If you want to catch up with a friend after work in Dublin (wichout sitting down for food), chances are, you’ll meet in a pub.
Very few independent coffee shops remain open after 7pm and while you could just go to a Starbucks or to any other big chain, there’s something lacking in atmosphere no matter how great the “carefully curated” playlist that the marketing team has come up with is.
I went to The Virgin Mary, Dublin’s first alcohol-free bar, for the first time last week just after watching Yesterday in Cineworld (which conveniently, is just a four-minute walk away).
I had a VERY enjoyable bottomless dinner experience the evening before so the idea of throwing more alcohol units into my week was not appealing, but I wanted to go somewhere nice with my husband before calling it a day. It was 9:30pm and we were not in the mood of walking into a restaurant and parting with €50 or €60, at least.
So we walked in and took a table for two close to the window. The decor is not too far from other modern Irish bars that have opened in Dublin in recent years. I liked the pop of art deco elegance, contrasting with the rustic naked walls and old-scool front. The place is not too big, but seating is well distrubuted so it feels spacious.
While the idea of a boozeless bar sounds oxymoronic, I still remember the baffled reviewers when the very successful Sova Vegan Butcher on Pleasant St. was the subject of similar reactions after it opened three years ago.
Besides, this bar is the product of a concept developed by industry veterans – Vaughan Yates, Oisin Davis and Anna Walsh – so it was very well-thought-out.
The drinks menu features seven signature cocktails, all priced between €7 to €8, or the option to create your own (€6.5). Besides being alcohol-free, all drinks are vegan. As if this wasn’t enough “free-froms”, the bar is cashless.
So far, so millennial.
There is also a selection of non-alcoholic beers, wines and other beverages, and nitro coffee on tap.
I had a Pink Preacher, made with Ceder’s Crisp, Muscat, raspberry, jasmine and white tea. It was described on the menu as “delicate and floral” and I couldn’t disagree. The presentation was top notch, I wouldn’t be able to call this drink a mocktail: it was beautiful, balanced and delicious.
My date had a Tiki Street. Tiki cocktails tend to be the booziest, sweetest, most in-your-face drinks you can have, but this one was a very interesting take on the style: made with Syrah, hibiscus, pomegranate molasses, vanilla, lime and black cardamom, it felt exotic and intense, but without the heaviness that often comes associated with lesser renditions of the style.
The staff was friendly and eager to explain the concept without being condescending. They do have the odd walk-in that doesn’t know what The Virgin Mary is about, but most people that come have at least heard about it.
As for the crowd and the vibes, we saw mostly couples and small groups, talking and sipping on colourful cocktails, enjoying conversations. A laid-back, happy atmosphere and a level of quality and service that you simply won’t find in “big coffee” (doesn’t the word “big” before the name of any industry makes things sound evil?).
The bill for two cocktails at The Virgin Mary came at €15. More expensive than two cups of tea for sure, but it was almost half what you’d pay in a good cocktail bar in town theses days (I mean for a proper craft cocktail, not a dive-y Captain ‘n’ Coke).
I had a lovely time, a beautiful drink and I hope to return soon to The Virgin Mary on Capel Street. It is not a place to have a wild time, but it is a spot to have a great time.
More information: facebook.com/thevirginmarybar