie Murray with Carole O’Connor on piano, as throughout, in a roof-raising rendition of The Holy City. We were invited up to encore, us fellow Joyceans, and linked arms with Love’s Old Sweet Song.

The concert was free. It was absolutely excellent. Thanks to the St. Andrews Church Choir and St. Andrews Church Heritage Working Group. And, of course, the hugely talented performers. Nobody my age really goes inside a church these days, unless for a wedding, christening, communion or funeral. Not a regular Mass goer, I pop in for solace from the city. And music. And exhibitions. And fun!

Back out into the light of day, dark as it was, we sailed past Kennedy’s, spying the Bloomsday brethren within. We popped in last time, for a wicked performance by the bold Rose Lawless, doing Molly Bloom to only the flawed perfection she can. This time we were in want of tea, not ale, (’twas only midday!) so we tucked ourselves in at cosy café Tri Via, on Lincoln’s Place. A great people watching spot.

Indeed, as we put away delicious homemade muffins, brownies and croissants, did we see a certain Senator, dressed to the nines cane and all, approach Sweny’s next door. David Norris is a familiar face to all Bloomsday patrons and a huge supporter of the Irish arts. Cameras clicked as he swept in and out of another fabled Ullyses stop. Sweny’s Pharmacy is now an olde worlde bookshop and Joyce museum.

Tri ViaIn we went, events sure to unfold. There was a stall outside doing lemonade and madeleines and plenty of vintage fillies and gents milling about. And the scent of lemon soap filled the air. But an impromptu reading from the Dubliners meant we were in luck with perfect timing. A Scottish man, whose name I do not know, gave a swaggering version of a chapter’s events. It was really very, very cool.

A bar of brown paper wrapped lemon soap in the bag we made our way up into Temple Bar, my neighbourhood. This culture vulture lark is hard work, so we broke off to the Porterhouse for a bit of footie action. England v Wales. It’s a top spot for pub grub. We polished off Scampi, Piri Piri Chicken Sandwich and Mixed Veggies all with lovely fluffy chips and a pint each. Oyster Stout for me. Very nice!

Meeting House Square was next on the agenda, for Bloomsday Readings with Keelin Shanley. The journalist and broadcaster was joined by various Irish actors, writers and musicians for another gratis gig. I’ve been known to listen from my bedroom, which looks onto Meeting House Square, in the past. I can catch bands at the Olympia from here too! The square was filled with Joyceans, old and young.

Roisin Ingle, of the Irish Times, was on the stage as we approached. There were hearty performances from Colm O’Gorman, Domini Kemp and, you guessed it, Senator David Norris. We segwayed into the National Photographic Archive to mix up our rebels with our rascals once again. The exhibition, Rising, is free entry (can you see a theme here?) and documents the events in and around the day.

Davy ByrnesBlack and white images of the destruction done to Dublin, the bravery of young Irish men and the effect on the everyday lives of locals are just fascinating. It’s hard to believe it was only 100 years ago… A walking tour of the exhibition is available, but we were happy to take it all in ourselves. I’ll be back with Himself, who’s a big history buff. And we do live next door! Mama and Papa certainly enjoyed it, too.

We were done by now. Off they went, Mother and Father, to Grafton Street, and up to Davy Byrne’s for one last nod to James Joyce. Bloomday is fast becoming one of the city’s most celebrated events, with Bloomsday Festival running events throughout the week. It’s great craic and I always find Townie friends out and about. Next year, Madre and me have promised to dress up! Or don a hat at least…

www.bloomsdayfestival.ie

May 22, 2016

Fab Food Trails – Dublin Coffee Experience

IMG_0334Disclaimer: I’m a tea drinker. A nice cup of Barry’s & I’m good to go! So it was straight from the frying pan into the fire when I signed up for Fab Food Trails’ brand new Coffee Trail. What was I thinking? Well, that Dublin now has a vibrant coffee scene, new cafes are popping up all over the shop & that Irish people have finally grown up & become serious coffee drinkers. And I want me a slice of that pie!

IMG_0251So what’s all the fuss about? What exactly is this “good coffee” that’s taking over our Old Town? Fab Food Trails, Dublin’s foremost food tasting experience, have done all the hard work, so all I have to do is turn up & find out. We were met by our guide, Aoife McElwain, coffee enthusiast & head honcho at forkful.tv, on the famous steps of Powerscourt Townhouse Centre. Bright, but not yet bushy-tailed…

IMG_0362First stop was Brother Sister, just inside the secret entrance to Powerscourt Townhouse Centre. This little coffee booth has been doing a sterling trade since opening last year. Toure Kizza & his sister Yvonne know their beans. We kick-started with a shot of Mojo (Artisan Coffee Roasters) Palestina. Hand-roasted Colombian beans with a chocolate, liquorice, red berries vibe. But, what would I know?

IMG_0260Enter Aoife, stage left, to pick up where Toure left off. Our guide gently steered us into the Pepper Pot Café, as we sipped away, taking in a history of the Georgian Townhouse as we went. The lovely folks at the Pepper Pot, who recently won Best Café in Dublin at the Irish Restaurant Awards, served up freshly baked mini-scones. With raspberry jam & cream. Ambassador… A real Friday morning treat!

