Dublin your pleasure

Posted on 17 Apr 2008 at 6:00pm
By Ed Walsh – Contributing Writer

The site of this summer’s Bingham Cup exudes gay-friendly Celtic charm

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING OSCAR: A Merrion Square monument to Oscar Wilde, the Irish playwright who was among the earliest of modern gay martyrs, is one of the attractions in the Emerald Isle’s capital city. – ED WALSH

Ireland’s so-called Celtic tiger high-tech industry boom in the mid ’90s propelled it from being one of the poorest countries in Europe to one of the continent’s wealthiest. Happily, a progressive attitude towards gay people eventually followed that economic reversal of fortunes. Last month, a bill extending same-sex partnership rights was introduced and is making its way through the legislature. Now more than ever, Dublin makes for a delightful gay travel destination.

It takes about 11 hours to fly to Dublin from Dallas, with American Airlines offering the quickest route, connecting with Aer Lingus through Boston. You get your first taste of the Irish brogue as soon as you leave Beantown: Aer Lingus makes announcements on the plane both in English and Irish, a language that the English-speaking country is trying to keep alive.

Don’t even think about renting a car when you arrive. Traffic and parking are horrendous and Dublin is a highly walkable city with taxis everywhere. The city has no subway but does have an extensive network of double-decker buses that go just about anyplace in the city.

If you want to take an excursion to the emerald Irish countryside, a number of tour bus companies will take you out for the day and return to your hotel in the city. Depending on the exchange rate and how far you go, bus fare ranges from around $1.60 to $3.25. You can take an express bus from the Dublin airport to downtown for less than $10.

There are a wealth of museums, parks and even a castle within easy walking distance in downtown Dublin. The city offers a number of walking and bus tours that allow you to take it all in without getting lost. If you prefer to do it yourself, you can download an audio guide walking tour of Dublin through the city’s Web site, Visitdublin.com.

Dubliners love their parks and the city is home to Phoenix Park, one of the largest urban parks in the world: it’s a little more than twice the size of New York’s Central Park. (Pope John Paul II celebrated mass before more than a million people there in 1979, and a papal cross marks that spot.) The park is also home to the Dublin Zoo and the president’s residence, which looks a lot like the American White House.

There are reminders throughout Dublin of Ireland’s struggle for independence from Great Britain. The best-known symbol of that fight is a jail, the Kilmainham Gaol, where Ireland’s political prisoners were held and where 14 rebels were executed following the 1916 Easter Rising rebellion. Ireland finally gained its independence in 1921 under an agreement that allowed the U.K. to carve out Northern Ireland.

The Guinness Storehouse, which has been called a Disneyland for beer lovers, is a must-stop. A museum that uses high-tech multimedia to tell the history of Ireland’s most-revered export, it sits in a converted old grain warehouse opposite the Guinness brewery. The top floor features one of the best views of the city from the Gravity Bar. A free glass of Guinness in the Gravity Bar is included in the admission price; if you ask, they will artfully carve out a shamrock in the foam.

The gay scene in Dublin is open and concentrated. The best-known gay sight in town is the statue of Oscar Wilde, who sits reclining on a rock in Merrion Square near Trinity College where he was educated. But all of the city’s gay bars and nightclubs are short walks from each other in a section of downtown near the Liffey River, adjacent to the trendy Temple Bar area.

The newest gay bar in Dublin, PantiBar, opened in November and is already drawing big crowds even on weekdays. Owned by Rory O’Neill — more commonly known as Panti, one of Ireland’s best-known drag queens — hosts mostly gay men, but lesbians are welcome, too.

The George is Dublin’s oldest and best-known gay bar. It’s on the other side of the Liffey River from the PantiBar, closer to where the other clubs are clustered. When it first opened in 1985, it was a small traditional looking Irish pub; now, it is attached to a cavernous two-level nightclub that features dancing and entertainment, very popular with lesbians at night, although the crowd is mostly gay men.

Down South George’s Street from the George lurks the Dragon, the largest gay club in the city and the second newest. Unlike the George, they don’t charge a cover, which has made it popular among locals. The Front Lounge on Parliament Street is a popular lunch spot. The entrance tends to be more popular with lesbians and the back with gay men.

If you want to visit Dublin in style, you would be hard-pressed to do better than the Clarence. (U2 band mates Bono and the Edge own the hotel.) It is perfectly situated on the River Liffey, on the edge of the Temple Bar area and within a short walk to all the gay clubs of Dublin. Its rates start around $300, but you can often get a room there much cheaper through its Web site or through a travel site such as Travelocity.com, which prominently features a gay travel section.

Across the River Liffey from the Clarence and on the opposite end of the luxury scale, is the 11-room gay B&B, the Inn on the Liffey. The rooms are simple but clean with rates starting around $87. As a guest of the B&B, you are granted free admission to the gay bathhouse, the Dock Sauna, which is part of the same building that houses the B&B. (Women are welcome to stay in the B&B but the sauna is for men only.)

If you prefer to stay at a gay B&B that is more upscale, the Nua Haven is a great option. The four-room property is run by a gay couple who live on premises. Nua Haven’s clientele is mixed, gay men and women, and is straight-friendly. Rates are about $145 year round, but check its Web site for specials, especially if you are traveling outside of the busy summer months.

The gay-owned Mermaid and Gruel restaurants are right next to each other on Dame Street at Sycamore, in the middle of the gayest part of Dublin. You’ll pass by them on your way between the Front Room and the George. Mermaid is upscale and expensive — entrees start at $32. Gruel is a more informal deli-like setting and its prices are more down to earth. An entrée there will run you less than $20.

Juice on 73-83 South Great Georges Street, near the George, bills itself as Dublin’s only sit-down vegetarian restaurant. Although it’s not gay-owned, it’s very gay popular in the middle of Dublin’s gay nightclub area. An entrée costs $15-$20.

You can have a light meal at the gay-popular Lemon Jelly restaurant for about $10. Lemon Jelly is in the heart of the Temple Bar area on 10-11B East Essex Street.

Dublin may be at its gayest ever this June when it hosts the Bingham Cup, a gay rugby tournament named for Mark Bingham, one of the heroes of Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001. Organizers expect more than 1,000 people from all around the world to participate in the June 12–16 event, which coincides with some of Dublin’s Pride celebration.

Participating teams include the Dallas Diablos’. For more information, check out the team’s Web site, Dallasdiablos.com and click on the "Bingham Bound" button. It will be the Diablos third time participating in the Cup. Schedule your visit to coincide, and you can show American and gay Pride at the same time in one of the loveliest cities in Europe.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 18, 2008.

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