The Irish, These Days, Stay Home and Go Out (The New York Times 2/4/01)

“This place is really full, isn’t it?” shouted Barry O’Sullivan, manager of Club M, a discothèque at the edge of the Temple Bar district, one Saturday evening last month. He looked over his shoulder at a dance floor packed with bodies in various stages of advanced locomotion.

Mr. O’Sullivan, a Trinity College engineering graduate who started his job in November, estimated the crowd in this slightly retro-looking Irish dance hall at 1,300, or legal capacity. But to a practiced nocturnal eye, the mob gyrating to the over-the-top vibe was over the top, too — by at least 300.

”You would think they would be exhausted from the holidays,” he added, surveying his customers with satisfaction. ”Not these people. They’re on permanent party mode. They’re on a high.”

So is Ireland. Last year its economy grew about 10 percent, the Foreign Ministry said — the seventh consecutive year of expansion. And Dublin, which as London’s quaint second cousin had long been more used to bust than boom, is evolving into a fast-paced, multicultural European city, with over half of its 1.1 million residents under 30. Most of them now have jobs and money to burn, too.

”Ten years ago the average young Irish person’s dream was to go to New York and win a green card,” said Ailish Cantwell, marketing director of the Clarence Hotel, a trendy Temple Bar spot founded in 1996 by Bono and U2′s lead guitarist, the Edge.

The party in Dublin seems to have supplanted that dream. The Celtic Tiger, the big boom is called. And the best time to hear it roar is at night, as the newly moneyed hordes converge on clubs, lounges and hotel lobby bars to feed it.

”The Celtic Tiger we are experiencing means that people do have dispensable income to spend on socializing and can afford all these upmarket bars and clubs,” said Tara O’Connor, who makes the Dublin scene when she is not acting as Members’ Room hostess at Lillie’s Bordello, the city’s most famous nightclub. Named after Lillie Langtry, the professional beauty best known to history as the mistress of Edward VII when he was Prince of Wales, it opened its rococo doors in 1992, well before the boom. And though it has been doing an extravagant business ever since, it now faces competition from newer lounges and bars with names like Ava, Cocoon and Spy.

”I can’t remember the last time there wasn’t a party or a ball to go to at the weekend,” Ms. O’Connor said. ”It’s just all go-go-go.” Bearing witness was the scene all around her in the Members’ Room, where a slightly tipsy Vic Damone-ish lounge singer was regaling 30 or so of the club’s biggest spenders.

Downstairs, near the thumping dance floor, was Danny Dorrian, an Irish-American restaurateur drawn back to Dublin from Manhattan in 1997 who now rides the Celtic Tiger. Mr. Dorrian — whose father, Jack, owns Dorrian’s Red Hand, the well-known Upper East Side drinking hole — has scored a hit here with Il Posto, an Italian restaurant on St. Stephen’s Green, and says he is looking for a second location.

”Things are definitely moving fast,” said Mr. Dorrian, 27, whose activities nowadays are fodder for Dublin celebrity magazines like VIP (which stands for Very Irish Person) and Social and Confidential. ”Almost a little too fast.”

He was standing at Lillie’s large circular bar with a group of friends and admirers. ”People are trying to make up for lost time,” he said. ”They want to be in the New York-London-Paris league.” A woman passed by in a gold lamé bra-and-dress ensemble.

”They’re not there yet,” he said, his head turning, ”but they’re close.”

One who has chronicled the transformation — watching the city blossom with the homecoming of people like Mr. Dorrian — is Leanne deCerbo, an Australian who came for a vacation in the 1980′s and stayed on to become the editor of Irish Tatler, a magazine that covers society and fashion.

”I’ve been living in Dublin for nearly 14 years now,” Ms. deCerbo said in an e-mail interview, ”and the changes I’ve seen in that time make the gray Dublin of a decade ago a very distant memory. There’s a mixture of cultures living in the city now that never existed before, who, in turn, have introduced a plethora of new restaurants, cafes, bars and stores. It’s actually becoming hard to keep up with what’s new around town, and Dublin is now competing to keep a discriminating population interested. That’s never happened before.”

Back at the Octagon Bar at the Clarence Hotel, the night had begun well for a crowd of young Dubliners. The Clarence’s drinks are among the most expensive in town — prices range from $5 for a beer to as much $15 for Rémy XO. But there is always the chance of catching a glimpse of the hotel’s rock star owners or other glamorous guests.

”Dublin used to be quaint,” said Sharon Friel, a patron who described herself as a glass artist. ”You can say a lot of things about Dublin today, but quaint is not one of them. We’re just as hip as anyone else.”

Spy, a lounge-type club with high ceilings and large Greco-Roman cameos on the walls, opened in December in a converted Georgian town house. Its V.I.P. room is presided over by a large color photo of a nude woman straddling a (presumably Celtic) tiger skin. ”We’re a contemporary club in a classic Georgian setting for fashion, media and music types,” said Stephen Haller, 27, the manager. ”Basically, we’re trying to get the cream of Lillie’s crowd.”

Evidently they are succeeding. Among the better-known people who joined Spy’s well-turned-out clientele that evening — generating discreet oohs as they moved toward the V.I.P. room — were U2′s manager, Paul McGuinness, and a Dublin celebrity chef, Conrad Gallagher.

”They’re really very nice people,” said Melanie Love, a hostess at Spy. ”Our V.I.P.’s are still getting used to the notion of being V.I.P.’s.”

”There’s such an energy coming out of this city now,” Ms. Love added brightly as she sat on the edge of a pink couch in the adjoining Pink Room. She said she grew up in Mullingar, a small city about 50 miles away, and moved to Dublin to take advantage of the good times while financing her real passion: horses. She owns two, and said she was once on the short list for the Irish Olympic equestrian team.

Mr. Haller then signaled to Ms. Love — some of the guests in the V.I.P. Room needed tending to — and she headed off.

Titta Isokuortti, a Finn who is an owner of 2cooldesign, a local Nordic design store, said she approved of Spy’s stripped-down aesthetic. ”The Irish tend to overstuff their places, especially their pubs,” she said. ”But this place is cool.”

Downstairs, in a quiet corner of the blindingly white Billiards Room, a fashion designer named Marc O’Neill praised what he called ”a newfound arrogance here in Ireland.”

”We’re not on the defensive anymore,” he said. ”We know that this — Ireland — is the place to be, and we are making the most of it.”

And later on, at the pounding Club M, several on the dance floor appeared to be levitating. ”Seeing people enjoy themselves is very gratifying,” yelled Mr. O’Sullivan, the manager, an errant laser beam lighting up his face. ”Isn’t this amazing?”

His astonishment might be a bit too easily come by, but in a city so long quiescent, the gaiety was impressive.

Comments are disabled for this post