IMG_0259Meanwhile, Aoife explained the ins & outs of a thriving Dublin coffee scene. It all kicked off, not that long ago, with Ariosa Coffee Roasting Co, one of Ireland’s first small batch speciality coffee roasteries & Karl Purdy at Coffeeangel, who started out in his coffee cart on Howth Pier. Since then we’ve had 3fe, Roasted Brown, Vice and a whole host of Dublin coffee specialists, roasters & taste-makers.

IMG_0295Basically we’ve come a long way from Nescafe. Or Starbucks… Aoife tells us how the World Barista Championship, being held in Dublin this year, has made an honest career of coffee-making. It’s the new cocktail shaking! Skerries man Stephen Morrissey, who started out in Bewley’s, is the current world champion, and cites quality Irish milk and water as being central to our ability to make top notch coffee.

IMG_0263The concept of coffee as a nerdy hobby, much like the craft beer scene, came about, says Aoife, after the recent Recession. Folk simply want more bang for their buck. Hence the impressive crop of cafes, coffee shops and delis popping up around Town in the last five years. A soggy hang sandwich just won’t do. Same with coffee. It’s a lifestyle thing. Something that the urban young Irish are truly embracing.

IMG_0274And none more so than Kaph, on Drury Street. Surely, Dublin’s hippest coffee spot. In we go, to be greeted by self-proclaimed Trendy Fecker, Steve. It’s all plaid shirts, bushy beards, beanies & NHS specs in here. Steve, as well as being a fine barista, is actually a very funny lad to boot. He keeps us entertained while serving a totes delish Noisette. A creamy Espresso with hot milk expertly swirled in.

IMG_0277Steve gives us a detailed break-down of all the different coffee beans available around the world. It really is fascinating. Who’da thunk it? My last foray into proper coffee (I’m not including the occasional milky latte) was in Jamaica, where I sampled Blue Mountain coffee, one of the most expensive in the world. Yes, it was quite tasty! Well, anyway, Steve brought us from Arabica to Robusta & back again.

IMG_0266For those coffee anoraks reading, Kaph’s own choice of bean changes on a regular basis. They like to keep it fresh & get whatever’s best in season. With coffee supplied by 3fe & Has Bean, it’s gonna be good! Not to mention milk specially sourced from a dairy in Carlow. No wonder there’s always queue outside the door… Aoife manages to get us out after a nice sit down & through Georges Street Arcade.

IMG_0289The Good Food Store on South Great Georges Street was next up. Love this place! The food, the vibe, the staff. It’s all good. It was time for more bites, both sweet & savoury, in order to soak up the coffee. The GFS sausage roll. Not something that would normally pass my lips, being somewhat of a flexitarian (I know, I know) who leans 95% veggie. But I’m willing to break the rules for this bad boy. Hot & flaky!

IMG_0322Time for more coffee… Roasted Brown, on Curved Street, in Temple Bar. Just around the corner from my gaff & one of my regular writing haunts. It’s big, airy & perfect for avoiding domestic distractions (cleaning the house), when deadlines loom. Ferg Brown is the man from Japan here. A legend on the Dublin coffee scene, Ferg’s journey to Roasted Brown brought him from Oz to New Zealand to London.

IMG_0327Having perfected his barista skills at the Happy Pear, in his hometown Greystones, ran his coffee cart around Ireland’s summer festivals & completed a coffee roasting course in London, it was a phone call from 3fe’s Colin Harmon that resulted in today’s Roasted Brown empire. Ferg now roasts his own beans in Delgany & has just opened Laine My Love, on Talbot Street, a cheeky little sister to Roasted Brown.

IMG_0324It becomes clear that fellas like Ferg Brown & Colin Harmon (whose name popped up more than once throughout the walk) are responsible for the deadly coffee we now have in Dublin. Roasted Brown served us a trio of single origin Kenyan done three ways. Yikes! Ferg recommends that we spray the coffee around our mouths (ooh er, missus…). There’s Espresso, with milk & filtered. All totally different.

IMG_0337By this stage we’re all a bit jittery, to say the least. So, Aoife brings us across the Millennium Bridge for a little jaunt. The in-between walking bits of the trail are a great way to get to know my fellow coffee buddies. Aoife points out a few of Dublin’s many quirks as we make our way Northside. As a native, Fab Food Trails opened me up to local things old & new, but for visitors it’s a rather cool intro to Dublin.

IMG_0364We finally wound up in the pub. But not as you know it! Wigwam (formerly Twisted Pepper) on Middle Abbey Street doubles up as the very slick Vice Coffee Co by day. I’m already high on caffeine, so perching on a tall stool at the bar is no sweat. I love the mood of this place. Dark & interesting. And the idea of midday coffee cocktails was calling my name out loudly! Iced Irish coffee with a twist. Yes Sir!

IMG_0352Vice’s barista extraordinaire, Tom Stafford, is on hand to tell us the final chapter in Dublin’s coffee story. With Vice lined up to host an after-party for the World Barista Championship, Tom & the team have been experimenting with a series of different coffee cocktails. We were willing guinea pigs! Featuring a portfolio of coffee from 3fe, Roasted Brown, Square Mile and more, Vice can work magic in a cup.

