Bray has always been a microcosm of the entire country of Ireland, from the many working-class areas dotted around the entire town, and in between such areas the middle to upper-class cul de sacs, with a somewhat passive knowledge of existence between each place. Of course, Bray has always had that unique, somewhat unexplainable character so unlike many other Irish towns, specifically on the east coast, that is so necessary to the story of the town and should always remain so.
Bray has always attracted many due to its melting pot of cultures far and wide, from having probably the first fully vegetarian restaurant in the country with ‘Escape’ and its rather eccentric owners to the homage that was the Greek-Cypriot Restaurant ‘The Tree of Idleness’ with the aromas of roast pig stuffed with apricots and apples wafting down the entire seafront in the mornings.
Both were before my time, and both are unfortunately gone now, but any foodie circles across the country will often fondly remember them. Despite past glories, Bray has stepped into the sphere of modernity and the many palates, wants, and needs that accompany the changing times. 20 years ago, you would be hard pressed to find Burrata cheese anywhere in the country, let alone meeting someone who knew what an “Antipasti Board” was.
As for seafood, you would probably only get a choice between salmon or cod, and that is being generous. Wine wasn’t democratically drank, and often, choices were restricted to one red or one white, and it didn’t matter where it came from or what grape it even was.
For most people going on a night out, it was natural to travel outside of Bray into Dublin City or anywhere along the dart line for that matter. Conversely, nobody from Dublin had cause to come to Bray. Things have most certainly changed, as the opposite of all above has happened. People come from all over, primarily from the east coast, to spend their nights in the town that everyone knows, but not truly.
There have always been bright spots in Bray, and they deserve our praise. Bray has always had Italian establishments, and it would not have gotten far in the new but old world without them. From one of the first Pizzeria’s in the Country, ‘Pizza’s N Cream’ which for 30 years had queues down the Albert Lane, although not owned by Italians, the cuisine certainly opened a treasure trove.
When the Quirky ‘Escape’ closed its doors, it was soon re-opened but this time by 2 Sardinians, and the result was the much-coveted ‘Campo De’Fiori’. Campo gave us the much-needed authentic Italian cuisine. The many types of Anti-pastis, Spaghetti Astice (Lobster), Ricotta Tortellini and of course the many Italian wines. It was always authentic, and nothing pretentious at all; it did not matter who you were, you would always fit in at Campo.
Although Campo closed after being open for 15 years, it has always had such an implant into locals and distant fanatics minds. Campo has now become something so much more different, yet similar, ‘Ripasso’. Ripasso is still so perfectly authentic Italian, yet with a much stronger influence and selection of wine from all over Italy.
More up-market, than before, Ripasso is what you want in a dinner out with friends, family, or something more formal. A good seasonally changing menu, with some sticklers and new items always keeping it adventurous but still authentic, you can never go wrong with the special pasta or catch of the day.
As for Pubs, Bray has always been quintessential in its approach. The Harbour Bar has always been and remains the best pub in Bray, although for the older readers, the clientele has become younger over the years. The Harbour’s atmosphere and drafts are unparalleled, though good luck getting a table in the times of Covid-19 as it is always suitably packed.
Duffs on Bray Main Street has remained perfectly the same from its very start right up until its recent purchase by the well-known local Duggan Family Business. Duffs is the ideal traditional pub: no food, but fantastic drinks and quiet night-time atmospheres.
The Hibernia, on the Seafront, is a strange but wonderful place. A personal favourite of my friends, they do serve a cracking pint of Guinness in all fairness. The clientele is older but always full of conversation, from Rush fans to a lamenting French man talking about why in his opinion France and the French are the worst. You will not be let down.
The Duggan Family’s many Restaurants and Bars have had a huge influence on the change in Bray. Without the effort they put into their establishments, the town council would never have put effort into maintaining the seafront. The establishment of restaurants like ‘Platform Pizza’, ‘Box Burger’, and the summer specialty ‘Fika’, offered something new to Bray that truly took hold of the masses.
They offered something retro and young, fast-good food at a relatively affordable price, inventive cocktails to go along with it, and always promoting local to distant craft beers. Something reminiscent of what is happening to places like Stoneybatter and the Liberties, is a total change of pace in all things service industry and entertainment.
Of course, the main attraction is the Duggan owned ‘Martello’. It is everything: a bar, a gastropub, a hotel and, of course, a nightclub. Even before the pandemic, the Martello was for lack of a better phrase, a truly ‘happening place’ and still is, certainly a place you must be seen in at least once (that is if you can get in!). Throughout Covid, the many Duggan spots maintained takeaway services along with collectable cocktails, all too perfect for a night on the beachfront.
I have of course missed many great places to spend your money and your time at but that is for you to discover. Bray has changed certainly throughout the last few years, and like most places it most likely will continue to change. It has become wealthier, more open to new things, more in line with what was happening in many young new areas in Dublin and Galway city, but still retains its resolute independent character. I am, of course, biased as I do live there, but it’s a great place to grow up and be out doing stuff in. So, I urge you all to get to Bray at least once during the summer and hit a few spots mentioned and not mentioned, It's all probably worth it.