Re: Re: college green/ o’connell street plaza and pedestrians

Home Forums Ireland college green/ o’connell street plaza and pedestrians Re: Re: college green/ o’connell street plaza and pedestrians

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GrahamH
Participant

On the theme of an earlier posting or two here, good to see Frank McDonald picking up on the same trend in today’s Magazine.

DAME ST IN DISTRESS

VIEWPOINT: Dame Street, once one of the premier streets in the capital, has become noisy and tawdry. The sober financial institutions of the past have been replaced with a lot of badly spelled pubs, clubs and shops, writes Frank McDonald

IT’S DAME STREET on a Friday night/ Saturday morning. Everyone is out on the town and the junction with South Great George’s Street is heaving. A pair of bouncers in bow-ties stand guard at the entrance to Club Lapello, the local lap-dancing bar, scrutinising potential clients – mainly lads who’ve been drinking and want some extra entertainment.

In the eye-blinkingly bright Centra next door, a motley crew of revellers queue to pay for soft drinks and chocolate bars to keep themselves going, while down the street the footpath outside the loud, throbbing bars is choc-a-bloc with remarkably underdressed drinkers, some of them appearing to be “coked off their face”, taking cigarette breaks.

Last May, the Citi Bar – which exists only because it’s part of a licensed hotel – was censured for hosting a “Twisted Tuesday” promotional event for the Trinity College Students’ Union. The licensed trade’s watchdog panel, Mature Enjoyment of Alcohol in Society (MEAS), found that the use of the term “twisted” on flyers was an incitement to excessive drinking.

Directly opposite, there are crowds outside O’Brien’s and the Mercantile Bar smoking on the footpath. A few doors away, a new bar called Le Cirk is pulling them into its fussily-decorated interior behind a mock-Victorian pubfront slapped onto a neo-classical building that dates from 1930; as William Deedes would have said, “Shurely shome mishtake”.

A bulbous stained-glass window projects from the rear on to Dame Lane and, above it, there are two floors with nothing but vents in the wall; why bother putting windows in the toilets when you can get away with this? Jay Bourke’s new bar, Shebeen, on South Great George’s Street is better; furnished with bric-a-brac, it seems tailored for the recession.

And when all the pubs with “special exemptions” and the sweaty basement nightclubs finally close their doors at 2am, there’s an unruly scramble for taxis – not just at the ranks, but everywhere. It’s the kind of mayhem you wouldn’t expect to find in a city that supposedly has more than 20,000 taxis, a throwback to the days when they were few and far between.

During the day, Dame Street is a different place; all you have to do to get a taxi is to put out your hand and signal one to stop. But for pedestrians, the environment is very unfriendly. The generally narrow footpaths are crowded and made even more so by obstructions such as the Citi Bar’s outdoor seating area, which occupies half the width of the footpath in front.

At the main pedestrian crossing close to the corner of Trinity Street, people have to wait for one minute and 40 seconds for the traffic to stop and then get just get 20 seconds to cross the street. It’s even worse at the South Great George’s Street junction, where the window of opportunity is reduced even further by motorists blithely driving through red lights.

Dame Street is one of the noisiest places in Dublin because of the huge volumes of traffic trundling through it. The street has also become tawdry, not just because of the proliferation of pubs but convenience stores and fast-food joints. Yet it is one of the longest stretches of the civic processional route from Christ Church Cathedral to Parnell Square.

The Pars carpet gallery beside Philips, which passers-by would remember for its gilt-framed woven portrait of a fixed-grin Mary Robinson in the window, closed down nearly a year ago and has just reopened as yet another Spar. And there were reports that Lidl, the German discount grocery chain, was lining up to move into the failed Habitat store on College Green.

The pace of change was so fast during the boom years that it’s often difficult to remember what was in any premises previously. But we do remember that Club Lapello, for example, was once La Mezza Luna, an Italian restaurant. And if I’m not mistaken, the basement that houses Condomania in the same short block used to be The Underground, a cutting-edge music venue.

The Olympia Theatre has been more of a venue than a theatre for several years and, despite the welcome restoration of its canopy after being hit by a truck, the interior stinks of stale drink – a real indication that the bars have become more important than the stage. Some refurbishment work has been carried out, including new seats, but more is needed.

Across the street is Dublin’s most peculiar new building, widely reviled by the public. Part of the problem is that it seems cropped while the stone-paved plaza adjoining it is quite bleak. The front façade, topped by an elongated mosaic-clad half-dome, is particularly eccentric and aggravated at night-time by strip-lighting behind a glass screen, in lurid dayglo green.

There are some good things, such as the Mermaid Cafe and its no-frills sister, Gruel. And Nicos, of course. Behind its new opalescent windows, this venerable Dublin institution where nothing seemed to have changed for years was given a makeover during the summer that took habitués by surprise. The menu is the same, however, and there’s still a piano player.

Some of Dame Street’s tawdriness – particularly its Bacchanalian atmosphere at night – is a spillover from Temple Bar (or should that be Temple Barf, as the latest Lonely Planet guide to Dublin suggested?). God knows what the 18th and 19th century denizens of Dame Street would make of it today; when they were around, it was full of financial institutions and coffee houses.

There are still a few banks, notably the huge hulk of Sam Stephenson’s Central Bank, where Goths gather every Saturday and teenage skateboarders persistently ignore the official ban on their form of fun, and the old headquarters of the Munster and Leinster Bank (now AIB), where Charlie Haughey ran up his famous debt of £1 million in the late 1970s.

Guinness and Mahon, the merchant bank that “walking ATM” Des Traynor once ran, is just another branch of Permanent TSB today, while National Irish Bank has the luxury of a barrel-vaulted high Victorian banking hall – a feature the nearby Ulster Bank wilfully destroyed – and the turreted building once occupied by AIB is now Charlie Chawke’s Bank bar.

Jurys Hotel is long since gone, its elaborate mahogany bar installed in a pub in Zurich, and the building that stands on its site at the corner of Anglesea Street is now occupied by the Financial Regulator and his staff.

Just down the street, it was probably inevitable that Starbucks would open its first cafe here on the edge of College Green, Dublin’s great architectural set-piece.

What will transform the area is the proposed Lucan Luas line, which will originate in College Green and travel out west via Dame Street, Lord Edward Street, Christchurch Place and Thomas Street. With wider footpaths all along the route and restrictions on through-traffic, “quality of life” for people frequenting this stretch of Dublin should be immeasurably improved.

But we’ll have to wait for that to happen. According to the Railway Procurement Agency, work on the Lucan line won’t even start until 2011. By then, who knows what state the public finances might be in and whether the Government will welsh on this or other public transport projects. In the meantime, the likelihood is that Dame Street will become even more tawdry.

© 2008 The Irish Times

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