A not very long time ago, in a place not very far away at all, we were living pretty high on the hog. Banks would lend you any amount of money if you could touch your nose while standing on one foot. We brushed our whitened teeth with cocaine toothpaste and delighted in the thread-count of our toilet paper. We were the petulant poster-children of free-market globalisation and nothing could stop us. Until it did and a halt was duly put to our gallop. The hubris has been well documented (see Fintan O’Toole’s Ship of Fools) but it would appear that we have learned nothing. With the property market at a rolling boil and the bubble nicely tumescent, it would appear that it is again time to roll out the (American oak) barrel. The Press-Up group has just purchased the Residence club at the other end of the street. Nine Below is an actual thing and it takes them two days to accept my booking. You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
Open about a month now, 9 Below is a wheeze brought to you by the people behind such places as Xico, 37 Dawson St and The Fence, in Mullingar of all places. The owners apparently want to emulate such feted spots as The American Bar in London’s Savoy. You have to admire their ambition. It sits in the basement of the Hibernian club and every effort has been made to distance this joint from the tawny port and ear-trumpet scene upstairs. I’m joined by an Art Director, an Artist, a Restaurant Designer and my Editor. Almost to a man, this is a group possessed of taste and discernment. Money has been spent on the fit-out (designed by O’Donnell O’ Neill) but it’s not immediately apparent where it went. I mean this literally. The place is stygian. It takes some moments for my eyes to adjust sufficiently for me to recognise the faces of my own party. We ended up using the cordless, rechargeable table lamps as menu-torches. There is a superabundance of walnut and brass but the banquettes feel like Draylon©. The bar itself is handsome enough but if you don’t snag one of the five stools you’ll find yourself feeling a little adrift from the cocktail experience. You’ll find yourself well, lounging.
Our first round comprises a first-rate Vodka Martini, properly dirty as requested, a couple of too sweet Negronis and an off-menu Brandy Alexander that is chronically underpowered and comically ungenerous. Mike throws back a number named ‘Good as Gold’ featuring ‘butter-washed Jameson Gold Reserve’ with apricot liqueur. It’s a good drink and it makes me wonder what else would benefit from a butter wash. In the absence of a Flaming Ferrari on the list I also enjoy a ginger-powered ‘Red Head’. The joint is awash with fine wines and there are rare whiskies galore. Prices are wince-inducing. Impossibly exotic and expensive bottles of caramel-hued liquor are displayed in glass fronted tabernacles for our veneration. Some display celebrity endorsements. Who hasn’t ever dreamed of enjoying a libation launched by ‘nightlife entrepreneur’ Raude Gerber, property developer Mike Melduiau and George Clooney. More bottles of high-end hooch are embedded at eye-height above the actual toilets. It’s different not to consider this as some sort of ironical reference to transubstantiation. We begin to wonder about the target audience. Did the PR types produce a shortlist? Expense account dullards, people who ‘holiday’ in Dubai, Russians, R Kelly, Roz Purcell, the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo?
The bartenders clearly know what they are doing and the floor staff will get there, but for all of the overwrought copy within the pages of the suede(tte)-bound menus, this place is not really about the drinks. It appears designed rather to engender a sense of collective hauteur. You don’t need to leave your worries at the door because you don’t have any. You are princes and princesses and your presence here is proof enough. This is what happens when you conflate exclusivity with exclusion. If you want impeccably made drinks served with charm and élan go to The Sidecar at The Westbury. We repair to nearby Neary’s in an attempt to cleanse ourselves of the experience, hoping that a little Guinness would clear us of this deed. It did. This is an awful place for awful people, a Valhalla as conceived by the editors of the Sindo magazine. Its only benefit may be to effectively quarantine its patrons from the rest of us.
Words: Conor Stevens
ed note: In the print edition this review is incorrectly attributed to Danny Wilson. We apologise for this confusion.