Capel Street: A Second Coming…

17th September 2013
Pól Ó Conghaile

Could Capel Street be the new South William Street?

This old Dublin thoroughfare always looks just a few years from absolute ruin, but it was once a fashionable address. Former Taoiseach Seán Lemass was born in No.2, there are some fine Georgian townhouses among the tatty businesses, and Victorian shopfronts include John McNeill’s (No.140) – today a pub, but formerly the music shop that made the bugle that sounded the Charge of the Light Brigade (1854).

Lately, however, a new breed of business has started to bloom along the tired old strip. Sushi and sashimi at Musashi, craft beers at The Black Sheep, and the recent announcement that the old Victorian fruit and vegetable market is due a major revamp could be catalysts propelling it to the next level.

For the moment, mind you, the level it’s on is pretty exciting. Capel Street hums with a mix of old and new, gritty and gorgeous, with pawn shops and karaoke bars, sex shops and fine suits (Louis Copeland), and the odd scattering of Dublin’s finest street vendors selling dodgy grapes and bananas from their prams.

Throw in the Korean eateries and the furniture stores, and there isn’t a street like it in the city. Unlike South William Street, it’s also at an early enough stage in its redevelopment to avoid the prancers and peacocks so quick to turn exciting new quarters into the plastic fantastic. Right now, it’s still rather raw.

And finally, there is Brother Hubbard (No. 153).

Step inside and you’ll find bright wooden tables, a tiny outdoor courtyard and subtle Middle Eastern influences on a menu of sambos, salads, soups and treats. Breakfast options range from granolas and gently-squeezed OJ to hangover-hitters like home-baked beans topped with whipped feta and lemon yoghurt, or Moroccan-style semolina pancakes.

It’s quite possibly the friendliest little café on the planet.

And another thing:

Since I published this post, there’s been a lot of love on Twitter for Capel Street, so a few more recommendations are in order.

Max McQuillan reminded me that McQuillan Tools is here for 100 years (Brereton’s, pictured above, was established in 1916), journalist Úna-Minh Caomhánach tipped the Vietnamese cafe Aobaba (Stitch & Bear reviews it here), and Simon Palmer reminded me of The Hacienda (nearby at 15 Little Mary St.).

How could I have forgotten? At first, this sealed-off bar looks grim and forbidding, but ring the buzzer and Shay, the barman, moseys out. If he likes the cut of you, he’ll usher you into a weird and wonderful drinking emporium decorated with everything from dartboards to diving helmets.

A paragraph can’t do it justice; a pint might.