Clontarf Baths open for business: the verdict from the locals
The Dublin baths had their first dinner service on Tuesday after a €2.4m refurb
The Baths at Clontarf, the €2.4 million refurbishment project spearheaded by owner Dave Cullen, opened discreetly for their first dinner service on Tuesday evening. The principal traffic of Clontarf’s promenade – the local cyclists, runners and dog walkers – immediately took notice.
Among the first customers were Caroline and Jon, both in their thirties. Caroline was a regularly user the sea baths before they closed in the 1990s. “I grew up and still live right across the road,” she explains. “My Dad and I used to swim in the baths every day in the summer. I even had three of my birthday parties here when I was a kid. It was a huge part of our community and we were so upset when it closed.
“There is so much local interest,” Caroline says, of the reopening “and hopefully I’ll get to relive my childhood when the baths are opened to the public.”
Operations Manager Rita Barcoe says that opening the restaurant and bar are the first phase. The outdoor seawater pool, which first opened at Clontarf 132 years ago, will be open to private clubs who have their own insurance and can provide their own lifeguard, if required. It’s currently unclear when the pool will be open to the wider public.
“We’re a work in progress,” says Barcoe, who has been in talks with Dublin City Council and Dublin Port to explore the possibility of funding to help support the costs of opening the baths publicly. “Health and safety comes first,” she says. “We really want to be open to individual swimmers by the summer.”
The seaside has been brought indoors courtesy of Serendipity By Design, an Dubai-based Irish firm. Classic roll-top free-standing baths have been halved and made into sofas. Overhead, are glass globes that resemble translucent jellyfish thanks to their fillers of fairy lights. Bournemouth Beach-style beach huts are the inspiration for the toilets. Even the floor staff’s striped shirts are a nod to the nautical.
Tones of blue, yellows, silver and gold compete in the room against textures of denim, suede, wood and mirrors. Minimalism has been thrown overboard and in its place is over-the-top opulence.
The menu leans on the sea for inspiration, but there are choices for landlubbers, too. Among a choice of six pizzas lies the Dublin Coddle pizza (€16) which features Guinness sausages made especially by Jane Russell paired with thick-cut bacon, potato and parsley. At the very least, this pizza will be a conversation starter.
A plate of fish and chips (€15) features thick, chunky chips seasoned perfectly for the seaside. Ireland’s Eye Crab on tartine sourdough (€15), Dublin Bay prawns (€15) and oysters €3 for €9) grace the starter list alongside 5-Spice pork ribs (€12).
For the more delicate eaters, a pretty plate of the ubiquitous beetroot and goat’s cheese salad (€10) should do the job nicely. Also on offer are steak (€28) and a rotisserie free-range chicken (€19 for half, €32 for whole). Desserts include gorse flower rice pudding (€8) and a knickerbocker glory (€8).
Locals Robert and Alan, brothers in their twenties, have popped in for a first glance this evening, too. “The baths have been here for so long,” says Alan. “They were trashy and derelict, quite an eyesore.” How does it compare on opening night? “It’s so different, and very glamorous. I’m looking forward to coming here in the summer.”
Joggers Paddy and Mick, from Whitehall, run past the baths on their regular route. They’re enjoying drinks at the bar with their dates Emer and Rose. “The Baths will be great for the northside,” says Paddy. “It took a brave person to invest in this and I hope their courage pays off for them.”
Maura and Pat, originally from Clare and Cork respectively, moved to Clontarf over 40 years ago. “We’ve had a lovely meal,” says Pat. “It’s a fabulous place with a great ambience.” Their hunch is that it will be popular with younger people. “Our daughter and her friends are in their thirties,” says Maura. “They all grew up around here and they are really excited about it being open again.”
There’s a lot of goodwill in the room, though there is trepidation, too. A family of four have enjoyed their meal, but the grown-ups are feeling “cautiously hopeful” about The Baths. They’d be very keen to come to use the swimming facilities as a family but they’re concerned that The Baths is not quite a bath just yet.