WHAT a difference a short few weeks can make!
In May, I remember walking down Pana and thinking how the city felt so empty of life, and how watching people rush from place to place — a coffee in one hand and a clutch of paper boutique bags in the other — is part of what makes a city feel alive.
Fast forward a month, and back walking down Cork’s central avenue, and there it is: that old Pana atmosphere, fists bursting with bags filled with new purchases and people queuing for their caffe latte from their favourite barista once more.
I’m here to visit Claire Nash, proprietor of Nash19, member of Cork Business Association and one of the businesses behind the project to pedestrianise Princes Street for outdoor dining — the first of its kind in Ireland.
As expected, Claire is in the thick of it, overseeing the teams learning the whys and wherefores of putting up each of the brightly coloured pagodas that are pivotal in providing covered outdoor seating. This is a venture that has an immediate impact on the businesses involved in reimagining the streets of Cork.
Outdoor dining is the only option for some of our hospitality businesses for a while yet, as they steady themselves and get back on their feet. July 5 was due to see a return to indoor dining and drinking — however that’s been put on hold for now. Even when indoor service re-opens, outdoor dining is likely to remain.
Having the outdoor space provides additional capacity, as well as the option for those who may still be wary of gathering inside. And of course, that all important future-proofing — being trigger-ready for any future upsetting of the apple cart, although everyone hopes the future faces ever forward, and never backward.
MAKING IT WORK
During the summer of 2020, the Princes Street outdoor dining experiment helped in proving that such an idea could work, and was beneficial to the businesses, customers, and the environment of our city’s streets. No longer just thoroughfares for the hurried and harried, Princes Street became a place to stay, relax, and enjoy good food and company.
Cork has previous experience in successfully turning city streets into places of community and conviviality. Cork’s Long Table Dinner on South Mall is an event many would love to see return for a sun-down meal like no other.
Festivals such as Design POP (August 27 to 29) and Cork Midsummer Festival are elevated by their engagement with spaces in the public realm. Our grá for stunning street art that is funny, cultural, historical, and political makes us stop and stare and admire. Our parks, boardwalks, and open spaces are magnets for people coming together and sharing time (and usually food!), together.
Outdoor dining on Princes Street is a template for the other 16 city streets approved by Cork City Council for pedestrianisation and follows on from their €2 million investment in 2020, facilitating a reimagining of Cork’s outdoor spaces for dining and drinking al fresco for up to 1,000 residents and visitors.
This will enhance the greening of the city, in tandem with improvements in cycling infrastructure and the pedestrianisation of 1.3km of city streets and amenity space at the marina.
In addition, the so-called Parklets designed by Siobhan Keogh, created by Benchspace Cork and fully funded and installed by Cork City Council, continue to pop up around the city and greater metropolitan area, incorporating seating and pollinator-friendly planting.
Parklet Partners can apply for funding to create spaces outside their premises but must be available to customers and for the general public use too. Douglas and Ballincollig, outside the Imperial Hotel on the South Mall and the Quay Co-Op on Sullivan’s Quay are some of the Parklets open or in the process of being built. These structures are designed to be temporary to see how they function for one year, after which a decision will be made to replace them with permanent structures.
Actions such as this demonstrate just how important outdoor spaces are going to be in the medium term as part of the new normal.
In addition, Cork’s boardwalk areas near Electric and Docklands, Tequila Jacks’ striking ‘Dine at Dome’ geodome pods, and spaces such as Marina Market are all creative examples of how public spaces can be reimagined as social places.
IN IT TOGETHER
Back at Princes Street, Claire believes that Cork is ripe for bringing together the commercial and community aspects of city living, and believes that, by working together, both can reap benefits together rather than pitting against each other.
“There are 27 businesses on Princes Street,” says Claire, “and we got buy in from all of them for this project, representing the eclectic dynamism of the street. We’ve embraced the idea of ‘Reimagining the City’, to make it an attractive place to eat, walk, live, and socialise — the commercial and community together.
“Right from the start we engaged all the right stakeholders: Cork City Council, the gardaí, fire safety, and Cork Business Association. What we’ve created is an outdoor dining capacity of 250 as things stand now, with the option to increase that number as things continue to improve moving out of the pandemic.
“There are nine hospitality venues on Princes Street that have been granted special permission to trade in this way. We could have decided to trade in isolation, but I say: together we survive. We are a team.”
The bright coloured pagoda canopies that line Princes Street have been custom made by Acme Blind Design.
“They are storm proof and can withstand the south-easterly breeze that prevails down the street. Underneath, we can provide waterproofed and heated seating, but they don’t block out the light. We wanted them to be brightly coloured to reflect the vibrancy of the concept of ‘eat on the street’.”
