Friday, 6 June 2014

Oscars Cafe Bar, Smithfield Square

Americano coffee with milk urn (not actual size)
Oscars in Smithfield on Dublin's northside is celebrating its first birthday this weekend, and in its first twelve months the place looks like it has settled down into a very relaxed groove.

But sometimes looks can be deceptive. I like that, because deceptive looks are kinda de rigueur when you're writing crime fiction.

The outside

From the outside, Oscars may look like your typical bog-standard, unassuming, thoroughly modern cafe bar; the ground floor in one of those fairly recently built seven- or eight-storey apartment blocks around where the old fruit and veg market used to be.

Still outside, the sea of blackboards and menus add to this confusion, a visual overdose of chalk or white paint. Too many items, too much information. Just give me seven main items. The magic number: seven, plus or minus two.

Various other things keep grabbing your attention even before you've pulled the front door and gone in, such as the Oscars branding.

These people have really cool designers; the retro logo with its art deco lettering is evocative, crisp, relatively simple yet strong - so strong that it was recently ripped off by a sleazy go-go joint in Thailand ("located in the heart of Pattaya in the famous LK Metro area off Soi Baokaow!")

The inside

Inside the real Oscars in Smithfield, the decor is perhaps the biggest surprise. It's classy, quirky, a mixture of brass, copper, mirrors, wood, modern paintings and photos, theatrical spotlighting, wee snugs and lots of tables and seats in all sorts of styles and sizes.

Seats and seats, and yet more seats. These include a hodgepodge of dark (well, claret red) leather armchairs and low-lying sofas, antique wooden dining chairs, an entire row of old cinema seats. Cinema seats? Sheer genius - Oscars is next to a cinema, and its name hints at an Academy Award, right? They even have a chunky barber's chair.

There are plenty of window seats too, with mountains of cushions and a grand view through the big windows onto the square of cobblestones outside.

The main counter runs the length of the room. It's lined with tall old wrought-iron stools with red leather cushions. At the far end of the bar is an upright piano; its top doubles as a mixing deck for the DJ to do the weekend sounds.

Back to the room's everyday soundscape: the cool slow bossa nova music is wafting away in the background, mingling with the morning conversations and the constant clicks and wooshes of a barista at work somewhere behind the bar.

The food is gastropub/brasserie fare, from a brunchy breakfasty menu to gourmet sandwiches, tempura cod and chips, massive burgers, gluten-free and vegetarian stuff, and Moss Reid's kind of dinner: upmarket bangers and mash. Pork-and-leek with a chive mash potato and a tangy sauce.

All this ambience, grub and an americano would cost you as little as a tenner this week (€9 for the bangers and mash, and the special birthday price of €1 for the morning coffee). The bill might even come in an old cassette case.

They are open from 8am on weekdays, 10am Saturday and Sunday (early closing Sunday at 6pm). Grand grub at reasonable prices, great atmosphere and friendly staff.

Oscars may be modern, hardly a year old, yet this is Moss Reid's kind of place. Perfect for losing himself in a coffee and a paperback. Probably sitting in one of the alcoves formed by the tall shelves of books and yet more armchairs - he could almost be in the corner of a library in a posh house.

Oscars Cafe Bar
Smithfield Square
Dublin 7
Twitter: @Oscarscafebar