Exploring Gay Dublin
The very best of the Irish capital
Story brought to us by
by Ed Walsh
Brian Finnegan recalled going into a gay bar in
Dublin 15 years ago. He had to knock on the door to get in. A man on
the other side pushed a peephole door to the side and made sure he
belonged there before opening the door to let him inside.
ďIt was like Prohibition,Ē said Finnegan who now
is an editor of Irelandís gay newsmagazine,
But almost overnight, things changed, Finnegan
said. That change coincided with the so-called Celtic tiger high
tech industry boom in the mid-1990ís that propelled Ireland from one
of the poorest countries in Europe to one of its wealthiest. In the
early nineties more people were moving out of Ireland than moving
in. By the late nineties, however, the trend had dramatically
The unemployment rate plunged from 15% to less
than 5% with jobs attracting immigrants, primarily from Eastern
Europe. Nowadays about ten-percent of the four million residents of
Ireland are now foreign born, whereas a little over a decade ago
that figure was a little over one percent. Further evidencing the
countryís recent changes, in 2007, Rotimi Adebari, a man from
Nigeria, became the country's first black mayor in Portlaoise, a
city that is about 55 miles southwest of Dublin.
You will notice that immigration boom soon after arriving in Dublin.
You will be more likely met with a hotel or restaurant worker from
Eastern Europe than you will one from Ireland. While the faces of
Ireland may look a little different, the Irish spirit of hospitality
is not lacking in the Emerald Isle. Whatís the gay scene like in
Dublin? While you wonít be greeted at a gay bar in Dublin by someone
peering at you through a slit in the door these day , you may notice
a small vestige from the underground days.
Unless you are very obviously gay or a familiar face, you will
probably be asked by a doorman if you were aware that you were
entering a gay bar. Irish people are known for their gift of gab
which you are certain to notice if you strike up a conversation with
a local They love to chat with strangers. There is seldom a hidden
agenda, just a natural curiosity about other people. By the way,
despite its reputation for hard drinking and smoking, Ireland banned
smoking in bars in 2004. Bars usually close during the week at 12:30
a.m. but most stay open later on weekends.
Notwithstanding subtle reminders of its recent
underground past, the gay scene in Dublin is open and concentrated.
All the cityís gay bars and nightclubs are in short walking distance
of one another in a section of downtown near the Liffey River,
adjacent to the trendy Temple Bar area.
The newest gay bar in Dublin just opened in
November 2007 and is already drawing big crowds even on the
weekdays. Itís called PantiBar. It is owned by Rory OíNeill, more
commonly known as Panti, one of Irelandís best-known drag queens.
Itís gay/lesbian mixed crowd but mostly gay men.
The George is Dublinís oldest and best known gay bar. Itís on the
other side of the Liffey River from the PantiBar, closer to where
many of the other gay bars are clustered. When it first opened in
1985, it was a small traditional looking Irish bar. Today, the old
bar is still there and known to locals affectionately as ďJurassic
Park.Ē But now it is attached to a cavernous two-level nightclub
that features dancing and entertainment. The George nightclub is
also very popular with lesbians at night, although the crowd is
mostly gay male.
Just down South Georgeís Street from The George, is the Dragon
nightclub. Itís owned by Capital Bars, the same company that owns
The George. The Dragon is the largest gay club in the city, and the
second newest, after PantiBar. Unlike The George, they donít charge
a cover to get in the Dragon, so that has helped give it a big boost
by drumming up business among locals.
The Front Lounge on Parliament Street is a bar and popular lunch
spot. The front of the Front Lounge tends to be more popular with
lesbians and the back with gay men. As its name implies, the Front
Lounge is a lounge type bar, with sofas and easy chairs throughout.
It is a popular place for gay people to bring their non-gay friends
after work or after dinner.
Dublin has two gay saunas, the large and modern Boilerhouse, on the
edge of the Temple Bar area and just behind The Clarence hotel, and
the Dock Sauna, about a five minute walk from the Boilerhouse on the
other side of the River Liffey.