The pagodas are centred on the road only, leaving the footpaths free either side for pedestrian access throughout the day.
“This is about changing lifestyles,” says Claire, “and we’re providing a safe, warm, and comfortable space where we can serve healthy, good food — the best Cork has to offer! If 2020 was the test, 2021 is about taking it to the next level: the lift and shine to do what we love and do it the best way we can.”
Words and action go hand in hand, and so after 29 years of trading on Princes Street, Nash19 is seizing the opportunity to shake things up and try something new — by offering a new evening service, called #NashByNight. Small plates of seasonal, local food — the hallmarks of Claire’s passion for Cork produce — served alongside a new approach to wines: only natural, biodynamic, organic and pet-nat wines here now!
PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
In June, Cork City Council announced that, of the 17 streets pedestrianised, and in addition to the Princes Street transformation, a further four city streets would be transformed for outdoor dining.
Union Quay, Pembroke Street, Caroline Street, and Beasley Street are all up next for reimagining with the tender process underway for supply and installation of new parasols and awnings on these streets.
Having Princes Street as a template for near identical works, and all the behind the scenes work road tested (paperwork, licencing, health and safety compliance, etc), should see works commencing and completing swiftly.
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN TOWNS AND VILLAGES ACROSS CORK?
Away from the bright lights of a city rising, small towns and villages are working together to maximise their outdoor space for al fresco summer socialising.
In my local stomping ground of West Cork, a rural location ironically doesn’t automatically equate to abundant outdoor space. But recent visits to Glengarrif and Schull showed that, for businesses located on a main street of a small town, the challenges are no less different to the city and require just as much creative innovation.
The scenic village of Glengarriff in West Cork has created a space for a fleet of independent food trucks and picnic benches beside Quills to bolster the food and drink offering for visitors and residents while restrictions on inside capacity remain.
In Schull, four local businesses: O’Donovan’s Townhouse, Schull Harbour Hotel, Nickie’s Café, and popular Hackett’s Bar, have joined forces to create a multiplicity of outdoor dining spaces, making use of the quaint Main Street with its creative, independent shops and majestic views over Schull Harbour.
Townhouse O D’s have on-street dining with space for ten people on Main Street on a lovely fenced off grassed area in front of the gastropub, where customers can enjoy a morning coffee and freshly baked scone, or choose it as the perfect location to people-watch in the evening with a cold pint of Murphy’s. Their ‘Outback’ section has re-opened, seating up to 40 people with a covered area.
Hackett’s on-street space offers a fenced off area to the most sought-after standing space in town and have created a covered outdoor space out the back as well.
While further down the street both Nickie’s Cafe and Schull Harbour Hotel have on-street dining spaces overlooking the harbour.
Aside from this communal approach to sharing space, businesses fortunate to have outside space to play with have invested heavily in making the most of it. The Lifeboat Inn in Courtmacsherry has added to its incredible seafront terrace with a cosy covered area which, come evening time, will be a cacophony of twinkling festoon and candlelight!
O’Mahony’s of Watergrasshill are making the most of their peaceful enclosed courtyard setting and established a new outdoor covered area thanks to a swanky Bedouin-style tented structure — a secret garden away from the hustle and bustle.
In Blarney, Johnny’s Bar, to the rear of the Blarney Castle Hotel, has been transformed with a beautifully built, heated, outdoor area. Uncovered seating is available too in the courtyard accessible through the old archway next to the main entrance to the hotel.
Just five minutes from Skibbereen is the beautiful Lis Ard Estate, and their new al fresco dining offering ‘Garden’, providing guests with a taste of old-world glamour with the best in contemporary service. Under new chef Alex Petit, the menu is inspired by what is grown in their Victorian walled garden, foraged from the acres of land within the estate, and produced locally by artisans.
Alternatively, for a bit of gourmet urbanism, head to Sage in Midleton where Kevin Ahern and his crew have reconfigured their courtyard space to make the most of every square inch — an oasis in the heart of the bustling town, serving up food to Kevin’s 12-mile ethos in a relaxed atmosphere.
Towns, villages, restaurants, and cafés right across the county are making every effort to transform spaces that are warm, welcoming, creative, delicious, and fun. Be sure to seek them out and support them.
Be mindful of booking policies, be happy to pay a deposit, cancel with 24 hours’ notice if you can, and chance your arm for a walk up — not all businesses are pre-booking out all their tables. Most of all, have a fabulous night!
Next week in our Al fresco series: 20 of the hottest food trucks in Cork right now.