Café en Seine on Dawson Street in Dublin, 1999

‘Superman writes:

A few years back I was in the Porterhouse in Temple Bar watching a band do their thing, loud drums, guitars, a lead singer doing his best impression of a rock star, an appreciative crowd rocked along, most on their third or fourth drink.

During the performance, I smelled an acrid scent. It wasn’t sweat or beer, or perfume or any of the traditional smells of a pub at 11pm. No, it was vinegar. I noticed people, tourists probably, eating fish and chips at the table just behind the scrum around the stage.

It was then I realised the blurring of the lines between a bar and a restaurant in a city famous for its pub culture and nightlife, and a developing movement to making money from food which is spreading all across Dublin bars.

Understandably, the pubs are interested in serving food, a much bigger mark up can be gained. But, in my view, it diminishes both experiences. I want to be tolerant, but who the actual fuck orders fish and chips in a rock bar at 11pm.

You can eat at home, you can eat out at the usual time of 6pm – 9pm in a restaurant, or you can eat after in Dublin’s many takeaways. This system was the norm up until recently.

Now the pubs, which before were set up for drinking, resemble restaurants with nasty food and a bar. The result is a kind of greasy pong generated throughout the day and night.

Understandably, suburban pubs have been doing this for years. But for city centre pubs, who have no trouble getting punters in, it dilutes the experience of the pub entirely.

This food and cocktail culture has begun to permeate the Dublin bar scene. There was a time when people had their dinner and went out on the lash, this seems to be getting all rolled into one now.

Between technology, commerce, greed, and Instagram bollixology, Dublin and probably other cities, seem to have lost touch with a central tenant of why many adults socialise.

To put it bluntly, sex, and all its various intrigues.

Before we discuss how great your cocktails are and how you like your steak done, maybe we can ask the single people, where do you meet other single people?

What environment can be created where in people can drink and dance and socialise in comfort? And where people can dress up, with a mixture of ages and nationalities, somewhere with a sophistication that was never attached to Ireland’s most stubbornly popular nightspot Coppers.

That place was Café en-Seine.

With its large high ceilings, an airy dark dance floor, and plenty of room around the bars, it was the antidote to most Dublin bars and club and the opposite of the claustrophobic corridor bars of Sams and 37.

It was, in fact, probably the best dance floor in Dublin, and this in a city which has got many left. It had a loyal and a mixed crowd, women liked it, and most importantly people could meet dance and hook up.

The music was decent, not just the chart nonsense in other places and it had a multinational appeal which appealed to people who disliked the provincial agricultural atmosphere in Coppers.

When they closed their doors for a refurb in early 2018, I was not optimistic. How can we turn this place into a restaurant while still getting the night time crowd they pondered? The result is neither one nor the other.

But the nightlife component of the business has certainly suffered the most. It’s like they made a list of the things that made the place so loved and systematically destroyed them.

The charm of the bar has been replaced with a generic ‘could be anywhere’ vibe, and they have managed to create the same feeling of claustrophobia as their neighbors, but it is the dance floor which is the coup de grâce.

Firstly the music, let’s play the hits of the 1970s, that’s what the people want! Can you imagine the kids of the 1970s thinking that a brand new bar would open 45 years in the future and play their fave tunes? It would be like a bar opening in Dublin in 1985 playing the hits of Glen Miller.

But bland is the name of the game. The “dance floor” is lit like a dentist’s waiting room, complete with artificial trees running through the center and a bar taking up at least a third of the available space. The result is people drinking in a brightly lit hotel lobby.

Gone are the basic natural rituals of men and women, people-watching, modern music, private flirting and kissing, replaced with a halfway house between a coffee shop/bar and a nightclub.

It was Winter when I discovered what a mess they had made of Dublin’s best bars, and as I stood at the far end of the dance floor I realised another monster fuck-up.

The architects in their wisdom put a wall of glass down the end of the dance floor, the idea being to catch passing trade and light for the day time coffee drinkers, all commanding views of a lane way.

The result in the month of February there was a cold draft of smoking area air flowing through the doors at every entry and exit. The dancers not only had to try to have fun under florescent lights but they needed to do it with their coats on.

