Big changes at the Bad Ass Café

The revamp leaves a lot to be desired, and the food could be better, too, writes CATHERINE CLEARY

The revamp leaves a lot to be desired, and the food could be better, too, writes CATHERINE CLEARY

I HAVE AN IDEA for a niche cafe. No screechy, thumpy coffee machines, just quietly-stewed tea. On the walls you’ll see pictures of Forty Coats, Godmother and Crow from Wanderly Wagon. People will mainly be dressed in gently-frayed Eager Beaver tweed trousers. Forget the Internet Cafe. Welcome to the InterCert Cafe.

Until recently, the Bad Ass Café in Temple Bar had cornered that market. It was, for my generation, people who know someone who once ran a stall in the Dandelion Market, and had U2 play support for a friend’s band. Occasionally we brought our kids there. It was a quintessentially Dublin place, like The Winding Stair across the river. The children were mildly entertained by the Heath Robinson rope and pulley system. It was really us who loved to see the waiters put the order in a pot, pull the string with a click and whoosh it to the hatch.

In truth, you never went to the Bad Ass for the food, which was passable pizzas, burgers and chips. The bill also came with a service-charge sting. And it had gotten dusty and old. It seems our occasional visits were not enough to preserve it in aspic and the Ass slowly died on its feet.


And now it has been – well, let’s start with a neutral term – refurbished. Plenty of money has been spent on it and I’m here to check out the food. But before I can look at a menu I have to pick my jaw off the new-olde tiled fake pub floor that I have just stepped on to.

What has happened here is astonishing and not so much a refurbishment as (for those of us who liked the old Bad Ass) an act of cultural vandalism. Shortly after we sit down, I watch a couple come in, look around open-mouthed, and turn on their heels and leave.

Picture a themed Irish pub in an airport and you’ve got an idea of what has happened here. The place has been “mahogany-ed” in that fake purple, bad-hair-dye colour way. Even the lovely industrial windows have had a timber frame built inside to ye-olde-tavernise them. The look is not only spirit-crushingly inauthentic, but it has also turned this once shabby-chic, bright, airy space into a cave.

On the newly lowered ceiling there’s a panel of swirly, sickly Celtic mural rubbish. In one corner a cottage has been built, with a chocolate-box lake photograph pretending to be its window. If this wasn’t enough to break your heart, a visit to the new space on the first floor definitely will. Here the old windows remain and the old floorboards have had a lick of paint. It’s a reminder of what has been lost under layers of wrongness downstairs, a sort of pastel chalk outline around the corpse of the Bad Ass. And on the miserable grey afternoon we visited, this bright space upstairs isn’t open so we’re condemned to McBadAssPubLand down below.

I’m always willing to forgive my surroundings if the food is good. In the case of the new Bad Ass things go from bad to dismal when we get to the food. It’s pub mediocrity that comes with a sprinkling of pretention and a dose of Saxa on the chips. All the chips arrive to the table heavily salted, including those served to my two small sons. This is unforgivable.

Before that, a shared charcuterie board for two (€12) has some small chunks of two kinds of cheese (despite the menu listing five cheeses). A repeated question to the waitress is finally answered after the third attempt when she checks with the chef as to the identity of the cheeses. They come with a small pot of vile, bitter, pre-stoned green olives, the rubbery ones you buy in the supermarket because they’re cheap and then end up chucking away. The slices of chorizo, salami and cured ham are only okay, and the tiny, thin slices of ciabatta are going dry. Underneath it all is some wilted rocket that tastes as bad as it looks.

The burgers – a mini (€5.50) and an adult “Kickass” burger (€12.95) – are the only thing that taste slightly better than average, although they too have been oversalted. My fish, unidentified white fillets fried in batter, is so ordinary as to be instantly forgettable. We mention the chips as the waitress comes to clear the plates. She apologises and says she’ll mention it to the chef. Nothing is taken off the bill despite more than half the food returning to the kitchen to be scraped into the bins.

Maybe this is a work in progress. But it has the smell of an asset being sweated, a big Temple Bar pub catering to hungover hens and stags and hapless tourists they will feed only once. The table beside us has some Americans arriving. They look cheerful and hungry. I have to physically restrain myself from telling them to leave while they still can.

Lunch for four with a coke and three glasses of orange juice came to €57.30.

The Bad Ass Cafe

Temple Bar, Dublin 2, tel: 01-6753005

Music: Loud pub pop

Facilities: Upstairs, no natural lighting and less than clean when I was there

Wheelchair access: Only to the ground floor pub level

Food provenance: Cheeses are name-checked, but fewer than half of them made it to the plate