A City Of Villages: Portobello
Dublin is often referred to as the city of villages. If you’re wondering why, start anywhere in the city and just walk in a single direction. Your route will take you through various neighborhoods of Dublin, each with their own flavor. If you start in Stoneybatter and walk in a southeasterly direction towards Ranelagh, it’s possible to zig and zag through Smithfield, Capel Street, Temple Bar, Georges Street, South Williams St, Portobello, and Rathmines, all unique areas by their own rights.
In this entry of A City of Villages, we’ll feature Portobello, a brilliant neighborhood adjacent to the Grand Canal.
Primarily a residential area, Portobello is situated in a prime location due to its proximity to the city centre, Camden Street area, and the canal. Famous as the birthplace of George Bernard Shaw and its sizeable Jewish population during the first half of the 20th century (Joyce’s protagonist, Leopold Bloom, is a fictional Jewish character who lived in the area), Portobello is a vibrant neighborhood, perfect for de-stressing during the weekends or after a grueling day at work.
Strolls and Sunbathing
The southern pair of the two canals that encircle inner city Dublin (with the Liffey cutting straight through the middle), the Grand Canal features bike and foot paths running alongside it, making it ideal for a stroll, whether it’s in the morning, afternoon, or evening. Have a seat on one of the benches and take in the antics of the ducks and swans. On our last Stint outing in Portobello, we encountered a student with a box of pastries walking down the footpath. Perhaps there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but free pastries? Yes.
In the summer, the patrons of The Barge (a pub adjacent to the canal) literally spill out onto the streets, sitting along the canal by the lock gates. Simply put, if the sun is out, this happens…
The former site of the Portobello Gardens, now the site of St. Kevin’s Church, is perfect for a mid-afternoon chill session. Bring a blanket and lay out on the grass. Bring a book. Bring a friend. Enjoy the sunshine (Ok, let’s not get too crazy. It’s Ireland after all).
Portobello saw an influx of Jewish immigrants in the late 19th century, eventually leading to the neighborhood being known as “Little Jerusalem.” While the Jewish population declined after WWII, many leaving for America, they still have a noticeable presence in the area, namely in the form of the Irish Jewish Museum.
The museum — the building was the site of a former synagogue — was opened by the Irish-born former president of Israel, Chaim Herzog, in June 1985. The museum is the home of various artifacts from and relating to the communities as well as the preserved synagogue.
Another remnant from the Jewish community is the Bretzel Bakery, a neighborhood fixture since 1870, and their daily-baked bread. Stop by in the morning for some… er, bread.
People say it’s hard to find a route in Dublin without passing by a pub. The same would apply in regards to cafes. I always find myself wondering how there exists that many people in Dublin to frequent all those establishments. Suffice it to say, this city of villages is a well-caffeinated one.
In Portobello alone, you’ll find a few stellar choices for your fix of tea or coffee. Number one on our list is Sister Sadie, the younger sibling of Brother Hubbard. Let’s just say if brunch is your thing, you’ll love Sister Sadie. Likewise, Bibi’s Cafe is also a great place for brunch with its constantly evolving menus. And if you weren’t presented with enough choices already, there’s Nelly’s, another cozy cafe in the neighborhood. Last, but not least, there’s Grove Road Cafe, where a lovely cup of coffee, tasty sambos, and a splendid view of the Grand Canal is a guarantee. Their tagline, “good days start with great coffee,” is definitely something we live by.
If you’re in the mood for dessert, make your way down to The Cake Cafe, well known for the quality of their baked goods. Find a spot in their peaceful courtyard and revel in the company of the cake, pastry, or tart of your choice and perhaps a glass of red.
If you’re looking for some afternoon tea instead, make your way to Wall and Keogh. If you’re a tea fanatic, you’ll be a kid in a candy shop when you step inside. There are literally rows upon rows of jars filled with different kinds of tea leaves.
Besides the wonderful street art you might find around the area, Portobello is also the home of the Copper House Gallery, a local art gallery that curates exhibitions featuring contemporary Irish art. The gallery is hidden behind a row of houses so don’t get discouraged if you can’t find it at first. Remember, Google Maps is your friend!
Besides the Barge, The Bernard Shaw is the other big attraction, pub-wise, in the Portobello area. The pub is hard to miss as its exterior features some of the coolest street art in Dublin. You’ll be surprised to see how much this pub manages to pack in as it looks deceptively small from the outside. It’s most notable feature might be the Big Blue Bus in the pub’s sizeable beer garden. That’s all I’ll tell ya’ as I wouldn’t want to spoil the experience for you. Check it out for the live music. Check it out for the atmosphere. Check it out for the blue bus.
There is something about the place that just exudes a passion for arts and creativity.
Places Featured & Where to Find Them
The Barge, 42 Charlemont St, Dublin 2
St. Kevin’s Park, 8 Camden Row, Dublin 8
Irish Jewish Museum, 3 Walworth Rd, Dublin 8
Bretzel Bakery, 1A Lennox St, Dublin 8
Sister Sadie, 46 Harrington St, Dublin 8
Bibi’s Cafe, 14A Emorville Ave, Dublin 8
Nelly’s, 12 S Circular Rd, Dublin 8
The Cake Cafe, 8 Pleasants Pl, Dublin 8
Wall & Keogh, 45 Richmond St S, Dublin 8
Copper House Gallery, Synge St, Dublin 8
The Bernard Shaw, 11-12 Richmond St S, Dublin 2