Thursday, August 11, 2016

Going out in style

As I have stated in the past,  I don’t like nightclubs.
In fact, I hate them. I simply do not see the appeal of having to queue for an extended period of time with the risk of being randomly rejected by a bouncer and then, should you be let in, spending the rest of your night in an overcrowded place, paying through the nose for watered down beer and weak cocktails. There’s a number of other reasons why I dislike nightclubs, but we’ll just let them go for now.

Because of my aversion to nightclubs, I don’t have to worry about nonsense rules such as dress codes and the like, which leaves me free to wear what I want. Most nightclubs wouldn’t let me in, dressed as I am, in shorts and a tshirt, but it doesn’t matter because I have no intention of going anyway.  But occasionally, as someone who writes about watering holes, I wonder about what those places look like on the inside.
his is where my day job comes in handy.

Over the last year and a half or so, as an employee for a large multinational corporation, I have been invited to a number of celebrations in popular and, sometimes, classy nightclubs. The good thing is that I can now go and have a look inside, drink for free, try their food and then leave, without having to bend over backwards to meet their house rules. It’s a corporate function, so any employee with an invite gets to come in.  Here is what happened.

                         Can I come in?


D2 is a nightclub on Dublin’s Hartcourt Street. It is not particularly posh or anything, but there was another reason I wanted to use a corporate party to have a look inside: about 2 years earlier, I had had a bit of a falling out with one of their managers.  He had put up an ad on Facebook to promote their new Brazilian party. He had also taken creative liberty by describing it as ‘Dublin’s Oldest Brazilian Party’. When I remarked in the comments section that this was totally NOT the oldest Brazilian party in Dublin because the one in The Woolshed had been going for much longer, he was not amused. At first he told me in the comments that they were in fact the oldest Brazilian party in Dublin and when I then complimented him on his band wagon jumping skills and suggested he get a working calendar, he started sending me private messages demanding that I withdraw my comments and make a public apology at once. When I laughed in his face and told him that he could go fuck himself, he issued me with a ban from his establishment which is quite ridiculous but, since I wasn’t planning on going there, I left it at that and turned my attention to more pressing matters.
                         Drinking, for example!

When I arrived at D2, I was let in without any problems, ofcourse, but even if that guy had been standing at the door, I’m quite confident that neither of us would have recognised the other some year and a half later. I entered, collected my free drink tokens and made for the bar. To my surprise, the front bar was entirely decorated with GAA memorabilia.  Flags, crests and signed jerseys lined the walls. Towards the back, there was an all-weather garden with a raised platform, where my supervisor was playing some funfair card game with a couple of onlookers. The trick of having an all-weather garden is ofcourse that it officially qualifies as outside, even though possibly only 2 or 3 yards of the roof are open, which means that you can smoke there. As I don’t smoke, I don’t care much for constructions like this, but I must say that it is quite nice to have fresh air around you at all times. The barbecue food wasn’t really barbecued, but it tasted alright and it was free so I was happy enough. When I ran out of drink tokens, I just so happened to run in to my supervisor, who was also in charge of drinks and gave me a new set of tokens. The free bar finished at 11, after which I did the decent thing and actually paid for a drink myself. When the regular crowd started to filter in, I decided to call it quits and went to Against the Grain around the corner where I had to pay for my beer but at least nobody threatened to ban me for correcting them.
Not a bad place, but not the kind of place I’ll be spending a lot of time.

Sam’s Bar

Dawson Street runs parallel to Grafton Street, Dublin’s main shopping street, and fancies itself as a classy place. To be fair, there are some upmarket restaurants, including Marco Pierre White’s Steakhouse, and a couple of posh bars. I personally think that Cafe en Seine looks more like a cheap Greek restaurant than a classy lounge, but on the other hand, 37 Dawson is a pretty nice place. I was there 2 years ago for a birthday party and it looks the part. The fingerfood was great and, despite the somewhat steap price of a pint, I couldn’t really find anything wrong with it.

Sam’s more or less falls in the same category as 37 Dawson. It’s a bit darker, and maybe a bit posher, and the doorman started to get ready to give me his ‘sorry, dresscode’ spiel when he saw me approaching.
He welcomed me to Sam’s when I showed him my keycard, and informed me that our reserved area was upstairs. Our party was on the mezzanine that looks out over the rest of the place downstairs and, as it was Halloween, was mainly filled with vampires and other creatures who had their faces covered in corpse paint. As per the usual template for these parties, free drinks were handed out, finger food was served and a fine night was had by all. When the free bar ran out again at around 11, I was charged North of 6 Euros for a pint of Guinness so I went on my way. Again, not a bad place, but they won’t be seeing a lot of me. 


