RTÉ recently aired a two-part documentary about the life of PJ Mara, Charlie Haughey’s spin-doctor and quintessential figure of 1980s Ireland, who died in January of this year. After Haughey resigned as Fianna Fáil leader in 1992, Mara would continue his public relations work in the private sector, becoming a board member of Denis O’Brien’s Caribbean telecommunications company Digicel, amongst other things. A particularly touching moment of talking head testimony involves O’Brien’s memory of the day of Mara’s funeral, to wit: “After his funeral we went – we were on the way to Barbados within hours and I just… everybody cried.”
Now one can only speculate as to the qualities of the Barbadian surrounds in which Mara was to be mourned, but it seems likely that they had something of the tragic opulence of Zozimus of Anne’s Lane. The aesthetic of its décor lies somewhere in between that of a decadent outpost in a colonial tropics and an American speakeasy of the pre-WWII, pre-Western social democracy era that remains so at the forefront of the contemporary nostalgic sensibility. The “Gatsby era”: first as tragedy, then as farce.
The same could quite rightly be said for the bar’s namesake, also known as Michael J. Moran who, the menu tells us – incidentally in a rather similar form to that of his Wikipedia page – was a 19th century Dublin street poet, itinerant rhymer, or “gleeman”, whose life and work have served as inspiration for the venue. The cocktail list is divided into four sections, not according to the base ingredients of each drink, but rather the Irish writer – Synge, Heaney, Behan or Yeats – from whom the inspiration for their creation has been taken. From the Heaney section, we try the irresistibly named “The Liberal” (€18), a gin-based cocktail featuring, amongst other things, rose petal, vanilla and violet-infused Tanqueray and a maraschino cherry. Though its name perhaps promises more than any drink could possibly deliver, it’s light and citrusy and the glazed cherry at its bottom is a welcome touch. We also sample a “Poetry in Motion” (€13), also from the Synge menu, counting amongst its ingredients Tanqueray, Cointreau, rhubarb bitters and an absinthe rinse. Also citrusy in flavour, it tastes not too dissimilar from its more expensive cousin, with the sherbet around the rim evoking nothing more richly than the poetry suggested so tantalisingly and abstractly in its title.
The area around Anne’s Lane and the nearby Dawson street is possessed of an array of drinking establishments decorated with a degree of thematic excess in mind – Café en Seine and 37 Dawson Street, both of which incidentally back out onto Anne’s Lane, etc. – so Zozimus finds itself in rarefied if not all too discernibly different company where it has chosen to set up. Insofar as the project can be judged in comparison to its nearest competitors, it is a more aesthetically refined (though admittedly this is no great achievement) and thoughtfully executed upmarket bar experience than those that predate it. Edamame beans with sea salt (€6) and some sturdy but beautiful minimalist wooden furniture on the exterior deck are just two examples of slightly out of the box thinking paying immediate dividends. The silver crank wheel by the bar used to mechanically mix cocktails can count itself in the opposite camp, however. For all the conservatism of its overarching sensibilities – the quasi-colonial vibe, whatever the global, right wing equivalent of Ostalgie is, a cursory and somewhat incongruous reverence of late, big, male writers – Zozimus undeniably does certain things well. Somewhere like the Chelsea Drugstore on George’s Street, for example, is doing more interesting things with cocktails, so what’s being sold here is, essentially, a vibe. If you want to feel as though you’re inhabiting a feverish, half-remembered scene from the middle act of Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai, there are worse places. The Big Man would no doubt approve.
Anne’s Lane, South Anne Street, Dublin 2
Words: Oisín Murphy-Hall
Photos: Megan Killeen