South William Street shows potential for cafe culture despite rag trade distraction
ANALYSIS:South William Street is potentially one of the finest streets in Dublin – if only the “rag trade” could be persuaded to relocate elsewhere. Too many of its buildings are still occupied by fashion wholesalers who add little to the vibrancy of the street, especially at ground level.
The street’s principal anchor is the Powerscourt Townhouse shopping centre, a conversion that was undertaken in the early 1980s. And the Covent Garden-style “cafe culture” that the Dublin Civic Trust report seeks to encourage has been taking root in recent years.
The Dakota Bar, restaurants such as Joe Macken’s Bear and cafes with outdoor seating such as Lemon Jelly are the kind of businesses that it would like to see spreading up and down South William Street and throughout the smaller streets in the surrounding area.
Terminated by the clocktower of former Mercer’s hospital, which was converted into a library for the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland some years ago, South William Street has a real presence, reinforced by the survival of so many of its 18th-century buildings.
A novel idea of “vertical land use” is proposed for these buildings with, say, residential on the top floor, an architect’s practice or dental surgery below, an “independent boutique” (emphatically not a sex shop) on the hall floor and a wine bar in the basement.
The fortunes of the street suffered a setback when the Dublin Civic Museum in the City Assembly House was closed. But this impressive corner building should reopen as the Irish Georgian Society’s headquarters once problems of disabled access are sorted out.
The report’s proposal that South William Street and its environs should be incorporated into the Grafton Street architectural conservation area makes sense, as this would give the city planners more control over changes of use, shopfront design and building maintenance.
However, much of the work that needs to be done to make the area more pleasant will involve reallocating road space to reduce the impact of through-traffic and on-street parking; it can’t be fully pedestrianised because of the presence of multistorey car parks.
The report rightly recommends the use of Leinster granite, rather than the imported Chinese variety, for new paving. But it’s hard to see how the South City Markets can be reinstated, given that its north-south axis is occupied by Dunnes Stores and the Market Bar.