by Albert Rodriguez -
SGN Travel Writer
Dublin might appear to be a typical European city at first glance - brick buildings, old cathedrals, cobblestone streets. But when you explore its quiet neighborhoods, famed pubs, lush parks, laid-back pace, and persistent quirkiness, you'll find it possesses an individual charm and character that leaves a huge imprint long after you leave. With just 550,000 residents, the Irish capital is smaller than Seattle and incredibly easy to navigate by public transportation or on foot. The climate is similar to the Pacific Northwest, yet slightly colder in the winter months with brutal wind chills. Dublin is fairly open-minded, making it a comfortable destination for Gay visitors, although the locals seemed more reserved and harder to approach than I anticipated. Everything was reasonably affordable, from food to entertainment to cab rides, and it felt safe walking around late at night, even into the early morning hours. If you're contemplating a trip to Dublin, or anywhere in the country, visit www.ireland.com for further assistance. Here's what I recommend doing there.
GETTING TO DUBLIN
From Seattle, you'll have to take at least two flights to reach Dublin. I flew through Atlanta on Delta, although a simpler and quicker route would be through Paris (also on Delta) or through London (British Airways). Upon arrival, purchase a Dublin Bus 'Airlink' pass (6 euros, one way) at the currency exchange counter by baggage claim. Then follow the 'Bus' signage to the street-level platform outside the terminal. Be sure to stand underneath the 'Airlink 747' sign and wait for the double-decker bus that will take you into central Dublin in about 20 minutes. Compare your hotel address with the Airlink zone map before boarding the bus to know where to get off.
Anchor your stay at The Fitzwilliam Hotel (www.fitzwilliamhotel.com), a five-star property bordering St. Stephen's Green, a miniscule Central Park of sorts. Its location allows convenient access by foot to Trinity College, Temple Bar, The Gaiety Theatre, Ha'penny Bridge, and dozens upon dozens of restaurants, pubs, retail stores, coffee shops, and Gay nightlife. A tastefully decorated lobby with fireplace and tucked-away library provide hushed areas to glance over the morning newspaper or edit that work report. My 'deluxe premium' room on the top floor (5th) overlooked St. Stephen's Green and nearby rooftops, thanks to a spacious terrace with patio table and chairs. The room itself was equipped with a firm four-poster bed, work desk, flatscreen TV, CD player with mp3 connection, bathtub and rainfall shower head, quality teas, high-end soaps and lotions, take-home slippers, and complimentary chilled water. If I owned a studio flat in Dublin, this is what I'd want it to look like.
Continental and full breakfasts are served at Citron, a mezzanine-level restaurant that attracts a steady lunch and dinner crowd. Inn on the Green is a chic lounge nestled at the far end of the main floor, where guests can sip cocktails and wine with some seclusion. Service is polite and professional.
A side note: The Fitzwilliam Hotel is part of the Preferred Pride Hotels Group, a global collection of independent properties that actively supports the LGBT community. It has designed a special pre-show dinner and cocktail menu for the upcoming International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival at both Citron and Inn on the Green.
DINING & DRINKING
Traditional Irish fare such as lamb stew with soda bread, fish 'n' chips, and blood sausage (for breakfast) is everywhere. Any pub or cafe will likely serve these dishes. I enjoyed wonderful meals in more contemporary settings, including a hearty bowl of celery root soup and pumpkin risotto for lunch at Coppinger Row (www.coppingerrow.com), a five-minute walk from the Fitzwilliam. A painted brick interior and perched counter seating with views of the kitchen and wine bottle-stocked shelves gave this Mediterranean-influenced bistro a rather rustic, cozy feel. A suggested dinner spot is 37 Dawson Street (www.37dawsonstreet.ie), a sought-after restaurant by young, primly dressed Gay and straight couples. The mood is elegant and romantic with crystal chandeliers and silk drapes, the energy is vibrant, and the dining space is split into two intimate halves with a small, curved bar on one side. 37 Dawson Street's dinner-theater theme is noticeably reflected on the menu, whose categories include 'Curtain Call,' 'Opening Acts,' and 'Main Acts.' I was quite satisfied with my perfectly cooked 8-oz. kettle filet of beef served with creamed potatoes, buttermilk onion rings, and pepper sauce.
Eating Mexican food in Ireland might seem unthinkable, but the newly established 777 (www.777.ie) netted surprisingly good results. Well-seasoned tostadas, taquitos, ceviche, and tortilla soup, accompanied by an array of imported tequilas, were no laughing matter. Group travelers might want to take advantage of 777's 'family style' dinners. For a coffee break and afternoon pastry, try local chain Insomnia (www.insomnia.ie). They have multiple locations throughout the city, including a shop across from St. Stephens Green.
