For a number of years, if you walked into any bar off the street in Dublin and you’d find a similar scene: crowded rooms filled with noisy patrons, pricy pints getting spilled in your attempt to leave the bar and resume your position standing against a wall, and a seemingly endless flow of mixed drinks that don’t quite seem to quench your thirst but that burn a hole in your wallet faster than you can drink them down.
Bars in Dublin are traditionally and notoriously busy, but recently it’s apparent that things are changing. Bars are busier than ever, but you’ll find customers are now holding an array of different, unique drinks in their hands. We’re evolving, and the catalyst to that evolution is the emergence of Dublin’s cocktail culture.
It appears that, like in so many other areas of life, the recession has had an extreme effect on the cocktail culture. When money was rolling so were the fancy drinks and the Irish were really starting to develop an appetite for hand crafted drinks. But things quickly changed.
When people stopped spending, bars were quickly forced to rethink their strategies for getting people in the doors. Cocktails became a cheap, pre-mixed solution poured hastily into a glass of crushed ice and dropped to the staggeringly low price of €5, less than most other drinks on offer. Ready-made Cosmos and Long Island Iced Teas were flowing, as well as Mojitos comprised of a dash of rum in a glass of fizzy water.
It changed the way we thought about cocktails. It changed what we expected when we ordered them, and it changed the way the simplest of drinks should taste. (And I don’t mean for the better)
The sign of a really great cocktail is subtlety of flavour. It takes an undeniable skill to mix a drink properly, and even more skill to play with the ingredients and make something new and interesting. That’s what we lost in the recession, and that’s what we’re regaining now.
A playground of bars
Fast forward to today and things are really taking off again- the age of the mixologist has arrived- or re arrived.
If you take just a moment to think, I bet you can name at least 5 places to get a really good cocktail in Dublin. Some of the first that come to mind will undoubtedly be Vintage Cocktail Club, The Liquor Rooms, 37 Dawson Street, and The Dylan.
But competing with these top bars are also restaurants that put serious emphasis on their cocktails. Fade Street Social, 777, Opium, Izakaya and Drury Buildings are all serious contenders, taking the time to create specialty cocktail lists as well as to perfect the classics.
What do they all have in common? These bars and restaurants are responsible for getting customers to put down the pints and try something new in the form of a cocktail. They’ve changed the idea of a pre-dinner “cocktail” from a Bellini to a Negroni and have you sipping on an Old Fashioned instead of downing pints. They’ve got us experimenting with new spirits, and in many cases taking the time to ask the bartender questions about what goes with what.
Bartenders are getting more creative than ever. After years of reproducing basics and serving mostly classic cocktails to a small number of customers for years, they’re finally getting a chance to show off their skills.
Menus are expanding with a litany of signature drinks, tying together flavours that the average customer might never think to try, and the results are surprising. Bartenders find the amount of Cosmos, Mojitos and Sex on the Beach ordered each night are steadily decreasing; customers are more interested in (and increasing the demand for) signature drinks. They want to try something new and they want it to be unique.
The next wave
What’s next for the bar scene in Dublin? With customers’ awareness of alcohol rapidly increasing and their thirst for new flavours, bartenders are more able than ever to show off the spirits they’re passionate for.
We’re likely to see a jump towards specialty bar lists, marked by specific attention to any given spirit. We’ll see rum bars, gin bars and whiskey bars popping up, giving us the chance to experiment with a more international range of drinks.
Part of what makes Dublin so special is the way it adapts, drawing in new inspiration from across the globe and moulding it into something that is unique. When it comes to our bar scene, we’re seeing an expansion that’s not going to slow down anytime soon, and for customers that means lots more cocktails to experiment with.