Culture Stripping of Dublin

Dublin’s culture is quietly been stripped away, or at least that's the fear many are feeling with recent trends in venue closures. Niche culture is been squeezed out in what has become the survival of the richest. The new offerings feel like synthetic commercialised experiences, transforming Dublin into yet another faceless city.

Last year [2019] we lost the Tivoli Theatre to apartments and the Bernard Shaw closed its doors on Richmond Street. These among other culture-rich venues are closing for a variety of reasons but the controversial trend seems to result in building sites for new offices, apartments, and hotels.

That’s not to say its all bad. New spaces bring with them upgraded facilities that can cope with modern living and give Dublin a much needed infrastructural overhaul. However many of the new venues introduced to Dublin are indistinguishable chains that offer as much culture as an IKEA showroom.

I do love ‘modern,’ superficial elegance is a guilty pleasure and I’m not oblivious to the desperate need for more accommodation, residential or otherwise. But fixing one problem shouldn’t result in creating another. The influx is resulting in the trampling of the very same culture that made Dublin attractive in the first place.

The situation could be solved with better protections and proper planning. The Template Bar model of the 1990s was successful in protecting the premises of historical and cultural importance. One thing to note from that was it was an area-based policy that is easier to regulate, unlike the ‘ad hoc’ venues who are more vulnerable to greater forcers. The thing about Temple Bar, however, is it has become somewhat of a tourist extravaganza, which brings me to another form of culture stripping where instead of venue closures, you have a transformation to overly commercialised, faux venues that strip out authenticity and the regulars.

Take our best known LGBTQ venues; constantly invaded by hen parties and ’girls night-outs’ seeking sassy entertainment or perhaps a respite from the ‘male gaze.’ A futile exercise for inevitably they are trailed by lads on the prowl. Normalisation in LGBTQ culture has made us victims of our own success with our social venues becoming mere tourist attractions.

Venues aren’t closing down, instead, the indigenous patrons are been driven away because we no longer feel comfortable in what is supposed to be safe havens. Some of us are feeling more like 'the entertainment' than the customer. For some reason, a same-sex couple kissing in a bar arouses hysteria for encores and photo ops or aggression towards our flirtation, because who would have known been hit on by someone of the same sex in a gay bar could happen!

LGBTQ venues are more than places of a specific genre of entertainment. They serve as a place of sanctuary where we can be ourselves without fear of heckling or judgment. They also serve as a way to make, just a little bit easier, a place to ‘finding someone’ in a world where we can’t assume someone we like is on our ‘side of the fence.’ So until nature upgrades our sixth sense we need environments that offer one less procrastinating ponder so we can focus on (cough cough) who takes the driver seat.

LGBTQ culture has been open to everyone is an integral part of the normalisation process into wider society, so there is no solution to this other than educating our non-LGBTQ friends to understand that; by occupying our limited number of venues, they are taking away space from those of us who actually need it. Those of us who are there, shouldn’t be made to feel like performers or intimidated for flirting; being single is hard enough and that’s something everyone can relate to.

Finally to the culture cravers our there, it may feel like authentic venues are an endangered species; but what makes authenticity is not the venue themselves but the indigenous patrons who make it their own. Ireland is unique in that it can be slow to change but when it does, it takes leaps which result in fast transition periods that many of us were not expecting. Niche cultures can make these shinny new venues authentically their own, it's just about giving it the time and love to stamp your print and help a new Dublin find its identity.

Produced for Issue 361 GCN Magazine