IMG_0370Tom shakes up a gorgeous blend of coffee, ice, Teeling & Kilbeggan whiskies. And tips it all into a Champagne saucer, topped with froth & finished with coffee beans. So simple. So scrumptious! Tom even whipped up an alcohol-free Cascara cocktail for Aoife, who was in need of serious refreshment. Thankfully, she could finally retire from talking while Tom filled us in on the upcoming coffee event.

IMG_0377According to Tom, there’ll be over 10,000 people in Dublin for the World Barista Championship (22 to 25 June), with many fringe events taking place across the city. Including the AeroPress Championship at Vice / Wigwam. Tom reckons that all the big coffee stars will be in Town. He then pulled out a box of Dublin Doughnut Company treats, a sweet surprise to end our morning. Fluffy clouds of sugary dough.

IMG_0373My legs were like jelly by the time I got home, a hop, skip & a jump away. And I was on air (what caffeine crash?) after so many lush coffees. All lovingly made, with the best ingredients. These coffee guys are a credit to the Dublin foodie scene. Thanks to Fab Food Trails I’ve had a proper intro to the black stuff. Now I know what everyone’s so excited about. Especially our super-talented baristas!

www.fabfoodtrails.ie

Feb 11, 2016

Silver Boots… A Life in Style

Silver platforms - CopyI want them, I need them, but there ain’t no way… Silver boots. For my 40th birthday? Hell yeah! Or no way Hose? There comes a time in every woman’s life when she must put away her childish things. For some it’s buying a house. Others, getting married. Most, having kids. Me, turning 40! There’s a new sheriff in Town & it’s my older, (slightly) wiser self. The big sister I never had (or wanted). Anyway, she talks more sense than I ever did… So it’s “Non!” to silver boots.

I saw them in the window of Buffalo only last week. Came home & told my husband. Rookie mistake. Eyebrows were raised. Laughter was stifled. “You’ll end up looking like that Mad Oul Wan with the crazy paintings on Merrion Square”. Indignant, I stroke my fun fur leopard coat. The time has come. So soon… I stare down at my shiny black leather Chelsea boots. He’s right. There’s a fine line. I open my wardrobe. The sequins, the statements, the madness… Everything must go!

shopaholicI’ve always known this was coming, so last New Year I got the ball rolling. Several black bags straight on down to Age Action, never to be seen (by me) again. Bubblegum pink 1960s Babydoll dresses, Granny’s curtains 1970s Maxi dresses, electric blue metallic platforms, gold knee-high Wonder Woman boots, patchwork corduroy Baker Boy hats… Buh bye! Clothes I’d lovingly collected over the years; worn to gigs, parties, dates. Even work! Alas, I’m too vintage for Vintage. Sigh…

Ah, glory days! So, before I say a fond farewell to the rest, a trip down fashion memory lane… Aged 0 to 5, as a child of the 70s, I wore a fetching mixture of brown pinafores, anything made of floral sofa material, mustard cable-knit cardies & homemade woolly bobble hats. We also lived abroad in a hot country, during which time I wore just pants & armbands. Stylish! Up to age 10 it was all novelty ankle socks, Mickey Mouse watches & neon pink polyester Kylie Minogue sweaters.

MadonnaThen followed a tres shady Tween grey area of finding one’s fashion feet. I had an old Singer sewing machine by now… We’re talking homemade rah-rah skirts with matching Fergie bows (remember?), a t-shirt with “Madonna is Cool” written with one of those glitter fabric pens, liberal use of diamante & studs, plastic clip-on earrings & my first pair of high heels. And my first lipstick. I can still taste that synthetic pink gloop. So, basically the same gear I was running up for my Barbies.

Secondary school changed everything. First I tried to keep up with the Joneses. Whatever the popular girls were wearing, I had to have it. My Mother was tormented keeping up with trends. Levi’s sweatshirts, Converse, tie-dyed t-shirts, khaki bomber jackets. Next thing… Rebellion! I started buying records. Then began the snakeskin boots, velvet blazers, second-hand purple flares, Morrissey t-shirts. Topped off with Bjork buns, blonde streaks and a complete disregard for school.

LifeMe and my best mate went to gigs every night of the week. Suede, Pulp, Blur, Radiohead, Nirvana, Elastica, Oasis. We mitched off to catch the Manics in Cork, even though we’d just seen them at the Tivoli. I have a vivid memory of the pair of us lusting after serious Rock Chick trousers in ASHA. Silver PVC for me, tartan bondage for her. We’d visit them every week, our baby-sitting money getting closer, but for our pesky record buying habits. We never did get them in the end…

I was 19 when London called. Art School. Parties. Days in bed. Going up the West End. I hated it as much as I loved it. A curious phase of collecting dolls & wearing pink plastic platforms, with a Barbie backpack, melded with a spell of serious clubbing. I was lonely for my friends back Home, yet doing things I would never have done at UCD. I took a second bite at London after finishing college in Dublin, this time all lip gloss & tight jeans. Aged 22, I was King of the World. And then some!

TopshopBlonde & yoga-toned, I worked in a gym & wore my jeans painted on. I had the arms for vests & the nerve for killer heels. Living with five other girls (and, at one stage, two blokes & a dog) in Central London, we’d start in the flat & end up down Soho, in Camden or Shepherd’s Bush. Shopping for Saturday night, I’d hit Topshop Oxford Circus, at the bottom of our street. Loud dance music pumped through it’s floors. Portobello Market & Covent Garden were regular haunts.

