There is little question that Dublin city centre is falling apart at the seams in how it presents itself, and in the standard of business aspired to by the city’s merchant class. The quality of product on offer to citizens and visitors, both in terms of cultural and leisure experience and retail and service provision, is plummeting on most of the city’s principal streets.
In addition to all that has been charted above, a new ‘cafe/bar’ has just opened at the apex of Westmoreland and D’Olier Streets as a result of an application lodged in 2010. Rightly highlighted by An Taisce as comprising an over-intensification of large bars in this part of the city, this place in effect is a superpub, with a menu of frozen 'foods' that can be chucked in an industrial fryer. Truly, the gastronomic excellence demanded of this strategic corner site in the city centre. This is a drinking den with carbs on the side. As is now the norm in Dublin, they have just erected cheap, over-scaled signage across the former Manchester United store on both street elevations that in no way accords with the permitted signage. Furthermore, extraordinarily, mind-bogglingly, they have just erected a giant double-height plastic pen on D’Olier Street around the inset former shop entrance, consuming the majority of the pavement here, for use as a smoking area! You couldn’t make this stuff up. Even as I stood open-mouthed at it, two young chaps passed by commenting: "What the hell is that? That's just weird!". Meanwhile they currently have a licence application lodged for street furniture that, in effect, they have already erected.
Not withstanding the ignorant, non-compliant goings-on here, the very fact business enterprise in this city both views – and is allowed – to operate such a use, complete with bouncers on the door at 5 o'clock in the afternoon, speaks volumes about the standards of urban life aspired to in Dublin. Instead of a stunning, genuine cafe or bistro or restaurant in this marvellous Victorian building with wonderfully atmospheric interior of timber-lined ceiling, cornicing and handsome detailing, directly overlooking O’Connell Bridge, it has a silly themed interior that actively seeks to conceal any indication of the quality and provenance of the premises. The level of thinking borders on primitive.
The same is true of the recent redevelopment of the supremely elegant former Merchant’s Hall building at the Ha’penny Bridge. Instead of a high quality, never mind world class, restaurant overlooking the Liffey from a first floor dining room, a low-grade restaurant catering for British stag parties, with naff showhouse interior, 90s disco music and LED colour changing lights on the ceiling, sets up shop in on one of the city’s finest historic premises, while at ground floor level a faux Edwardian pub occupies the ground floor with completely unauthorised mezannine level, fixtures and fittings. Outside, three trashy plastic flagpoles have been erected with Guinness flags, a banner sign hangs from a first floor window, music blasts out across the river from externally mounted speakers, and further unauthorised signage is erected within Merchant’s Arch itself! Another premier asset is lost to the city. But as long as the Chamber is happy, ach shure isn't dat all that matters.
Directly across the Liffey, one of the Wide Street’s Commissioners houses at the entrance to O’Connell Street – arguably the most strategic (and defaced) terrace in the city – has just been painted highlighter green! The ENTIRE building! You can see it from as far away as Pearse Street, never mind outer space. The shopfront has been commandeered by a giant banner fascia and full-scale window postering advertising BUDGET ACCOMMODATION further down the quay in the Abbey Court, while every other shopfront on this critically important terrace is unauthorised. Nokia have also been getting away with the most lucrative unauthorised advertising site in the city, at the expense of the city, for nearly a year now. The Abbey Court itself was also being repainted, incedentally – bright purple – when I passed on Sunday.
And it goes on and on. Every street in the centre now is simply out of control in relation to unauthorised retail developments, while tawdry uses of second hand bookstores, milkshake bars, takeaways and convenience stores fill ever more vacant units. Very soon things will reach a tipping point that is nigh on impossible to pull back from. It is disheartening when even the hilariously overpriced and supposedly high class Olesya's Wine Bar on Exchequer Street has just erected an illuminated box sign, 1970s-style, three floors up on the turret of the South City Markets! It has since migrated down to first floor level, pretty much in line with the equally unauthorised galvanised steel flagpoles tacked around the strategic corner offices of ODOS Architects. Here's hoping they kick up a fuss on both fronts - even in spite of their penchant for illuminated light boxes.