First Look: Clontarf Baths after €2.4m revamp

Amenity to have 250-seat bar and restaurant, but limited access to pool initially

January 24th, 2018: Originally built in 1884, Clontarf seawater baths was a popular swimming destination for Dubliners over many years. It closed in 1996 but now is to re-open after a €2.4 million make-over. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

When Clontarf seawater baths re-opens to the public next month, after a €2.4 million refurbishment, patrons will be able to drink a seaweed-seasoned cocktail at the bar, order a Dublin coddle pizza, or a whole rotisserie chicken, from the open kitchen, and book the lifeguard’s tower for private dining complete with views of Dublin bay.

But they won’t be able to swim in the pool, which cost just under €1 million to renovate, unless they are a member of a swimming or water polo club that has booked the facility for private use.

A view of the refurbished Clontarf Baths. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
Views of the refurbished Clontarf Baths. Photographs: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
A view of the refurbished Clontarf Baths. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Opening the 25x40m seawater pool to the general public hinges on funding being made available to contribute to the €400,000 that the owners of the amenity estimate it will cost to have it open between June and mid-September each year. The bulk of the projected operating costs are being attributed to insurance and staffing.

Clubs booking the pool for the private use of their members – and 16 enquiries of this nature have already been received – will have to have their own insurance, and provide lifeguard cover if required.

Rita Barcoe, operations director, Craig Higgins, head chef, and Kevin Arundel, concept consultant, at The Baths. Clontarf. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Rita Barcoe, operations director, Craig Higgins, head chef, and Kevin Arundel, concept consultant, at The Baths. Clontarf. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

“We are aiming to open for the individual, paying to come in here for a swim, but only if we get help with funding,” says Rita Barcoe, operations director for owner David Cullen, whose business interests also include Seafield Hotel & Spa Resort in Co Wexford and the Turk’s Head and Paramount Hotel, in Dublin’s Temple Bar.

Barcoe has approached Dublin City Council and Dublin Port for assistance in opening the baths to the general public, outside of club hire. “They haven’t said no; they’re working with us,” she says.

While access to the pool is limited, for the time being, the bar and restaurant is expected to open to the public in late February. The Baths, as the development is to be known, has a restaurant with 160 seats in an imposing glass-walled pavilion and a further 90 on a weather-proofed outside terrace.

Barcoe describes The Baths as being “a family-friendly restaurant, but I also want you to be able to enjoy date night here”. Initially it will open Tuesday to Friday for dinner only, and Saturday and Sunday, from noon, for brunch, lunch and dinner.

The seaside-themed restaurant and cocktail bar has quirky features such as light fittings that look like beach balls hanging from a mirrored ceiling, and seating units resembling baths. It has been designed by Serendipity By Design, a Dubai-based firm headed by Dublin-born UCD graduate Rebecca Gernon.

“It is a contemporary building, but it has a vintage twist,” says Barcoe. “We want you to come in here and for it to be evocative and create a discussion.” The architect is Alan Moran of Noonan Moran Architects.

A computer generated image depicting the interior of the restaurant and bar at The Baths.
A computer generated image depicting the interior of the restaurant and bar at The Baths.

Chef Kevin Arundel of The Chophouse gastro pub in Dublin 4 has been working as a consultant on the project, and Craig Higgins, formerly of Kylemore Services Group, the Morrison hotel and Elephant & Castle in Temple Bar, is head chef.

“Classics with a twist” is how Barcoe describes the food offering. Pizza, steak, seafood and rotisserie meats, sourced from top Irish producers including Fingal Ferguson charcuterie, Terry Butterly smoked salmon and meats from Lambay island, will be mainstays of the menu. “I’ve a heifer from Lambay coming in a couple of weeks, through Michael Bermingham, ” Arundel says.

“It will be a limited menu, only about 25 dishes including starters, with something to suit everyone’s pocket. You’ll be able to come in and get a dish for, I suppose, around €14,” according to Barcoe. “We want families to feel that they can dine here affordably.”

A view of the refurbished Clontarf Baths. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
The refurbished Clontarf Baths. Photographs: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
A view of the refurbished Clontarf Baths. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Vegan and vegetarian options have been given due consideration. “It is more than a fad, it’s a lifestyle choice for a lot of people, so it will be important to us,” Barcoe says. Arundel has designed a vegan pizza, complete with vegan “Parmesan”.

The kitchen has cost €250,000 to fit out, and it is a gleaming, expansive space dotted with sophisticated equipment. A wide window opens it up to the restaurant floor, and the views beyond.

“I hope everything here will evoke a memory. For instance, a child will be able to get a ninety-nine [ice-cream],” Barcoe says. “But it will be good ice-cream, in the style of a 99, with an artisan producer making the ice-cream,” Arundel adds.

It’s not all about the food and the decor, according to Barcoe. “Music is going to be really important to us. It’s going to be a little like the food, a little like the atmosphere – vintage with a twist. You’re going to know from the minute you walk in that it is important to us.”

A soft opening is planned for The Baths for the third week in February.

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