Now in the scheme of things a bar losing its soul is not a big deal, but in a city that is filled with loud noisy cramped pubs, playing Paddy for the tourists, the option for people to go to a bar that reflected a modern sophisticated city was quite unique, and now it is gone. There is no money in dancing after all, why not have a cocktail or a piece of cake…

Soon people won’t remember the way it used to be, but a big part of Dublin nightlife has been lost. A friend remarked that many of his female colleagues met their husbands in Cafe en-Seine, because the place had weird alchemy whether by chance or design that facilitated this.

I feel the old design reflected more the priorities of humanity, not the glossy profit-focused Instagram bullshit of modern times, but people meeting people, people having fun with dance and music.

It is more evidence of the style over substance obliteration of our shared humanity, and if that sounds heavy go stand on that dance floor in February and tell me it’s an improvement.

The Death of Cafe En Seine (Superman, Dublin Hacks)

Previously: En Seine In The Membrane

60 thoughts on “Going En Seine

  1. Anomanomanom

    Cafe en siene, Dublins best bar, wtf. It is not, was not and never will be close to Dublins best bar. I’ve drank in here plenty of times, not of my own choice, it was pretentious, very bland and the same as every other bar in the dawson street area. Full of people who thought they where part of the “it” crowd. Saying all that, it is each to their own and I’m sure some people loved this place but I’m yet to meet anyone who ever called it Dublin’s Best anything.

    Reply
    1. B9Com From No

      +1
      A sleazy hole
      You’d only ever go there on a Sunday late because it was the only place open
      Piece is bonkers

      Reply
    2. Robert

      It was a dump, and always was. New Café en Seine is much better IMO

      The transition to a less booze oriented nightlife is a symptom of the economy maturing as once-were piss-head revellers now grown up, with little baby revellers to see to in the morning, look to have a good time without the headache.

      I also attribute it to the influx of more people from non-drinking cultures arriving, particularly in the professional sectors.

      All to be welcomed.

      Old Café en Seine was a dump. As a restaurant the new one is far preferable, and a place I actually like to go to now.

      Reply
    3. Nicorigo

      So true.
      I nearly choked when I read best bar, best dance -floor… I always thought this place was all fake, fake bar., fake music, fake people… Never been my cup of tea but lets give them that the place was epic looking, if a bar can be epic looking,….and for me it was the CES only asset. So yes best dublin bar for epic surroundings I guess.

      Reply
  2. Jonickal

    The writer states: “A friend remarked that many of his female colleagues met their husbands in Cafe en Seine.”

    I think you’ll find that they met a lot of other husbands there too…

    Reply
  3. Charlie

    Ye can’t bate a bag of chips after a couple of pints. All the better if they’re available in the same bar rather than standing in line with a bunch of drunk scrotes throwing shapes.

    Reply
  4. Nilbert

    man complains of fish and chip smell in horrendous temple bar tourist pub….
    and as for cafe en Seine, the lest atmospheric bar filled with the most vacuous people.

    Obviously, I only go to really cool places, where everybody is really cool…

    Reply
  5. Niamh

    I am just pre-Cafe en Seine but can really sense something of what is being lost here. I don’t drink anymore, but I like to dance, and I go out – most certainly – in the hope of romance. Where’s good these days? I tried an arty rave, but it was half-naked teenagers tripping horrifically; I tried The Big Romance, but nobody was dancing. When I was a young wan it was Doyle’s, but I presume that’s either still all undergrads or, worse, tourists now. I wouldn’t go near Coppers and that other one down the road – Dicey’s, was it? – was peopled by out-of-it southside schoolgirls and seriously creepy old predators waiting for said schoolgirls to reach peak out-of-it.

    Suggestions welcome. If my dancing days are behind me I definitely need a husband now.

    Reply
    1. Robert

      Hanging out with half naked teenagers? Ooooh, you’re pushing 30 and getting those first niggles of being passed it. Don’t worry, you’ll soon get used to being on the other side, people opening doors for you and being called “Ma’am”.

      As for where to go? I was asking a friend-about-town a few weeks ago, and he says “Bonobo’s” is good, sugar club, Ukiyo and that gigantic place in Airside/Swords that used to be wrights …

      Hope that helps.