Dublin may be at its gayest ever this year. It hosted the Bingham
Cup, a gay rugby tournament named for Mark Bingham, one of the
September 11 Flight 93 heroes. Organizers expected more than 1,000
people from all around the world to participate in the June 12-16
event, which partially coincided with Dublinís Pride celebration.
For more information on the Bingham Cup, including a video interview
with tournament director, Richie Whyte, check out Ed Walshís
The River Liffey cuts through the heart of downtown. Several
charming pedestrian and vehicle bridges span the river, the most
famous of which is the pedestrian-only Haí Penny Bridge, so named
because it once charged a half-penny toll. Now itís free.
The best known gay sight is the statue of Oscar Wilde (1854-1900).
He sits reclining on a rock in Merrion Square near Trinity College
where he was educated. Reflecting his colorful life, the statue
shows him off in a vibrant green jacket with red trim. He sits on a
perch overlooking the home where he grew up. Wilde was known for his
wit and some of his best-known quotations are inscribed on stone
columns in front of the statue.
There are a wealth of museums, parks and even a
castle within easy walking distance in downtown Dublin. The city
offers a number of walking and bus tours that allow vistors to take
it all in without getting lost. I took the City Tour Hop On- Hop Off
bus which runs every ten minutes allowing tourists to hop on and off
at a sight of interest.
If you prefer to do it yourself, you can download an audio guide
walking tour of Dublin through the cityís Web site,
Dubliners love their parks and the city is home to
Phoenix Park, one of the largest urban parks in the world. It is a
little more than twice the size of New Yorkís Central Park. Pope
John Paul II celebrated mass before more than a million people there
in 1979. A papal cross marks that spot.
The park is also home to the Dublin Zoo and the Irish Presidentís
residence, which looks a lot like the American White House.
There are reminders throughout Dublin of Irelandís struggle for
independence from Great Britain. The best known symbol of that fight
is a jail, the Kilmainham Gaol, where Irelandís political prisoners
were held. It was also where 14 rebels were executed following the
1916 Easter Rising rebellion. Ireland finally gained its
independence in 1921 under an agreement that allowed the UK to carve
out Northern Ireland.
The Guinness Storehouse is a must-stop. It has been called a
Disneyland for beer lovers. It is a museum that uses high-tech
multimedia to tell the history of Irelandís most-revered export. It
sits in a converted old grain warehouse opposite the Guinness
brewery. The top floor features one of the best views of the city
from the Gravity Bar. A free glass of Guinness in the Gravity Bar is
included in the admission price. If you ask, they will artfully
carve out a shamrock in the foam.
A gay friendly hotel is more the rule rather than the exception in
Dublin. The staff of the Gay Community News met with little
resistance when they distributed the paperís gay map of Dublin to
the cityís hotels.
That said, some hotels are better than others in making gay
customers feel especially welcome. By the way, prices in Ireland,
including hotel rates, almost always include its hefty 21% sales
tax. Best that you know, so you wonít be in for added shock when you
If you want to visit Dublin in style, you would be hard-pressed to
do better than The Clarence. U2 band mates, Bono and Edge, bought
the then-two star hotel in 1992. Millions of dollars later, they
transformed it into a luxury 5-star property. It is perfectly
situated on the River Liffey, on the edge of the Temple Bar area and
within a short walk to all the gay clubs of Dublin. It has 49 rooms
now, including a spectacular penthouse suite. Plans are in the works
to nearly triple its capacity when it expands to a building next
door around 2010. The Clarence is Travel Alternative Group (TAG)
approved which means that the hotel does not discriminate, actively
outreaches to the gay and lesbian community, and strives to create a
gay-friendly experience for their guests. Room rates start around
$300 but you can often get a room much cheaper through the hotelís
Across the River Liffey from The Clarence and on
the opposite end of the luxury scale, is the 11-room gay B&B, the
Inn on the Liffey. Rates start around $87. Breakfast in its charming
riverfront room is included. I heard a couple of negative comments
about Inn on the Liffey from locals, but when I showed up
unannounced for a tour, I found the staff very friendly and the
rooms clean and quaint. The front rooms have a nice view of the
river but if youíre sensitive to traffic noise you should ask for a
back room. As a guest of the B&B, you are granted free admission to
the gay sauna, the Dock Sauna, which is housed in same building as
the B&B. Thought, women are very welcome to stay in the B&B the
sauna is for men only.