Eventually London moved on, and so did I. Back to Dublin. The wilderness years of my late 20s followed. What was I going to  with my life? I lived with my parents for a bit, working lots of silly little jobs. Did writing classes, wrote plenty of fiction. Got into astrology. Started learning French again. Went to music festivals. Partied just as much as ever, only now with hangovers. Wore combats, slogan t-shirts. Adidas Superstars. Cut my hair off. Got a bit fatter. Lost my mojo big time…

Night FeverI wondered if I should return to England. Not London, maybe Brighton? It’s funny, when you’re 30 you think “This is it… if I don’t sort my life out now, I’m fucked!”. For my birthday I had a 1970s disco at my parents’ place (always a party house). Music, lights, glitter. Everyone got dressed up. I drank Babycham & got sick. It was class! But the Celtic Tiger had arrived, roaring madly. My mates got mortgages, careers got real. Folk even got married. But, I was unemployed & living at home…

Then a random phone call. A typing test? A job interview. My first office job. It lasted nearly five years. I got a place in Town. I was workin’ 9 to 5, doing a Journalism degree at night. Still living like it was 1995. Shopping was one of my fave pastimes & the office was my catwalk. I’d do Grafton Street late-nite Thursday, pop into TK Maxx on Saturday morning & browse the Dublin Flea Market, around the corner from my flat, of a Sunday. I loved the Sales. And I adored Vintage.

GirlsMy Boss would ask me, over the phone, “What are you wearing today?”. He hated City Shorts, so I wore them. And silk Pussy Bow blouses with a slick 1970s flared jumpsuit. A black peplum mini dress with a leopard top, fishnets & red t-bar shoes (a colleague thanked me for wearing “Ann Summers” to work). A lilac polyester 1960s dress with cravat & balloon sleeves. Sunshine yellow heels with a green pencil skirt. Heidi plaits with diamante hair slides. Wool suits & knee-high boots.

One day I wore a floaty silk dress. Nothing unusual there. I showed a couple of Big Wig clients to the boardroom, got them some tea. Then clocked my rear-view in the Ladies. Garishly patterned Pink Panther boy-shorts screamed for attention underneath the see-thru fabric. I’d gotten dressed in the dark. A lunchtime dash to M&S for a more subtle pair of work knicks. And a slip! It wasn’t the first or last time I left too little to the imagination… I really don’t know how I got away with it.

TypingRedundancy. I’d graduated by now & decided to give my writing career a go. I had no choice. The Recession was at full tilt & there was no chance of a job. Over the last five years I’ve had gigs as a Costume Assistant in films, Commercial Copywriter, Proof Reader, Shop Manager, Social Media Content. Wrote plenty of fiction. Still not published. And I Love Saturday, of course. I was skint, but I still managed to socialise like crazy. I met lots of new friends & certainly didn’t settle down.

Any clothes money was spent in Oxfam. Granny chic. I filled out again & covered my cushioned tush with floral chiffon dresses, cashmere cardies, an electric blue wool cape from Avoca (second-hand). Red cowboy boots, Kate Betts hats, rainbow silk scarves, stripy tights. My wardrobe, although organised (sometimes), was like a jumble sale. I was losing my edge. Sometimes I looked put together; more often thrown together. I longed to live in a minimalist hotel room, with zero stuff.

HepburnBut, then I met my husband & moved to our one bedroom loft in Temple Bar. I won’t lie, we’re both messy. We binned a load of things. There’s still too much. Most of my clothes are at Home (sorry Mom & Dad). Lying dormant in a Sliderobe prison. I’ve lost the lard (again!) & I’m ready to wear these clothes. However, I’ve moved on… I’ve never been a “classic” dresser. I always loved clothes that made me laugh (I know). So, a more mature image is in order, no doubt about it… Let the cull begin!

I’ve read Marie Kondo’s best seller “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying”. Yes indeed. The Madame Chic series by Jennifer L Scott also speaks to me; I have all three books. Today I picked up Stylist Annmarie O’Connor’s “The Happy Closet”. Mindful dressing. I like! And a pair of black Lee skinny jeans (birthday present to self). No silver boots… And no idea what my brand new look is gonna be, but as the Konmari Method promises; it will Spark Joy. Here goes nothing… *opens wardrobe*

Apr 20, 2014

The Library Project – Cool Reading

The Library Project in Temple Bar is probably the hippest space in town right now. It’s clean, it’s cool, it’s a thoroughly modrin library. Run by PhotoIreland, The Library Project is a collection of contemporary publication from around the world. Photography & image are the mainstays here, as well as art, fashion & history. Everything’s laid out on easy to browse shelves & tables, so that covers catch your eye.

The Library Project aims to offer an on-going collection of the latest photobooks, magazines & zines from independent & large publishing houses & self-published works too. I picked up some interesting German art zines. Visually, the place is inspiring as a gallery-like feel allows the books to capture your imagination. That sounds wanky, but you know what I mean. Show rather than tell, if ya like.