Everleigh Garden

Like D2, Everleigh Garden can be found on Harcourt Street and, like D2, it has no distinguishing features that would make me consider this as a go-to spot on a regular basis. You enter the place at basement level (which is cool) where we were given free drinks from a bottle bar, and there are 2 bars, a mid sized dance floor and, again as the main attraction, there is an all-weather garden to the back. We were served barbecue food again, even though there was no barbecue in sight, but it was decent enough. What is worth mentioning is that, when I had run out of free drink vouchers and could not find the person in charge of distributing additional ones, I found that pints were only 4 Euro, which is quite a steal for a place in this part of town. I’m not sure if this was a special corporate rate or their regular price, but this does give it an edge on most of the rest of the places on this street. Rather than retreating to Against the Grain at the end of the evening, I went to The Brew Dock on the consideration that it is closer to where I live and it would be a handy stop off point.
You know the drill by now: there wasn’t anything wrong with it, per se, but the place has no Wow! factor either.

Lillie’s Bordello

Speaking of Wow! Factors.. Lillie’s Bordello certainly has that going for it.
I knew of the existence of Lillie’s Bordello because it is located above, and owned by, the Porterhouse branch on Nassau Street. On my way out, I had often seen people queue to pass through the varnished, burgundy red doors and up the stairs beyond. I had spoken to people who frequented it, and they described it as distinguished and sophisticated. There were stories of lavish buffets and exquisite cocktails, concocted with home made spirits, liquors and syrups. When celebrities had a night off in Dublin, this was often where they went.
Of all the night clubs in Dublin, this was the only one I really wanted to see the inside of.  
So imagine my surprise when I received an e-mail from the movie society at work, which informed me that movie nights would be held in a new location going forward, and that this location would be Lillie’s Bordello.  I double checked with the head of the movie club if the regular dress code would apply or that bums like me were welcome too and he confirmed that, as this was a corporate event mostly outside of regular opening hours, there was no dress code. 

             Count me in then!

I sat down at The bar in The Porterhouse to have a pre-movie drink, wondering what to expect. I had ofcourse looked up some photos online, but those never really give you a good idea of what it is really like. At 19.30 I threw back the last dregs of my pint and made for the entrance to Lillie’s.
The door was wide open and there was no bouncer in sight. I walked upstairs by way of a dark staircase, lit up by red lights, and entered the main bar. I had had some idea of what to expect, but this place really was something else.
There was a round island bar in the middle, with open shelves above, filled with bottles. The bar, like the booths around the room, was clad in red leather and when I made for the bar to order a drink, I found that their draft beer collection mainly consisted of Porterhouse beers and a number of other craft favorites.
Lillie’s was off to a good start.

                            Looks cool, huh?

I saw the guy from the movie society in a back room and went over to say hi. This room, interestingly, was strewn with red velours couches, glass&metal coffee tables and  leather pouffes. The walls were decorated with old timey paintings and heavy red curtains.  It really looked like what you’d think a bordello would look like. Even the glasswork was classy. Standard issue pint glasses aside, all spirits and cocktails were served in engraved glasses.

After some 20 minutes, a crowd of about 30 people had gathered so we sat down to watch Scrooged (it was around Christmas).
While I was still trying to work out how this place could look so classy and so trashy at the same time, sipping on a free Porterhouse beer, the main surprise of the night arrived: the food.
The invitation had said ‘fingerfood will be provided’ but I hadn’t gotten my expectations up.
They went through the roof when the food was delivered to the tables. Forget about greasy chicken wings, onion rings and little sausages with cocktail sticks in them- this was the real deal. Large platters filled with artisan cheeses, grapes, cured hams and other assorted cold cuts arrived, complimented by slices of warm soda bread and rye crackers. Just minutes later, platters arrived with grilled king sized shrimp, smoked salmon and oysters. While I was still processing all this, a third round was brought in, consisting of the hot foods- sate skewers, pigs in blankets and other non-deep fried delights.
And just when everyone started gasping for air after all this wonderful food, they brought in the desserts: more trays, filled with petit fours, chocolate truffels and bite sized cakes.
I will go on record here and now and say that it was the best fingerfood I ever had in my life.

After the movie, me and a couple of others decided to stick around for some more drinks. What a remarkable place this was. I liked the decor, the bar staff was friendly and the drinks selection was exquisite. And don’t even get me started on the food.

I’ve since been back to Lillie’s twice for movie nights. The last time I was there, due to a combination of unseasonally warm weather and a conflicting event elsewhere, only about 10 people showed up to watch Do The Right Thing, an excellent movie for sure. The movie aside, the good thing was that no one could have predicted for sure how many people would show up, so we were still served a full buffet of food. We all ate until we could eat no more and at the end of the night, with half the food still untouched, the manager came back from the kitchen with plastic take away boxes so I took another day's worth of food home with me.

During my most recent visit there, I spent some time talking to one of the bar men, and I asked him what the normal crowd would be like. He asked me if I considered coming more often, and I pointed out that most people who regularly show up there are dressed to the nines and that I wouldn’t really fit in, and the bouncers wouldn’t let me in anyway. He then said that if I showed up dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, they would probably assume I was some sort of eccentric celebrity and would let me in anyway.
Still.. I know it’s not my crowd there, but when the next movie night comes along, I’ll be the first one in.  

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