Waking up to a missed call from a drinking establishment usually beckons the fear and a flurry of half-etched questions: What did I do? What did I leave behind? What words were spoken? Who has taken offence? However, when I wasn’t even out the night before it becomes a most peculiar wake-up. The call in question came from Stephen McCusker, someone I’ve known in the drinking and cavorting game for some time now. He’s left a message to inform me that an entry for his pub/food joint in our dining guide is out-dated. He’s right. And my initial, WTF gives way to a respect for his fastidious, if somewhat erratic, communication methods.
Indeed, The Front Door is long gone and Berlin has assumed ownership of these walls. Following a previous incarnation at the corner of the Powerscourt Centre, McCusker certainly learned a trick or two from his lane mate in Pygmalion – seize the street! McCusker is in cahoots with Jay Bourke in this enterprise. And while Bourke has a chequered track history in the food and drink game with stellar highs such as The Front Lounge and the original Eden in Temple Bar overshadowed by trading “misconduct”, there is little doubt that this duo are operators with pedigree.
Berlin has a front on Dame Street wedged between a medical centre and a pharmacy, looking out at the sad demise of a street being overrun by souvenir shops. However, it’s on the pedestrianised section of Dame Lane which crouches to the side of the George that it’s being noticed. During the summer Berlin came into its own and made its mark with beats and peeps spilling on to Dame Lane.
Inside, it’s a roomy affair on the right-side of ramshackle. There’s a de rigueur ‘Berliner Straße’ sign but few other real nods to the origins of its name. Given that most of there 81 U-Bahn stations in Berlin have their own unique and quirky signage, this could make for a compelling addition. It’s also best not to dwell too long upon the toilet sign which kindly asks for their toilets not to be graffitied. This sentiment is about as far from Berlin as one could get. Elsewhere, there’s salvaged pressed tin that’s been painted over, an up-lit angel on the side of the bar counter and sweating candles on wooden tables. The clientele is a mish-mash of local heads, tourists and Latino.
On the drinks side, outside the heavyweight suppliers the offering is somewhat anemic. There’s Sierra Nevada and O’Hara’s but my attention is drawn to the gorgeously designed Friday Über IPA and Sunday Easy Pale Ale from Bavarian brewers And Union. These are unheimlich gut to both look at and drink. Of course, one is far away from the land of Spätis at €7 a pop. But this is Dame Lane and not Kottbusser Damm in Kreuzberg.
Perhaps, the greatest surprise is to find that The Lucky Tortoise, who wrapped up their pop-up dumpling delight in Ranelagh, are behind the bar menu. You can snack on bites such as fish tacos (€3), falafel croquettes (€5) and a muhummara hot dip with flatbreads (€6) or extend to a Korean Spiced Chicken Burger (€9) or Vietnamese Mussels (€9). Their creations are top notch and while they are eager to find their own premises, finding them them pitch their tent in the city centre right now makes a visit to Berlin essential in itself. Food is served 4pm to 9.30pm daily.
It’s around this time, that the Dame Street part is cleared for live music while a DJ anchors on the laneway from earlier on. Both McCusker and Bourke are part of the furniture of the city. Both have been salvaged and varnished a few times by now. And with Berlin, they’ve the combined potential to forge a space worth visiting as well as worth taking a call from after midnight.
Words: Michael McDermott
Photo: Killian Broderick