The curated selection already boasts 900 items & is growing all the time, with companies & folk welcome to contribute to this unique public resource library. There’s also artists prints, Irish made stationery & quirky postcards. And vintage tape recorders. Me neither… The Library Project represents part of the counterculture scene that’s popping up all over Dublin. Not just for hipsters. Check it out.

The Library Project, 4 Temple Bar, Dublin 2 / www.photoireland.org/the-library-project

Mar 9, 2014

The Cupcake Bloke – Nice Buns!

Mooching about town is one of my fave things to do. I love seeing who’s out to play! The usual townies, hipsters & Irish celebs. Sometimes actual celebs – Beyonce was hanging out in Dublin this week. I didn’t see her at Coppinger Row, where she dined with Jay Z & Blue Ivy. But me & Ma did go for lunch at The Pyg, where none other than Franc was sat next door. Dublin really is a metropolis these days!

I wonder if Bey stopped by The Cupcake Bloke at Coppinger Row Market. We did. I’ve never knowingly walked past cake & it was the super cute owl biscuits that caught my attention. The Cupcake Bloke does the best scones in town too. There was one left – raspberry – and it was calling my name! The savoury scones are yummy. Black pudding & apple, bacon & cabbage. Freshly baked & only two euro.

Cupcakes, naturellement, are the main attraction with a different Flavour of the Day. Full Irish Breakfast anyone? Don’t worry, it’s vanilla flavour. Teenie tiny rashers, sausages & eggs done with sweeties. How clever! There’s Fererro Rocher, carrot cake, banoffi & loads more delish varieties, including gluten-free. Graham is the bloke in the apron & Daithi is the guy behind the stall. Beside Powerscourt Townhouse – Thursday, Friday & Saturday. As a well known cake-spert, they get my vote!

The Cupcake Bloke, Coppinger Row Market, South William Street, Dublin 2

Feb 28, 2014

Article – Cool Stuff

Powerscourt Townhouse. My fave place to window shop in Dublin. I recently read in a book called The Joy Of Less how to go shopping & just enjoy the view. However there are a couple of places in here where I’m happy to get my wallet out. Article is one of them. It’s that kinda place where you go in & say “I wish my gaff looked like this”. Housed in a high ceilinged room, Article looks & feels uber smart.

I popped in during the week in search of an interesting birthday card & found loads of other cool stuff. Furniture was the first thing to catch my eye. Beautifully restored vintage pieces included a super slick 1960s wooden record cabinet & matching lounge chair. Imagine sitting, listening to your fave tunes, retro record player on the top. Stylish. Article has a real knack for sourcing pieces with character.

Spring clean your interior ideas & check out the new stock at Article. Spirograph inspired plates, pastel print tableware & handwoven blankets from Studio Donegal to curl up on the sofa until summer arrives. If you’ve got a wedding coming up, go unique. Cancel the cheque & pick up a contemporary gift at Article. A Matt Pugh carved wooden owl f’rinstance. I love a well made item that’ll last. Y’see, minimalist chic!

Article, Powerscourt Townhouse, South William Street, Dublin 2 / www.articledublin.com

Dec 5, 2013

Merry Dublin! Twelve Shops of Christmas

Dublin city centre is looking really smart right now. Twinkling lights, winding lane ways and lots of lovely shops. Forget suburban Yummy Drummie malls and get where the action’s at. And you can have a pint after a hard days shopping! Town is back with a bang this Christmas. Dublin has reinvented itself as a cool city, following some lean years, and paved the way for a fresh mix of creative retailers and arty shops.

Okay, first thing for out of towners – keep off Grafton Street and Henry Street. The really interesting shops are behind the scenes. Dublin’s Creative Quarter is a buzzing hive between Wicklow, Georges and South William Streets. Lots to do and see here! From so hip it hurts to vintage gems and artisan foods to quirky boutiques, this jam packed area keeps on giving. Other side of the Liffey, Moore and Capel Streets are festive hotspots.

It’s tradition chez moi to do a family shopping day every Christmas. We meet at midday, fuel up on coffee and cake, mill about town picking out our pressies and finish with pub grub and some well earned pints. We get to soak in the Christmas vibes and ensure that nobody receives rubbish gifts. Winner! Dad likes books, the Bruv likes music and Mother loves hand crafts. Here’s where we’ll be heading…

1.) Makers & Brothers & Others. When I first chanced upon this new shop on Dame Lane, I was intrigued. There was cakes in the window, what can I say… I wanted to know what was inside. This smart lifestyle pop-up is the work of the Jonathan and Mark Legge, the crafty siblings behind Makers & Brothers. They’ve collaborated with a hip set of Irish designers to bring us some pretty cool stuff.

Cakes are from The Wild Flower Bakery and look almost too good to eat. Billed as a tiny seasonal department store, Makers & Brothers & Others is a joy to explore. The antidote to commercial Christmas. I liked twisty wooden stools from James Carroll, tableware from Jerpoint Irish Glass and a fun knitted fox from Claire-Anne O’Brien. Go here for housey things and kiddie gifts. And a cup of tea.

2.) Clerys. It’s back! After a devastating flood this summer, Dublin’s fave department store was closed for a five month refurbishment. Although Clerys has been a much loved haunt of mine, it was seriously in need of a facelift. And here it is, all shiny and bouncy, but retaining it’s old skool charm. Perfect. I was afraid I wouldn’t recognise it, but fear not – it’s Clerys, only better. The shop floor is bright and uncluttered with original features polished. And, well, modrin. Christmas under one brand new roof.