If you prefer to stay at a gay B&B that is more
upscale, the Nua Haven is a great option. The four-room property is
run by a gay couple who live on premises. Nua Havenís clientele is
mixed, gay men and women, and is straight friendly. The owners
maintain a family atmosphere and breakfast is served until midday.
If you are traveling alone, unlike many mainstream
bed and breakfasts, no one will look at you funny for having an
overnight guest of the same sex stay with you. In fact, they will be
graciously welcomed for breakfast. Nua Haven is located in an upper
middle class section of Dublin, in the Haroldís Cross area, about a
ten minute cab ride from downtown. The property is also serviced by
two public bus routes that servicethe city. Rates are about $145
year round, but check the hotel website for specials, especially if
you are traveling outside of the busy summer months.
The gay owned Mermaid and Gruel restaurants are
right next to each other on Dame Street, at Sycamore Street, in the
middle of the gayest part of Dublin. Youíll pass by them on your way
between the Front Room and The George. Mermaid is upscale and
expensive. Entrees start at $32.
Gruel is a more informal deli-like setting and its prices are more
down to earth. An entrťe there will run you less than $20.
Juice on 73-83 South Great Georges Street, near The George, bills
itself as Dublinís only sit-down vegetarian restaurant. Although
itís not gay-owned, itís very gay popular in the middle of Dublinís
gay nightclub area. An entrťe costs $15-$20.
The Boulevard Cafť on 27 Exchequer Street features a mixture of
Mediterranean and Asian food. The staff is mostly gay, and the menu
features a mixture of Mediterranean and Asian food. The lunch
special there will run you about $16.
If you like Indian food, Diwaliís Indian Restaurant is on South
Great Georgeís street, near The George. Lunch runs about $15. Dinner
is about $22.
If you are in the mood to splurge, the Tea Room Restaurant at the
Clarence Hotel is a good bet. It is set in a spacious room with
double high windows facing south, bathing the room in sunlight for
lunch and summer dinners. A three course gourmet meal goes for about
On the other end of the budget scale, you can have a light meal at
the gay-popular Lemon Jelly restaurant for about $10. Lemon Jelly is
in the heart of the Temple Bar area on 10-11B East Essex Street.
Tipping at restaurants is not as generous in Ireland as it is in the
US. A 10 to 15 percent tip is standard unless the bill specifically
includes a service charge. Tax is already included.
Tipping of bartenders is not customary in Ireland.
Aer Lingus flies nonstop to Dublin from a number
of US airports. The airline is a perfect way to get a taste of
Ireland before you get there. The Irish flight attendants will charm
you with their brogue during your flight, about six-hours from the
East Coast and around 10-11 hours from San Francisco or Los Angeles.
They also make the announcements in the old Irish language that the
country takes pride in preserving.
Donít even think about renting a car in Dublin.
Traffic and parking are as bad as any American city. Dublin is very
walkable. Taxis are everywhere. The city has no subway but has an
extensive network of double-decker buses that go just about
everywhere in the city. If you want to take an excursion to the
emerald Irish countryside, a number of tour bus companies will take
you out for the day and return to your hotel in the city.
Depending on the exchange rate and how far you go,
bus fare ranges from around $1.50 to $3. You can take an express bus
from the Dublin airport to downtown for less than $10.