      Reply
    2. Spaghetti Hoop

      Jaysus Niamh, don’t get hitched out of boredom.
      Go to gallery openings and book launches, gigs, festivals, dinners, snacks, wine bars, escape rooms, recitals, lectures, treasure hunts, cheese tastings, whiskey tastings, beer tastings, people tastings, boat trips, movie nights, silent discos, bake-offs, quizzes like I do and dot in your optional drinks and cocktails / mocktails. Loads to do. Husband wouldn’t keep up ffs.

      Reply
  6. TMAN

    He was going somewhere with that until he started spouting on about cafe en seine being Dublins best bar. A 00’s super pub that like its current reincarnation was built to maximize profit from a pretentious south Dublin crowd. Give me the smaller type bars that have been popping up around Dublin and indeed Ireland over the last 5/10 years with interesting beers and good music any day of the week. Dublin still has any number of old haunts which we label “old man pubs” that wont be changing their business model any time soon that the writer can go to if he is looking for proper Dublin pub nostalgia.

    Reply
  7. diddy

    spot on my friend. they ruined cafe en seine. it was an institution. the pubs either side are corridors. the developers should hang their heads in shame

    Reply
  8. postmanpat

    Don’t worry superman , no one will be going to this place in a couple years when the next devastating recession happens. And its going to happen. It is best we all get out heads out of the sand.

    Reply
  9. The Old Boy

    There was a time when I would have agreed with most of this. If you are a “serious drinker”, city pubs serving food feels wrong. Ireland had, until recently, a very limited culture of dining out and as the writer says, we had our dinners at home before going out – or more pragmatically, substituted a bag of crisps.

    Unfortunately for the drinkers, publicans have to make their premises pay. Readers need no reminding of the value of rental properties in the city centre. You have to sell a lot of pints of plain before you would make the million or so that plenty of city pubs are now worth to developers; then factor in the rise of cheap off-sales that have steadily chipped away at the superannuated alcoholics and the rest of the steady trade that used to prop up the bar from midday.

    While you might not like the smell of rubbish food – and pub food is rubbish, with few exceptions – if it keeps the pubs, well, pubs then surely that is better than them being knocked to make way for flats. Tourists generally expect it and a couple of dinners makes much more profit than a few pints.

    I haven’t been to Café en Seine since it was refurbished, nor indeed for some years before. I remember it as a fairly decent spot but I wouldn’t have waxed lyrical in the way the author has. I’ve seen plenty of beloved pubs ruined by unsympathetic modernisations and re-fits. It’s bound to smart a bit if you associate certain people and a certain pub with your youth and suddenly it all changes.

    It would be very easy for me to grab the pitchfork and join the angry Dublin in the Rare Auld Times brigade, but reading screeds like this makes me think how self-indulgent it can be. It’s a bit like the old yarn about Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh and Brian O’Nolan standing on Grafton Street complaining to each other that there are no characters left in Dublin.

    Reply
    1. Brother Barnabas

      those days of nipping in for a quick early evening pint before dinner and then gradually coming to the collective realisation sometime around 10pm that dinner’s not going to happen so may as well just drink through are formative, character building experiences for every Irish person

      this pub/restaurant thing needs to be banned

      Reply
    2. B9Com From No

      I’ve thought about this a few times.
      Places like Mulligans on Poolbeg St are bona fide cultural institutions where those of a certain generation used to go to have pints in the middle of the day and there was always a great buzz of conversation in the place.
      But last time I was there for a post prandial libation it was mostly just myself and families of American tourists, some of whom were infants, wandering around looking for a “real” Irish pub – for the “the heart of Saturday night” as Tom Waits might put it. Then I realized with a sigh that I’d changed too.

      Face it – that “wife-beating” way of life is over. For further details read Kearns “Dublin Tenement Life” or the biography of Lugs Brannigan

      Reply
  10. some old unicorn

    Never warmed to Cafe en siene but the point is still valid. I don’t think it is style over substance mind- just engineered to maximize profit. Some years ago a friend who is an entertainment journalist explained why disco bars had become so popular.

    Minimum seating so everyone stands around, really loud music so nobody can really talk and a small dance floor for a late license where the prices go up after 11. The feel of a club but it is actually a pub. It is all designed to make people drink more- even the music is drink more.- I am surprised nobody has released a pub track called- ‘drink more’.