Chic newbies include – Moda in Pelle, True Decadence and Apanage. Gone are the granny wedding hats and in are quality handbags, scarves and shoes you really want in your wardrobe. Clerys offers substance and style. Send Himself to Carphone Warehouse, new on the ground floor, while you browse Benetton, Mexx and Mango. Meet Mother at The Tea Rooms and bring the kids to Santa’s Joy Factory.

3.) Powerscourt Townhouse Centre. I do love this place. It’s like a calm oasis in, y’know, the sprawling metropolis that is Dublin… Powerscourt is the ideal Christmas venue with plenty of artisan shops, galleries and cafes. First up, party outfits. Go vintage at The Loft Market and Irish at Marion Cuddy, both regular spots for yours truly. Up the glamour stakes at Covet, Design Centre and Dawn Fitzgerald. Genius for cool casuals.

Gift-wise, Powerscourt Townhouse Centre caters well for the hard-to-buy-for crowd. For something unique head to Article, an eclectic collection of funky objets and house wares. Bow for pretty little things. A Rubenesque and The Garden for decorations and flowers. Try the Bonsai Shop for an alternative Crimbo tree. Kennedy and McSharry for a tweed flat cap. The Bloke loves his! Rosemantic fellas who are thinking of popping the ultimate Christmas surprise… The best antique jewellery in Dublin. She’ll love it. And you!

4.) Ferocious Mingle Marcade. Believe it or not you can buy your Crimbo pressies second hand. Simply vintage, Darling! With so much post-recessionary re-purposing going on these days, markets are super spots to pick up something a bit different. The Marcade has moved from it’s old location to a bohemian den on Camden Street. I used to live in this part of town and am so excited by how lively it’s become. Wind your way up from the city with leisure.

Shopping, entertainment and food. What more do you want? These guys know how to throw a party too! Open every Thursday to Sunday, join in the fun with stalls selling everything from antique clocks and mirrors and grunge princess fashions to pre-loved books and handmade soaps. Relax after a hard days shopping at Dublin’s tiniest cinema and munch on home baked goodies from Oscar Verne’s Coffee Bar.

5.) Cocoa Atelier. Christmas is the one time of the year that you’re allowed to stuff your chops and get away with it. But I call quality over quantity. Instead of reaching into a tin of Roses, I’ll be savouring artisan chocolates from Cocoa Atelier. This is my (the Bloke’s) go-to place for sweet treats. Cocoa Atelier was born when French chef, Marc Amand, spotted a gap in the market for gourmet chocs in Ireland. Good work!

The shop, on Drury Street, is like stepping through a portal to Paris. Chic black and white detail show the exquisite chocolates off to their best, but it’s the taste that counts. There’s a range of flavours to choose from, including – salted caramel, ginger, lime, mango, chestnut honey and Earl Grey – as well as myriad bars and luxe foodie gifts. The chocolate Christmas baubles are too cute! Buy colourful macaroons and delicate eclairs for your Christmas table. And hot chocolate for now!

6.) Georges Street Arcade. I’ve been shopping here since my teenage days, when I was first allowed into town all by myself. Me & my best mate used to browse records and smoke ciggies. Good times! So the Arcade has a special place in my heart. The shops have changed over the years, new ones popping up all the time. But some things remain the same, like Simon’s Place, the cosy cafe that keeps me and the Bloke so well fed.

Housed in a Victorian redbrick market, Georges Street Arcade offers a quirky collection of shops. Pick up retro vinyl at Spindizzy Records (Himself is a regular), silver and stones at New Moon Jewellery and stocking fillers at Bombay Banshee. Make like Uncle Gaybo and hit Beaux Bows for your geansai Nollaig. Or try sheepskin in The Gift of Warmth to keep the chill out. And a Pieminister with mushy peas & mash!

7.) Siopaella. Can’t afford Brown Thomas? Then get down to Temple Bar. They say you can’t put a price on love, but at Siopaella you’ll find great deals on Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs. And just about every designer you can think of. Items are selected by owner, Ella, who picks the cream of pre-loved, worn once and labels on fashion. She’ll even style you a fabulous party outfit.

The great thing about Siopaella is you’ll find something that nobody else has. With two stores, one on Crow Street the other on Temple Lane, offering high street to high end there’s plenty to suit your budget. I’ve scored a Rachel Mackey cashmere cardi, silk Custo dress and a Chesneau handbag among many bargains. Watch out for box fresh Louboutins. Siopaella’s menswear is the best pre-loved in town. Mother loves their vintage jewellery.

8.) Project 51. Tucked away on Dublin’s premier hipster strip, South William Street, this Irish design collective has it’s finger on the pulse. Project 51 is a creative hub and retail space. Hannah Flew runs things front of house, where there’s a great selection of gifts and home grown wedding items. I love Anita Conway handmade lace garters, intricate Grace O’Reilly Jewellery and stunning Kate Betts Hats.

Finding surprises is one thing I really enjoy when shopping, and out the back of Project 51 is a fun place to nose around. Funky neon clubwear brought me back to 90s London where I spent my college days wandering around Camden Market. Only for the young and daring! Meanwhile, there’s plenty in for Christmas. Nik’s Tea gift sets, Gillian Field illustrated mugs and Airmid Natural handmade soaps.

