Dublin has long been known as a destination for literary obsessives and lineage seekers rather than those looking for the high life. And after the financial collapse of 2008, when many of its bright young residents left, not much changed. But lately the city has come alive again, thanks to tech giants (Google and Amazon are expanding their European headquarters there), an open-minded political climate backed by the ascent of the country’s youngest (and first openly gay) prime minister, and the return of many of those who left a decade ago, along with others from across the U.K. They’ve brought with them a lively scene that may not yet have the gloss of London, but has the confidence of a city that’s ready for the spotlight.
A handful of London’s star chefs are setting up shop, each with ties to the city. On the first floor of the unassuming Fitzwilliam Hotel, you’ll find Glovers Alley by Andy McFadden. A 33-year-old Irish native, McFadden opened this spot last spring after having helmed London’s Michelinstarred Pied à Terre for seven years. The Art Deco-inspired dining room is playful yet elegant, with a pastel pink and forest green color scheme. So is the food: McFadden has a knack for preparing one ingredient in all sorts of ways within a single dish—a loin of lamb from the Comeragh Mountains is gently seared; its belly crisped, like bacon; and its shoulder braised and pressed into a bite-sized cake.
On Dawson Street, the team behind London’s always-buzzing brasserie the Ivy has opened its first outpost outside the U.K. Despite the impeccably turned-out crowd, there’s nothing pretentious about the service or food, just well-done bistro staples in a stunning space: patinaed mirrors, tropical-print murals, and a central gilded bar dripping in flora. And this summer, chef Niall Davidson, who grew up in Ireland, will return to debut a different take on his popular London restaurant Nuala in the Trinity Townhouse Hotel.
Opened last summer in a former members-only club along central St. Stephen’s Green, the Grayson has a more welcoming door policy these days. A warren of dramatic dining rooms and moody corners, the townhouse is now a restaurant and bar that serves up a New American menu by day and turns into what feels like a sophisticated house party come 10 p.m. Meanwhile, the new Legal Eagle on Chancery Place is doing an innovative take on the country’s meat-and-potatoes cuisine with dishes like roasted bone marrow with escargots and bacon-and-cabbage Irish potato flatbreads. “We’ve upgraded from gastropub dining,” says owner Elaine Murphy. “It’s now about revising traditional Irish nose-to-tail dishes with fresh local produce.”
For a long time, Dublin’s hotel scene was limited to traditional luxury and funky hostels. So when the Dean (rooms from $135) opened in 2014, it quickly became one of Dublin’s hottest hangouts. The industrial-style hotel has 51 small rooms and a lively rooftop, which stays jam-packed on weekends from brunch until the music stops playing. In November, the same team opened the Devlin (rooms from $150), the Dean’s more sophisticated cousin and the first hotel in the up-and-coming Ranelagh neighborhood. The 40-room property has a classic New York vibe, with a rooftop brasserie, craft cocktail bar, and retro movie theater.
The city has its share of grande dame hotels, but the Shelbourne Hotel ( rooms from $345) is still its most iconic address— Grace Kelly stayed here so often that there’s a suite named after her. A recent renovation has brought new life to the 265-room property as well as a guests-only bar and a terrace (a rarity in the city). Despite the modernization, what keeps the hotel relevant is how it has preserved its old-world luxury, with palatial Heritage Suites that overlook St. Stephen’s Green, flowers at every turn, and the kind of white-glove service that anticipates needs before they come to mind.
While the restaurant and hotel scenes are looking toward the future, the city hasn’t forgotten its past. The National Gallery of Ireland recently reopened following a six-year, multimillion-dollar update, and Dublin’s new - est cultural institution, the Museum of Literature Ireland, is set to debut in the summer within one of the finest historic buildings on St. Stephen’s Green, the Newman House. The digitally augmented spaces will pull from the National Library’s rare literary collections, with exhibits that will include James Joyce’s own copy of Ulysses.