Updated: Jun 18, 2021
If footfall is the golden metric of bricks and mortar retailers then Grafton Street has it all. Pedestrianised to much fanfare in 1983 the street’s popularity has not waned even with the advent of suburban shopping malls like Dundrum (which does the same annual retail turnover as the entire city of Limerick) or Liffey Valley, Airside and Carrickmines. Today Grafton Street is amongst the 15 most expensive high streets in the world (at approximately $400 per square foot per year) attracting global brands like Urban Decay, Victoria’s Secret, Disney, Vans, Massimo Dutti, Tommy Hilfiger and Boodles. But you can find these outlets in most cities in the world and if you are sondering down Grafton Street you may want to consider some of the local names that ultimately define the street’s character along with the live music courtesy of an ever-changing lineup of buskers. The most obvious place to start is Brown Thomas at #88-95, originally founded in 1848 by Hugh Brown and joined by James Thomas the following year. Today it is owned by the Weston family (who also own Primark, Selfridges and Fortnum & Mason, as well as Canada’s largest food retailer Loblaw Companies). “BTs”, as it is locally known, has kept standards high with top-hat wearing porters, white glove service and plenty of prestige corner stores into the mix, including Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Prada, Gucci and Chanel. It is a popular lunch spot with a couple of in-house cafés and its fashion floors are considered the best in the country. If you have a big event coming up you may consider stopping into Weir & Sons just opposite BTs at #96-99. Open here since 1869 they specialise in fine watches, jewellery and silverware, all wrapped up and presented to you in their signature red box. They hit the headlines in 2019 when they celebrated their 150 years in business with the launch of a special edition Patek Philippe Annual Calendar Chronograph (in signature green of course) which can be yours for the modicum sum of €90,000 (they may throw in the engraving if you ask nicely). To continue the celebrations pop into James Fox tobacconists at #119 opposite Trinity College. Established in 1881 they carry a full range of Cubans (as the only certified Habanos reseller in Ireland) and pretty much anything else that you can smoke legally, along with a nice selection of pipes, whiskeys, spirits and some fine wines. If whiskey is your thing and you want to go deeper, the Irish Whiskey Museum is in the same building and has built a reputation for itself since its opening in 2014. Ultimately Grafton Street is not just about the street itself, it is equally about all the arteries that lead off from it connecting to Dawson, South William, Drury and South George’s streets. You could spend a day making your way through the many open doors in this area, but of note are Kevin & Howlin traditional clothes outfitters (stocking plenty of tweed) at #31 Nassau Street; Hodges Figgis bookstore at #56-58 Dawson Street, and further up the same side of the road Celtic Whiskey Shop & Wines on the Green at #27-28. There is no shortage of places to stop for a bite to eat in the area (or indeed a quick nip) and many of them have their own entries in the Guide; see entries for Bewley’s, Java Republic, Dunne & Crescenzi, Fallon & Byrne, Trocadero, The Greenhouse, Grogan’s, The Last Stand, Café en Seine, The Westbury and the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre. Other addresses worth exploring include Le Petit Perroquet at #17 Wicklow Street for small bites, the Green Hen at #33 Exchequer Street (for lunch at the informal bar or dinner seated); at #1 Duke Street the Bailey is always busy, and of course the old stalwart Davy Byrnes opposite at #21; breakfast upstairs at the Kilkenny Shop at #6 Nassau Street is an institution; try also Chez Max at its main location near Dublin Castle at #1 Palace Street, and its offshoot now operating on the Alliance Française ground floor at #1 Kildare Street. South William Street has a nice selection of very good value Indian restaurants including Spice of India at #6, and Jewel in the Crown next door at #5 (not forgetting Diwali around the corner at #1 South Great Georges Street); nearby at #43 South William Street is the appropriately named Metro Café which is suitably cosmopolitan and nearly always busy. Drury Street has really blossomed over the last ten years and now has some of Dublin’s best little coffee spots including Kaph at #31 and Industry and Co. at #41. Local phenom Dylan McGrath has a triumvirate of eateries in the area: Fade Street Social at #6 Fade Street, and Rustic Stone and Taste at the Bonsai, both at #17 South Great George’s Street. The choice of pubs in the general area is almost endless with perennial haunts such as O’Neill’s at #2 Suffolk Street, Kehoe’s at #9 South Anne Street, the Market Bar at 14A Fade Street, Hogan’s at #59 South Great Georges Street and The Long Hall across the road at #51. And so while the centre of Dublin is de jure the General Post Office on O’Connell Street, the dense concentration of shops, bars, restaurants and attractions around Grafton Street make it your de facto centre.