    Reply
    1. McVitty

      And no cover charge – in a group of 5, that will always get someone’s back up. Also, there is the area outside the floor for the people who prefer to not dance to un-dance-able music.

      Reply
  11. Jim

    Read an interview with Lemon & Duke a while back explaining how claims culture was closing down dance floors in pubs. This is a pity.

    However, let someone eat fecking chips in the pub if they want. Do you remember the “supper ticket” in clubs in the 90s. Now that was proper pub/club food carnage!

    Reply
  12. Fergalito

    Café en Seine has always been a triumph of a particular style over substance. It had an ATM in it which is never a good sign of a so called boozer (Why Grogans Why!?).

    That said there’s plenty of decent watering holes in Dublin where the only food is a bag of crisps and the usual brace of peanut options.

    Yer in a city of 1 million people + OP. Go seek solace in the many other licencesed premises that abound and remind yourself that everything is in a constant state of change. Me? I don’t give two twinkles…

    Reply
  13. Spaghetti Hoop

    ‘You can eat at home’.
    Well EXCUSE ME Superman for not spending an evening on the lash like you.
    ‘Smell of vinegar’ my botty.
    The city is not framed around your particular wishes.
    Some of us like to go out for dinner and drinks.Inspired by so many holidays in the Iberian regions, I drink like a Spaniard more than an Irish person and love popping out for a glass of wine and cheeseboard or a cocktail and tapas / pintxo. It’s a healthier way to drink.

    Reply
  14. Kim Cardassian

    Superman you’re out of touch. If the people around you want to eat fish and chips at 11pm and you’re the one moaning, then what does that tell you?

    Most European countries have people eating that late at night. Plus not everyone works 9 to 5. What’s wrong with late grub and drinks?

    The only thing worse than the smell of vinegar is the smell of boo boos and pretentiousness

    Reply
    1. Spaghetti Hoop

      Absolutely. I hate town when everyone is falling around the place. Used to love Bewleys when it opened till 3am like a Viennese coffee house. Cosmo cities allow eating and drinking all through the night. Barcelona is wonderful for this.

      Reply
      1. martco

        +1 on old original Bewleys. an institution!
        tea & sausage sandwiches at 03.00 mixed in amongst the tipsy finery from Trinners, some debs crowd, bus drivers on the way to work, less fortunates just looking for a warmup & a bit of shelter & maybe that someone special you haven’t met yet…

        no being shown to your table nonsense either. a part of Dublin died with old Bewleys. nicer times.

        Coffee Inn comment in 5..4..3.. ;)

        Reply
  15. martco

    Café en Seine – the clue is in the name. its just pretentious zero substance nonsense & rubbish pints. best pub? actually I’d say one of the worst.

    always was & still is so in fact nothing has changed here atall.

    it was never a real pub in the first place. a dickeyed-up hole full of women who imagine they should be just like some character outof Real Housewives of [insert placename] & grown up Ross O’Carroll’s having a good old whinge about how the morket has stalled drowning themselves in Heino & hoping they can talk the former into a grope married or not, hoping for a score, just not the sporting kind.

    kip

    Reply
    1. Spaghetti Hoop

      I saw ‘grope married’ but realised it needed a comma.

      I’ve always had a good time in Cafe en Sin because I go early evening and enjoy its fine points before the cattle market moves in.

      Reply
  16. Iwerzon

    “The charm of the bar has been replaced with a generic ‘could be anywhere’ vibe,..” – Cafe en Seine – anywhere but Paris.

    Reply
  17. McVitty

    It’s the soulless burger and a beer sports bar experience of north America that needs to be avoided. Where the host shows you and the people you are with to a table/booth and you only interacting with the “server” before settling your bill and leaving. The alternative is to sit at the bar but chances are you will be dealing with overly-eager low-lives. We don’t know how good we have it in terms of openness and the potential to socialise in the Irish pub but make no mistake, the burger and a beer sports bar experience is expanding in Dublin.

    Reply
      1. some old unicorn

        Burger and a beer sports bar bought the homosexual frequented Front Lounge- how are we now- two years later?

        Reply
        1. Rob_G

          I was in the Front Lounge at Christmas, and it seemed the same as years ago(?)

          I don’t think there was anyone eating burgers, at any rate.

          Reply

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