You must indulge in a pub crawl while in Dublin, where beer is taken almost as serious as football (aka soccer). Instead of meshing with rowdy tourists in the Temple Bar district, head to the iconic O'Donoghue's (www.odonoghues.ie/bar) for a pint of ale and listen to musicians playing Irish folk tunes in the corner of the usually crammed bar. A half block away is Doheny and Nesbitts (www.dohenyandnesbitts.com), another antiquated neighborhood pub, with more seating and higher ceilings than O'Donoghue's. The No. 27 Bar and Lounge (www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/dubbr-the-shelbourne), inside the Shelbourne Hotel, is active most nights of the week with a sexy, trendsetting clientele.
LGBT NIGHTLIFE & EVENTS
There's no recognizable Gay district in Dublin, although the handful of Gay bars are within walking distance of each other. The George (www.thegeorge.ie) is the oldest LGBT establishment in the city, an ample pub with full bar counter and balcony, plus a dance floor that doubles as a drag stage. Local performer Shirley Temple Bar emcees a well-attended Bingo night each Sunday with cash prizes, but you must arrive before 10 p.m. to avoid a cover charge. Down the street is The Dragon (www.facebook.com/dragonbar), a medium-sized dance lounge that attracts 20- and 30-somethings, primarily on weekends. New to the scene is Wilde Bar & Venue (6-8 Wicklow St.), a flashier nightclub with a mixed crowd on Fridays and Saturdays, and a Gay student night on Wednesdays. Two additional places to put on your list are The Front Lounge (www.thefrontlounge.ie) and Panti Bar (www.pantibar.com).
Outhouse (www.outhouse.ie), a gathering center and safe haven, is a vital resource to the LGBT community. Founded in 1996, it organizes various events in three multi-purpose areas - the Red Room, Library, and Theatre - as well as providing peer support and outreach to those in need. Guests are invited to hang out during business hours at the Cafe.
The International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival (www.gaytheatre.ie) is a two-week celebration of original stage productions, bringing acting troupes from around the world, including the United States, South Africa, Germany, Canada, and Italy. Now in its ninth year, the festival also spotlights many local artists and presents a diverse range of plays, musicals, and one-person acts in seven different theaters. This year's festivities run May 6-19.
EXPLORING & SHOPPING
An efficient way to see much of Dublin in a short time span is to ride the Hop-on/Hop-off Bus Tour (www.dublinsightseeing.ie), which slithers through crowded streets, narrow alleys, and urban communities on a double-decker, open-top bus. The tour includes 24 stops, including Christ Church Cathedral, the Book of Kells (at Trinity College), the Guinness Storehouse, and the Jameson Distillery, to name a few. Tickets can be purchased on board. The Guinness Storehouse (www.guinness-storehouse.com) is a definite do, even for non-stout lovers. Visitors aren't allowed into the brewing and fermentation plants situated in the same compound, but you can learn how Guinness rose from a beloved Irish beverage to a global beer giant with self-guided tours that finish with a complimentary drink at the top-floor Gravity Bar, where you'll be treated to panoramic city views. I found the tour informative and interesting, especially with the added splurge of the 'Connoisseur Experience,' a side tour that permits you to sample freshly sourced brews and private reserves in a VIP room for 25 euros extra. Christ Church Cathedral (www.christchurchdublin.ie) is one of two medieval cathedrals in Dublin, with construction dating back to 1030. The Cathedral is connected to another visitor attraction called Dublinia, which was a bit of a bore. The Book of Kells (www.tcd.ie/library/bookofkells), an illuminated Latin manuscript of the four Gospels, dating from the eighth century, is located on the Trinity College campus. Only two portions of the Book are on display at all times, and included with the exhibit admission is entrance to the Old Library. During warm months, get some exercise or picnic at the 1,750-acre Phoenix Park (www.phoenixpark.ie), home to the Dublin Zoo and the U.S. embassy, aside from bike and running trails, playing fields, tea rooms, and the People's Flower Gardens.
Going to the movies while on vacation might be an unconventional choice for entertainment, but it does bring you in from the cold (or heat) and gives your feet a rest. In Dublin, attending a screening at the Irish Film Institute (www.ifi.ie) provides an opportunity to interact with other moviegoers at its on-site cafe and adjacent restaurant. The IFC shows mostly independent films in intimate theaters and sponsors seminars and special events year-round. The Museum of Archaeology and History (www.museum.ie) was fascinating, and is a good place to learn about Irish heritage.
For shoppers, there are deals to be had. Brand name fashionistas will love Brown-Thomas (www.brownthomas.com), a cross between Barney's, Nordstrom, and Banana Republic. For vintage and inexpensive used items, I suggest the Saturday-only Ha'penny Indoor Flea Market (35 Lower Liffey St.), while the George St. Arcade (www.georgestreetarcade.com) is recommended for artisan-crafted merchandise. Stephen's Green Shopping Centre (www.stephengreens.com), a tri-level mall with an atrium-style glass roof, and Jervis Shopping Centre (www.jervis.ie), a two-floor mini-complex with corporate retailers and a food court, are both worth checking out.
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