First Look: Dig In, the Maser-curated ‘art diner’ that’s about to open in Dublin

The Camden Street venue includes works by Banksy, Conor Harrington and Chloe Early

Dig In is open six nights a week and for weekend lunch. Photograph: Gabriela Szeplaki

Dig In is open six nights a week and for weekend lunch. Photograph: Gabriela Szeplaki

 

On the face of it, this might seem like an unusual time to start a new dining business, mid-pandemic. Creating a new concept - an “art diner”- at the same time may sound equally counter-intuitive. But Steve Murray and Colin Dickson have been there before, having started their previous restaurant, Green 19 on Camden St in Dublin in October 2008 as a recession started.

At the time they wanted to make somewhere they’d like to go themselves, and the same principle has led them to open Dig In at the same address on the lively street.

They came up with the idea over lockdown with their friend Maser, the artist whose Atelier is nearby. Maser’s well-known mural U Are Alive is also around the corner, and a photograph of it and a U Are Alive print are on the wall by the table as we sit to chat about how the plan hatched. Maser’s work seems to provide a suitable motto as we emerge from months of lockdown, thankful for the simple things in life, like good food in creative surroundings.

The collection of contemporary art on Steve Murray and Colin Dickson’s (pictured) art diner’s walls is curated by Maser. Photograph: Gabriela Szeplaki
The collection of contemporary art on Steve Murray and Colin Dickson’s (pictured) art diner’s walls is curated by Maser. Photograph: Gabriela Szeplaki

The restaurant area is relatively small, with a small open upstairs and covered terrace over looking the street. Whereas it accommodated 60 diners BC (Before Covid), the revamped and re-aligned interior is set up for distance dining - for just 35-38 customers at well spaced tables seating fewer per table. They plan to create booths and private dining for eight and 12 people on the second and third floors. Just now open for business, they’ve had plenty of bookings so far.

Maser has curated the art; striking large canvases, prints and sculptures which boldly dominate the space - a strong flavour rather than a subtle background hint. Facing you going upstairs is Chloe Early’s gorgeous Stormtroopers, and as you come down, the drama of an enormous Conor Harrington – Master of Money and Mirrors – apparently the only painting of his in Ireland.

Sure to be a big draw is a smile-inducing Banksy on the wall downstairs. One of an edition of 150, it’s of two older women companionably knitting in their armchairs (look closer at the mottos they’re knitting: “Thug for Life” and “Punk’s Not Dead”). Murray bought it seven years ago when their daughter Kay was born, and until recently it hung in his hallway; it reminds him and his wife Lesley of their grandmothers (also both Kay).

Other artists’ work in Dig In includes Obey, Invader and JR. Maser’s choice is of some top post-graffiti artists internationally; it’s not for sale, but from Murray’s and three other collectors’ work. Later in the year Maser will curate exhibitions of emerging Irish artists: “We aim to be a canvas for the most progressive young Irish artists, that’s important to us,” says Murray.

Picking up on the work on the walls is the joy in the glasses and award winning mixologist Colin Dickson has created cocktails (€12) inspired by the art. Bearded and capped behind the counter at the front of the restaurant, he talks quietly about the U Are Alive cocktail (whiskey, absinthe, lemon, almond, egg-white, gin), inspired by the gin and bathtub whiskey of prohibition, echoing the era we’re emerging from. The amazing colour in Chloe Early’s Exosphere reminded him of vibrant Mexican textiles (tequila, orange liquer, blood orange, lime, agave syrup). He’s compiled some other unusual drinks, including orange wines by Uivo.

Sure to be a big draw is this smile-inducing Banksy on the wall downstairs. Photograph: Gabriela Szeplaki

Murray and Dickson believe theirs is “the first art diner concept”, saying “this is the intersection of the most pioneering art out there right now served with great food and drink inspired by the art on the walls”. They’re open six nights a week, and for weekend lunch, until offices get up and running for weekday trade; lunch includes a reputedly enormous in-house smoked pastrami sandwich. The menu is eclectic and imaginative, with plenty for non-meat eaters, including lovely small plates (€6-10.50) of salt beef tacos, Portobello mushrooms on sourdough toast, and spiced lamb skewers. Mains include Indian pale ale mussels, chicken pot pie, a “steak” of cauliflower and another of beef, or Grannie’s (there she is again) corned beef and cabbage (most dishes €16).

And the name - it’s chosen to reflect what we do when times are tough.

Dig In, 19 Camden St, Dublin 2. digin.ie

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