Not all who wander are lost. I’m heartened by that sentiment. I think. It seems optimistic, but I guess it also implies that some people who wander might indeed be very lost, and then maybe a fewer still should never leave the house. But because I’m an independent American woman dedicated to finding the best that Dublin has to offer, I’ve decided to wander, lost or not, through Temple Bar – Dublin’s “Greenwich Village” or “Left Bank” with enough shops, cafes, theatres, galleries, pubs, and galleries to last a very long time. I’ve been living in Temple Bar for six weeks. It’s the heart of Dublin – running along the south shore of the Liffey up to Dame Street. It can sometimes feel rough and seamy. It can be very touristy and very crowded, especially on weekend nights. (Three hundred years ago it got its name from the Temples family who were merchants that unloaded their goods at a loading dock along the river called a “bar”.) So I choose a beautiful, warm, sunny Saturday to wander around the cobbled, crooked, narrow streets of Temple Bar.
I head over to the Clarence Hotel first – Bono’s and the Edge’s hotel – just a three minute walk from my apartment. It makes me happy every time I go by it even though the facade is not much to look at. And I always find it hard to just go by, without venturing in, and checking out the people checking in, and also to nip into the Octagon Bar. (Dear Bono, if you’re reading this, I’ve loved you since the beginning – well as much as you can love a person that you don’t actually know. And I just have to tell you that the Irish coffee in your bar is really bad. My friend, Sarah, and I were so disappointed when we ordered coffees last summer. I’m sorry, but I’m here to report the truth and I thought you would want to know. Anyway, when you’re not making beautiful music, could you please rectify the situation? Thanks a million. All the best, Kathy)
I continue walking trying to decide where to make my first pit stop, when a handsome young man standing outside the House of Chai calls over to me from across the lane, “Would you like me to make you something to drink?” I would love that, actually. He’s from Venezuela and couldn’t be more charming if he tried – the thing is, he’s not even trying – and he makes me a cappuccino and I order a little caramel waffle cookie to go with it. And as in almost all of the coffee shops in Dublin, the presentation is gorgeous and the decor is pretty.
I continue my wandering through the produce and food market at Meeting House Square, just down the street from the Irish Film Institute – it happens every Saturday from ten to six. It’s alive with buying and eating. Next I walk past Ha’ Penny Bridge for what must be the hundredth time. It still feels like the essence of Dublin to me – the black water of the river through the white paint of the railings, the curve of the bridge, the seagulls cawing, the ever-changing clouds, the people who travel from the world over to take photos here.
I decide to peak over to the north side of Dublin for a stop inside the Winding Stair Book Store. (A posh restaurant by the same name is just next door.) Being in the shop is like being in an Irish granny’s living room. The woman at the till is reading her book, and I have to disturb her concentration to ask her for a cup of tea. She boils the water with her electric kettle. So many of the books on display are about the Easter rising of 1916 as this year marks the one-hundreth anniversary of the birth of the independent state of Ireland.
Walking in the clear sunshine of the day makes me hungry. Dame Street and the lanes and alleys of Temple Bar are filled with excellent cafes, but I’m in the mood for Bobo’s, one of my favorite places for comfort food. I get a dry-aged Irish beef burger topped with grilled pineapple, along with fries, and a drink for only ten euros. (They also have an all-day breakfast menu – next time.)
I feel like seeing a familiar face, so I stop by the Crow Street Collective salon to see Nikita. The salon is stunning and I’m treated like an old friend. There’s a fireplace and Gone With the Wind is on the vintage television. (A mysterious DVD player lives inside the television.) I want to redo my bathroom to look like theirs. I want to repaint my walls this shade of green. Everyone chats me up. Nothing rejuvenates the spirit like a good hair cut and a blow dry from a sweet, cheerful Irish girl with the gift of gab. She remembers everything that we talked about the last time I was there, and I wish I could stay. But because I’m on the road to find out, I draw myself away.
I stop by Baby Doll, the cool shop where I got my long, black coat the last time I was here, to say hello to Yasmin, the owner. I wander over to Folkster, a store with gorgeous long dresses, shoes, jewelry, and collectibles. I have to go into Siopaella, Dublin’s famous upscale vintage store. I buy a plum Scottish cashmere sweater. (It had me at Scottish cashmere.)
I realize it’s time to meet my friend, Helen, so I head up to Cafe Topolis for the best pizza in town. And from there we wander out of Temple Bar to other sections of the city and to other kinds of wanderings. And because a friend makes everything in life easier, it feels like it’s impossible to get lost.