9.) Chapters. Here’s a place me and the Bloke could spend hours happily ignoring each other, lost in row after row of books. Chapters is spread out over two gigantic floors, new books on the ground floor and second hand upstairs. Stocking the whole gamut of readables from fiction and biography to reference and educational. There’s more art, photography, fashion and cookery books than you can shake a stick at. Chapters is also a great source for Irish books and lesser known titles.

It’s not just books here. Chapters does a great range of stationery too, including cards, notebooks and diaries. Brilliant stocking fillers. I went in to get a book for the Bruv’s birthday and these guys ordered it specially, with only one day delivery. The service is top notch. Upstairs is the place for random finds – the best way to buy books! Swing by Moore Street afterwards for fresh fruit and Paris Bakery for cakes.

10.) Cows Lane Designer Studio. Mother and me love this place. At the cool end of Temple Bar, Cow Lane Designer Studio showcases the best of Irish design and crafts. We’re big fans of Deirdre Griffin glass fusion jewellery. Her rings and earrings are simple yet striking. Manned by the designers themselves you can chat about creative techniques or commission a special piece in person. The atmosphere here is open and friendly.

A nice present-to-self (g’wan. I won’t tell anyone) would be a hat from Shevlin Millinery. John Shevlin’s head wear is beautifully made and well established in the Irish fashion world. Wear it on Christmas Day! Choose unique gifts from handmade Brookwood Pottery, fresh on the shelves, Bouji Organic candles and the softest scarves from Daiva’s Textiles. Cows Lane Designer Studio is also home to great prints and artwork. Come here for house inspiration.

11.) Fallon & Byrne. A top spot for posh foodie gifts, this place stocks a mouthwatering array of Christmas treats. Their fabulous hampers include a hand picked selection of the best artisan produce. Try the Gourmet Irish, which includes – Cashel Blue cheese, Pandora Bell nougat, Ummera Organic Irish smoked salmon, Mella’s butter fudge and Fallon & Byrne’s famous house granola. The food of life!

The Food Hall provides all you need for a tasty Christmas dinner table. Organic fruit and veg, fresh meat and fish, charcuterie and antipasti. There’s also amazing choice when it comes to the high end pantry – Italian extra virgin olive oils, French mustards and teas from around the world. The wine shop is well worth a visit too. Grab a seat by the front window and people watch Wicklow Street with delectable cakes and Dublin’s best latte. Yes Sir!

12.) Avoca. I’ve always loved Avoca, just for the pure chance to channel one’s fantasy lifestyle through their dotty displays and dreamy scenarios. I often picture myself wrapped up in a lambswool blanket, taking Ceylon and scones by a blazing fireside. Bliss. My most recent purchase was, in fact, one of their mill woven blankets as a wedding gift for friends. There’s a rainbow of jewel colours to pick from.

Appealing to the girl in me, Avoca does everything pretty. Kitsch even. Patterned plates, quirky teapots, ceramic door knobs, glass jewellery and cutesy hats. Clothes are whimsical yet totally wearable. The kids section is great fun with adorable wooly jumpers, Jellycat teddies and a sugar rush sweetie hamper. For the chef in your life, head for the kitchen gear, delicatessen and super yummy cookbooks.

So now you know where to go! I’ve gotta say, Dublin has become a real arty little city over the last few years, now that we’re out of the Tiger’s claw. I love nothing more than mooching around town – the Creative Quarter, Temple Bar, Capel Street – and chancing upon new shops and cafes. Do check out as many independent stores as you can, they’re so much more exciting and original. Happy shopping!

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Nov 14, 2013

O’Briens Wine Fair – Grape Expectations!

Me and Dad met on Saturday morning, outside BT as usual, all excited about O’Briens Wine Fair. Dad’s fave bottle shop were hosting a series of tasting sessions at the Round Room in the Mansion House. Don’t mind if we do! First up was some carb loading at M&S Rooftop Restaurant, to line our stomachs before the main event. We’ve long been fans of this place. M&S food already cooked for you. What’s not to love?

We went for the Dine Menu, 14.50 euro for two courses and a glass of vino. Well we had to start somewhere… I had a creamy Camembert tart with rocket, asparagus and onion marmalade, while Dad tucked into seafood pie with a golden breadcrumb topping. Both were absolutely top drawer. We followed with Eton Mess for me and chocolate tart for him. The best thing about the Rooftop Restaurant is that we were done and dusted in an hour. Satisfied customers!

Off we trotted to the Mansion House. The Round Room was kitted out with 45 different wine merchants from around the globe. We were handed a glass each, on arrival, and set free into a Willy Wonka world of wine. The tables were arranged in order of country of origin, with each producer offering their glug, San Pellegrino and Carr’s Table Water biscuits. Ambassador… The idea was to take a sip and move on.

We started with Norton Argentina, from – you guessed it – Argentina. 2010 Syrah Reserva for me. Next up was Bethany, from Australia, where I sampled their Old Quarry Tawny Port. A taste of Christmas. Vina Chocolan, from Chile, was an early favourite with their 2011 Syrah Reserva and 2011 Malbec Gran Reserva both tickling my tastebuds. We milled about the room, rather than from table to table.

