Before today, I was guilty of cringing when someone suggested we head to Dublin’s Temple Bar. While the area was always designed to be Dublin’s hub of arts and culture, its reputation has been soured: most people know Temple Bar as an alcohol-soaked, expensive tourist trap where the price of a pint sometimes rises by the hour. A rowdy hub for drunken debauchery, stag parties, hen parties and unruly behavior, where beautiful, historical cobblestones get covered in spills or litter or worse.
But Temple Bar by daylight is an entirely different world, and according to the hopeful predictions of local business owners, its reputation will soon undergo the transformation into what it deserves. That is, a fantastic community that is absolutely teeming with creativity, artistic collaboration, innovation, and serious talent.
Whether they’re hiding in plain sight or in the many nooks and crannies, there’s a seemingly endless amount of shops, studios, galleries and teaching centers dedicated to Irish art, literature, film, theater, fashion and design. Some businesses are artist collectives, where multiple independent artists (anywhere from five to fifteen) share one roof and exhibit and sell their handmade designs in one space. At the Cow’s Lane Designer Studio in Temple Bar’s “Old City,” six artists work in shifts when it comes to the day-to-day tasks of minding the shop and manning the sales for the day. There is no middle man, so the prices are always fair, and no matter what day you come to the shop you’re talking to one of the artists. You’ll find beautiful, quirky and colorful handmade goods across all media and disciplines, from jewelry to kitchenware to photography and greeting cards.
A few streets down stands a shop painted bubblegum pink: a “vintage basement” called Lucy’s Lounge, owned by Lithuanian friends and artists Agne Vaiksnoraite and Marius Peciukonis. Inside, during our conversation about their quirky shop, their friend and employee Lukas sat at a worker’s bench, banging away at a piece of metal. Another friend and former employee, Marija, sat in a plush chair playing with her baby. Agne’s Bulldog-Beagle mix, Puba, snored away on a cushion.
Their shop contains art - wearable and otherwise - from fifteen independent designers in Dublin. You’ll find vintage dresses and colorful creations, including many Ireland-themed wares like necklaces made out of old Irish coins, designed and made by Marius himself. It seems like anything goes in Lucy’s Lounge, because they also do tattoos and piercings. The clientele is split 50-50 between tourists and loyal Dublin locals.
“All of the business owners in this area are like a family. We all know each other well,” Agne said, gushing with admiration for Temple Bar. “Temple bar is old and it’s charming. It’s earthy and organic.”
“It’s like a little village,” Lukas added. “Small businesses work very differently than corporations. This kind of stuff comes from the soul. Everybody helps each other out, and the family keeps getting bigger, it’s awesome.”
Marija chimed in: “It’s nice to see actual people instead of chains - you can walk inside and meet the boss. It’s less formal. You can bring a baby or a dog into the shop. There aren’t as many rules,” she said.
Across the road at Jam Art Factory, a small shop bursting with colorful, original, and some hilarious Dublin-themed prints and paintings, long time employee Ruth Keating said: “Dublin people love to show off Dublin.” Because Temple Bar is in the very center of Dublin, bordering the Liffey, it’s an open space where the North-South Dublin rivalry disappears, and creatives from all corners can come together to celebrate the city in its entirety.
Aside from all of the vendors, Temple Bar is full of interactive opportunities and learning experiences. The Gaiety School of Acting stands tall on Essex Street, the Irish Film Institute showcases independent Irish cinema, and next door, in through the back of Connolly’s Books is the New Theatre, an intimate, 66-seater black box theater that has on new plays every night by new and emerging playwrights: the only theater of its kind in all of Dublin. A little further down is the National Library of Ireland’s Photographic Archive, currently displaying an exhibition of old photographs from Dublin’s late 1800s and early 1900s.
At Filmbase, a training center and exhibition space for emerging filmmakers, there’s a storefront-style studio that artists work in while watching the world go by and also being watched by passersby. The footfall inspires their artistic process, and is essential for the interactive installations they have on quite frequently.
“People still have an idea of temple bar that’s quite wrong,” said Steven Galvin, editor at Film Ireland, from behind the reception desk at Filmbase. Film Ireland is a monthly magazine that provides practical and academic coverage of Irish filmmaking, and is located at the top floor of Filmbase.
“We hire equipment for filmmakers; the basement is a screening room, and we use our venue to encourage Irish artists and artists from all walks of life.
“We love being in Temple bar. It’s a really nice energy. And it’s convenient for everyone coming in. It’s the perfect area because you have people from the North side, South side, everywhere. It’s a central hub,” he said. “A cultural hub!” he exclaimed twice passionately.
Other notable shops in Temple Bar include the stunning sartorial designs in Siopaella, which means “Ella’s Shop” in Irish. They have three locations in Temple Bar alone, each with its own theme, from consigned designer items, retro Parisian t-shirts handpicked by Ella herself, and bags from Morocco found on Ella’s yearly trip. There’s ThunderSolas on Cow’s Lane, with brightly colored leather goods handmade by the shop owner, and Indigo & Cloth, a coffee shop-clothing store hybrid. Many of these shops began as pop-up shops or stands at Temple Bar’s bazaar-style weekend markets, but business was so fruitful for many that they were able to secure their own permanent space in the area they love.
The next time you reject at the idea of Temple Bar because of your notions about the kitschy tourist bars and wild late nights, I would suggest giving it another shot - do a bit of exploring beneath the surface. I promise you will find something unique that grabs your interest, and you’ll want to return again soon.