Paul Flynn: My favourite pairing for food has always been music

The thought of getting back to Dublin for gigs and meals has been sustaining me through this time

The Central Hotel on Exchequer Street, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

The Central Hotel on Exchequer Street, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

There are many things I’ve missed during the past year and a bit. It’s more than the ability to hop on a plane to go on holiday. It’s the everyday stuff, the almost mundane, that I’ve missed the most. The hustle and bustle on the streets, the chance encounters with friends, the midweek man gatherings in Downey’s pub.

I’m looking forward to going to a gig in Dublin, like a man waiting to get out of prison. I’ll meet a like-minded gang in Grogans for pints and toasties, just to warm up. We’ll head to the Olympia, do a bit of age-inappropriate jumping around. A hardy one or two will head up to Whelan’s with me for a shimmy.

On the way home I might pop into the Globe just to suspend the reality of a night that’s nearly over, or head straight to Charlie’s on George’s Street for some pork belly, before I go around the corner to bed down for a few hours in the Central Hotel.

The next morning, in reception, Isobel will give me a wry eye. “Well, Mr Flynn, how late were you?”

“Late enough, Isobel,” I’ll say with a smile, not giving anything away. “See you next time.”

Paul Flynn (centre) at Electric Picnic with Declan Maxwell (left) and Robert Scanlan.
Paul Flynn (centre) at Electric Picnic with Declan Maxwell (left) and Robert Scanlon.

Food and music have always been intertwined for me. In my London days, after service, forays to Borderline off Oxford Street or Powerhouse in The Angel were essential to keep my head straight. The madness of the Mean Fiddler was left until the weekend; the beautiful sweaty chaos of a Sunday lunch gig there is engraved in me. You’d meet half of Ireland. The last song was always Loaded by Primal Scream. Then we were spewed out, blinking, into the afternoon Harlesden sunlight and the reality of the oncoming week.

Dublin trips

The Central Hotel became my Dublin base on my mostly solo trips (I have a patient wife). It was rough around the edges, like a dear old friend who’s lost his way. I loved going through its doors almost as much as I looked forward to leaving them behind, exiting on to Exchequer Street right into the middle of everything. The morning after always had the same routine: a browse round Fallon & Byrne, a coffee, and eventually I’d make my way home.

During my trips I might venture up to the old Eatyard behind the Bernard Shaw on Richmond Street, where wall-to-wall hipsters nested. There was a lot of beard gazing, but the vibe was cool and relaxed. I knew I’d landed in Dublin.

There would be eager chats with friends beforehand. Would we go to Etto for mussels or Uno Mas for some tortilla and flan de queso? Before a Hall & Oates gig a few years ago, we went to San Lorenzo’s on George’s Street, just around the corner from the Olympia, all of us 1980s kids. The pasta fortified us. Mrs Flynn sang along and stared up at Daryl Hall all doe-eyed. I’m fully convinced she would have run off with him in a heartbeat.

I couldn’t really go all Henry VIII with the restaurants on these trips unless she was with me though – that would be like poking the dragon. The envy could quickly morph into resentment and my wings might be clipped. It was always a delicate balance worthy of the negotiating skills of Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

A visit to Dax, before U2, was special. Perhaps it’s a sign of our age that this is what we want before a gig, but I was all over those lobster-stuffed courgette flowers.

Margarita Mondays in 777 after Sigrid was memorable for the tacos and the many, many Margaritas (surely it’s the case that you have to drink twice the amount if they are half the price?).

There were even a couple of post-gig trips to the George, where the pretty boys always got served before me. I understood, eventually.

Sunny memories

A favourite pre-gig venue is Locks for Sunday lunch. They made us feel special. We’d walk through Portobello, half-wishing we lived there. Relatives and friends flew in to see The Cure and The National on different occasions. We started with the dinkiest oysters with brunoise of apple and elderflower vinegar. The memory of those days with the sun streaming in the window is still with me.

My last night in the Central (just before the first lockdown) was rather special. I was supposed to go to China Crisis, which was cancelled while we were on the way up, but that didn’t deter me. Three of us ate all kinds of delicious things in Clanbrassil House. I walked home. The streets were quiet. Then on Camden Street I saw a fox on the other side of the road, just sauntering home, like me. Maybe he knew. We walked for a while together, eyeing each other up. I took a photo, then we parted ways.

The next morning I showed Isobel at reception. “Ah, Mr Flynn, there’s a pair of you in it,” she said.

That was my last night in the Central. It closed very shortly afterwards. It will be given a glitzy makeover, but for me, my adventures in Dublin will never be the same.

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