I got talking to one or two wine buffs, chaps who were only too delighted to shoot the boozy breeze. I know nothing about wine, just that I like it. Dad bumped into an old pal who tipped us off to a couple of numbers. According to these sources, O’Briens Wine Fair was one of the better events they’d been to. Good to know! Certainly in terms of variety and ease we were impressed. And enjoying it very much…

In fact so much that I tried four wines from Spain’s Coca i Fito. 2009 Sao Abrivat, 2010 Jaspi Negra, 2009 Coca i Fito and 2008 Planets de Prior Pons. Modern and delicious, these bottles were beautifully packaged too. My must-have white was New Zealand’s Man O’War 2011 Valhalla Chardonnay. It’ll be on our table on Christmas Day. Domaine Duffour, from France, was a single 2012 Gascogne. Yummy!

And so to Champagne, darlings. Beaumont Des Crayeres Grande Reserve fizzed on my lips, decadent and sharp. Nothing like the real thing! Except maybe a really good Prosecco. Rizzardi Prosecco Spumante was the party tipple of choice for Mother’s recent birthday bash. I recommended it to a bride-to-be who was totting up a list of prospective toasts for her wedding. Seems everyone was having fun!

Two hours in, slightly tipsy but well diluted with water and crackers we had made our picks. Dad was a happy camper as many wines were discounted and there was a bonus 20% back on his loyalty card for every six bottles bought on the day. Deal-tastic. The final cut included the Sao Abrivat, Delheim Chenin Blanc, Chocolan Malbec and Privada Blend. It was soon high time for some well earned Americanos.

www.obrienswine.ie

Oct 16, 2013

The Threepenny Opera – Jazz Hands!

So it was that I met a friend at the theatre on Saturday afternoon. Matinees are such a pleasant way to while away the weekend. I’d had a busy morning, whisking Dad and the Bruv around town in search of a birthday present for Mother. I know, I’m a saint. We ducked in and out all over the Creative Quarter (South William Street & Co), Powerscourt Townhouse and eventually up to Wexford Street. Phew!

We struck gold, or should I say an opal and silver ring, at Djinn Jewellery. Gorgeous contemporary pieces. Designer and maker Simon Phelan advised us with his expert knowledge on gems and wrapped the dainty ring in a cool wooden box. Job done. Back down town and into the belly of Temple Bar, it was Mexico To Rome with the lads for a lunch deal. Burrito and chips with a bottle of Peroni for a tenner. Can’t go wrong!

Off they went, for more shopping (crafty pints), and I made the final stretch up to Parnell Square to The Gate Theatre. A small but smart space, The Gate features a low, open stage. You can catch all of the action, no matter where you’re sitting. Me and my mate were here for The Threepenny Opera, by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, part of the Dublin Theatre Festival. It’s the high octane story of lusty criminal Mac The Knife.

The production opened in style with the Street Singer (David Shannon), a sort of musical narrator, belting out signature tune ” Mac The Knife”. A tale of petty crime, street urchins, silly girls and crooked police, The Threepenny Opera unfolds first in the back street shop of Mr. Peachum (Mark O’Regan) and his formidable wife (Jackie Marks). This pair and their charge, the hapless beggar Filch (Laurence Kinlan) set the tone.

The Threepenny Opera is bawdy, in your face and actually does jazz hands. Brilliant. This version is directed by Wayne Jordan, with musical direction by Cathal Synnott. The cast, both young and vintage, are fresh and full of energy and there is some great voices in the mix. Set in Victorian London, though there’s Dublin accents at The Gate, Brecht and Weill offered a socialist critique of a capitalist world.

And so we are introduced to a cast of scoundrels, drop outs and hopeless romantics. Main protagonist Macheath (David Ganly) is a charming thief who steals the heart of not so innocent Polly Peachum (Charlotte McCurry). Their marriage causes ructions and we are treated to much hilarious to-ing and fro-ing, with Mac dodging the cops and Polly answering to her parents. His cronies add to the mirth.

We learn that Mac has friends in places high and low. His friendship with Tiger Brown (Stephen Brennan), Chief of Police, has kept him out of trouble. But he can’t resist Low-Dive Jenny (Hilda Fay) and her ladies of the night. Mac will never go straight and when Polly discovers a love rival in his other “wife” Lucy Brown (Ruth McGill), all hell breaks loose. The tussle for Mac’s affections land him in jail.

Ganly gives a big and bold performance as the incarcerated Mac The Knife, but it’s his women who steal the show. A scene with McCurry and McGill is great fun with the two gangster’s molls finally bonding over their plight. Hilda Fay shines as the tart with a heart, looking steely and sad all in one go. Mac is to be hanged. Alas, a comical reversal means that Mac is freed and a musical romp ensues.

I suppose the message is, life ain’t all that bad. We’re all in it together. That’s Mac The Knife, Tiger Brown and the Peachums. The beggars and the whores remain in the gutter. The Threepenny Opera, almost a hundred years old, is relevant in any society. The good and the bad triumph over the ordinary, as ever. This production at The Gate is action packed from beginning to end, a feel good take for sure.

The Gate Theatre, Cavendish Row, Parnell Square, Dublin 1 / www.gatetheatre.ie

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