Boho boohoo: A short bohemian heyday

Opinion: Temple Bar, Montmartre, Greenwich Village all have a short day in the sun

‘You will, on an average evening, find more Irish people in the bars of Anchorage than the saloons of Temple Bar.’ . Photograph: Eric Luke

‘You will, on an average evening, find more Irish people in the bars of Anchorage than the saloons of Temple Bar.’ . Photograph: Eric Luke


There’s nothing that gets the blood boiling more invigoratingly than some bloody foreigner giving one of our national treasures a bad write-up. We can say what we like about Roscrea or Arklow. But you, sir or madam, need to mind your American, German or English tongue.

With this in mind, it was interesting to note how untroubled most Irish people were by the Huffington Post’s decision to list Temple Bar among the world’s most disappointing tourist destinations.

Some clarifications need to be made here. Most sensible Dubliners appreciate the Irish Film Institute, the Ark, that nice book market and the venerable Project Arts Centre. But we understood that the folk at Ms Huffington’s organ were getting at another side of Temple Bar: the heaving pubs; the freeze-dried folk music; the hordes of spew-faced Geordies. More than anything else, the awful faux-authenticity turns sober stomachs and nudges wise feet towards anywhere that isn’t there. You will, on an average evening, find more Irish people in the bars of Anchorage than the saloons of Temple Bar.

It is hard to credit now, but Temple Bar was once flogged as a bohemian idyll. If the myth is to be believed, the streets swelled with nascent rock musicians and sculptors. Frank McDonald has, in these pages, discussed how the proposed urban renewal resulted in a “travesty”. No more need be said on the gruesome details.

Hipster enclaves
Temple Bar’s unhappy history does, however, allow us to ponder the curious topic of the urban hipster enclave. We might draw comparison with the difficulties involved in selecting a nicely ripe apricot. That fruit seems to be properly edible for only about 45 minutes of its lifespan. Leave it unattended and it will, almost immediately, turn from cricket ball into a sopping mass of repellent pulp. The typical bohemian district spends several centuries as a slum, a year or two as a haven for creative folk and the rest of eternity as a home to restaurants serving high-end offal on heated artisan bricks.

Absinthe and garrets
Consider the once-romantic streets of Montmartre. That area of Paris only operated as a properly bohemian locale during the last years of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th. Absinthe was drunk. Garrets were occupied.

Now the streets are jammed with vast Illinoisans having portraits painted that would barely seem worth the price of a croque-monsieur .

The bohemian history of New York city is stranger still. One could argue that, since the middle of the last century, the centre of the hipster life has moved steadily eastwards from Greenwich Village to Soho and the East Village before – a decade or so ago – finally crossing the river into Brooklyn. As the invasion progressed it pushed up rents, scared off struggling artists and forced restaurants to wrap all food in sheaves of lemongrass.

Rather than the ripening of fruit, the best analogy might be with Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. The moment the condition of bohemianism becomes known, any observation alters its condition irrevocably. Once we identify an area as a hip enclave, its days are numbered. The impending removal of the Factory arts complex from Dublin’s docklands offers a depressing illustration of the process in action. Rents will rise. Snooty restaurants will pounce. Nostalgia will eventually set in. “Hey I used to drink in the Meatpacking District when they still packed meat,” Willem Dafoe once told me. Now, it’s full of people like, well, me, I suppose.

Three former bohemian enclaves

Temple Bar, Dublin

There was, indeed, a brief period when, as rents dropped while CIÉ contemplated development, the area just north of Dame Street really did swell with rehearsal spaces for post-punk bands. As the 1990s progressed real old bars became Real Old Bars and stag parties colonised the area.

Shoreditch, London

The terrifying rise and fall of west Hackney as a home for impoverished artists happened with dazzling rapidity. In the early 1990s it was still a treat to see Gilbert and George, long resident in the area, strolling through Dalston. Now the Shoreditch/Hackney/London Fields axis is awash with production companies and design studios.

The East Village, New York

The grubby bit to the east of Greenwich Village was where proto-punks such as Patti Smith and Television honed their raw styles. In 1988, when the police began removing homeless folk from Tompkins Square Park, it was clear that the game was up.

And one that still survives . . .

Kazimierz, Krakow

Last time we checked, this corner of the beautiful Polish city was still home to properly hip bars and peculiar restaurants. By mentioning it here we have sealed its doom.

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