Dublin’s Creative Quarter: Where Community & Innovation Rule
On the morning I was due in Dublin’s Creative Quarter, I got lost. I arrived in the city centre and wandered around trying to find the area, but ended up on all the streets surrounding the district instead.
Knowing what I know now, I’m not surprised. Dublin’s Creative Quarter is three parallel streets, just south of Temple Bar, in the shadow of Dublin’s main shopping strip, Grafton Street. You can walk from one end of the district to the other in less than two minutes, and three years ago it didn’t exist.
This part of Dublin was busy back in the 19th century when it was a hub for the trade of rags and fabrics. In 2012, the city decided to revamp the area, naming it the Creative Quarter, and that’s when independent shops, cafés, bars, and restaurants started arriving.
To understand more about the neighbourhood’s origins and its people, I spoke to three businesses about what it is to be part of Dublin’s most cutting-edge locale.
Irish Design Shop
Setting up on Drury Street in 2013, Clare and Laura of the Irish Design Shop have seen the neighbourhood grow from close to its beginnings. Their store stocks homewares, jewellery, cards, and other such apparel, all designed and made in Ireland. The Irish Design Shop’s sharp focus on the country’s creative marketplace offers visitors a chance to pick up something local, and unique.
I popped into the shop and spoke to Clare and Laura about what it feels like to be based in Dublin’s Creative Quarter. “It’s a community,” they explained. “When we first opened, people from other businesses in the area came in to say hello – and bought something, because they know what it’s like to start a business.”
I asked if they got many tourists visiting the area. “We get a couple milling about, but our customers are nearly all Irish”, Laura told me. “That’s why we have to make sure we’re getting in new stock all the time, to keep people interested.”
The duo are trying to focus on products that are exclusive to the store, and as I walked around picking things up, they could tell me the story behind each of them: cards made in Dingle, notebooks printed just down the road. They also have a workshop space upstairs, and are looking to design their own line of jewellery.
We spoke about the future of the district, and both Clare and Laura expressed some concern about big chains creeping in. “You see that café over the road?” Laura pointed to what looked like an independent coffee shop opposite their store. “That’s actually owned by Dunnes, one of our biggest supermarket chains.”
Despite the arrival of one of the big boys in the neighbourhood already, the pair are hopeful that it will be a few years yet until it becomes a threat. For now, the business is set to continue to grow, and support Irish products, along with the people who make them.
I sat down on Kaph’s outside seating area – a bench that runs along its store-front – with Chris, the café’s owner. We took in the fresh air and Creative Quarter’s atmosphere, watching people walk by as we spoke about the district. Kaph also opened up in 2013, and has been expertly serving great coffee to the neighbourhood ever since; it’s been named by many as one of Dublin’s best coffee shops.
Chris is passionate about his café’s local area. “To me, Dublin’s Creative Quarter is like Soho in London, only 10 years behind and more genuine. It’s not as sleek as Soho and everything’s a little higgledy-piggledy, but we’re getting there.”
Being so new, the neighbourhood seems to still be finding its feet, but has the potential to become a successful alternative district. During my time there I noticed that it attracts a certain type of person – the kind that’s willing to spend money on good coffee, local food, and unusual products. There’s a danger of it slipping into being pretentious, but the clientèle are grounded; there’s a charm and welcoming feel about it that helps it swerve away from exclusivity.
Kaph is a good representation of the Creative Quarter’s beliefs and the kind of people it attracts. “Our motto is no BS, just good coffee and friendly staff”, Chris explained. “I want to encourage artistry here too – that’s why I have local art and illustration on the walls.”
During my time at Kaph (that day and the following) the café was alive with buzzing energy. People came in and out and chatted to each other – to staff, strangers, and friends. Kaph feels like a meeting place, like every good coffee shop should feel.
As I spoke to Chris more, he explained the dynamic between the shops here. “We all help each other out. If we need cups, we’ll go over the road to get some, and they’ll come to us if they need anything. We don’t have competition.” The Creative Quarter works as a symbiotic relationship – the district has this strong identity because there’s a range of businesses working together; complementing and strengthening each other.
With bright graffiti covering the front of Drury Buildings, it’s hard to miss. This interior is also distinctive – I walked in and faced a wall of spirit and liquor bottles, barmen expertly mixing cocktails (try the Mai Tai), an arrangement of high tables, and a few customers here and there sipping on a late afternoon tipple.
I met General Manager Anke, who offered a fresh perspective on the neighbourhood. Anke has only been living in Dublin for a short time, but after exploring the city like a newcomer, has found the Creative Quarter to be one of the most interesting parts. “It’s one of the nicest neighbourhoods in Dublin. We get some tourists here, but not so many.” That’s saying something for a city that sees visitors in their millions each year.
Spread out over three floors, Drury Buildings is set in an old rag factory and the rough-around-the-edge décor has been preserved. The ground floor is a cocktail lounge and cicchetti (Italian tapas) bar, the second floor is used for more formal lunches and dinners, and the third floor is a creative space and event rooms. Taking reclaimed products from New York – benches, timber, and steel, to name a few – Drury Buildings’ concept is like a loft: contemporary and stylish with a touch of industrialism, inspiration from the building’s original use.
“The Creative Quarter is an interesting place to be, with new shops and things opening up all the time”, Anke told me. “The city has just commissioned street art around here, too.”
She had that look of excitement in her eye. Everyone I spoke to that day had that look – high hopes for the neighbourhood and what it could become. Dublin is a small city, and yet it’s managed to create this new district from no where, on this little cluster of streets. Surrounded by the city’s history, the Creative Quarter is a breeding ground for modern Ireland, and with so many interesting people on board with its evolution, the only way is up for this inventive neighbourhood.
Have you ever been anywhere like Dublin’s Creative Quarter?
Is this the kind of district you’d like to visit in a new city?