The Manhattan cafe: where U2, Bibi Baskin and Bon Jovi dropped in for egg and chips
Cafe was an oasis for night owls looking to make the night last just a little bit longer
The remains of the old Manhattan Cafe. Photograph: Laura Hutton/The Irish Times
It’s the fag-end of another Saturday night in 1990s Dublin; you’ve been round the houses – Lillie’s, the Pink Elephant, Suesey Street, Buck Whaley’s – and now you’re standing unsteadily on the street in the first light of dawn, wondering where you can go next (anywhere but home). Everywhere’s closed, but there is one place you can still go, one last chance to catch a buzz (and some breakfast).
Your last chance to find love, hoping to catch someone’s bleary eye across the Formica tables and salt cellars
The Manhattan cafe on Kelly’s Corner, on the junction of Harcourt Road and Richmond Street South, was more than just another greasy spoon; it was an oasis for revellers looking to make the night last just a little bit longer, a place where you could order a massive fry-up and get a little soakage for all that plonk you’d knocked back in the basements of Leeson Street. And it was your last chance to find love, hoping to catch someone’s bleary eye across the Formica tables and salt cellars.
The Manhattan has been closed for a long time now, but it came back into mind this week with the news that Dublin City Council has blocked the €1.4m sale of the lands around the derelict site, which Charledev Properties wants to develop into a nine-storey office block. Apparently, councillors would rather see this prime Dublin site being turned into housing or an arts centre, although the council has said the site isn’t suitable for housing. Mannix Flynn has suggested that what’s left of the Manhattan sign (basically an M) should be given to the Little Museum of Dublin.
Councillors say they have “fond memories” of the old Manhattan caff, which had been a haunt of revellers, socialites, musicians, actors, artists and media types since the 1950s. They certainly have better memories than me – I spent many a Saturday or Sunday morning in the Manhattan in the late 1980s/early 1990s, but don’t ask me for details, although I know there were pots of tea involved. Lots of pots of tea. And big, greasy, yummy Irish breakfasts – I can feel my arteries clogging up at the recollection.
Luckily, a trawl through the Irish Times newspaper archive uncovers an article by Catherine Foley from 1990 in which she visits some of Dublin’s late-night haunts, including the Manhattan. Foley interviewed Bernie, who had been serving breakfasts to the great and good – and not so great and good – for the past 10 years, along with “Auntie” May, who had been there for 21 years.
Such celebrities as U2, Bibi Baskin, Mick Lally and members of Bon Jovi dropped in for a plate of sausages, bacon, eggs and chips. Other notables to fetch up there included Richard Harris, Dickie Rock, Joe Dolan, Ulick O’Connor and even a young Charles Haughey. Imagine the power-broking that went on there over the baked beans.
May and Bernie took no nonsense from any of the customers, no matter how famous they were. The Manhattan was the great leveller – everyone was served up the same fare, there was no VIP area in this pokey little premises, and if you acted the maggot you wouldn’t get any food, the ultimate sanction.
Republic of Ireland football legend Niall Quinn also has fond recollections of The Manhattan – in his autobiography, he recalls how love blossomed between him and his wife Gillian over a big dirty fry-up.
“I knew Gillian Roe was the woman for me when I picked up a piece of hairy bacon from the floor in the Manhattan at 3.30 in the morning and took a bite out of it. She took the rasher off me and ate the other half. Jaysus, I thought, I’ve never gone out with a girl who’d do that on a first date. The rest is history.”
As is the Manhattan. A small, greasy but fondly half-remembered piece of history. Paul Howard should get to work on The Manhattan Musical – Grease is the Word right away.