Sentence by sentence, today we take a look at Niall Harbison’s recent landmark essay, ‘Ireland 2015 – How We’ll Be Known As “The Burger Generation”.’
“This has been a huge week for burgers in Ireland.”
Lots of people have objectively odd thoughts pop in their heads on a regular basis. What most of them don’t do is actually type them out and publish them with non-fictional, non-humorous intent. But do go on.
“Firstly, we announced the top 10 burgers in Dublin to try in 2015 and yesterday we revealed that Five Guys where opening a host of new restaurants across the capital.”
Leaving aside the ‘where-were’ typo two sentences in, with those two pieces of information to back it up, Niall’s opening salvo is starting to look good, it really is turning into a huge week for burgers in Ireland.
“With all these new places in Dublin dedicated purely to serving up the humble hamburger I began tallying them up:
• McDonalds (38)
• Eddie Rockets (24)
• Burger King (19)
• Jo Burger (3)
• Gourmet Burger Kitchen (3)
• Five Guys (4 coming soon)
• Supermacs (5)
• Bobos (2)
• Bunsen (1 soon to be 2)”
A pedant might point out that “purely” is maybe an exaggeration, and that if you were tallying up all the “new” ones, you’d probably have to subtract around 90 of the above mentioned burger places.
But that’s incidental, the important message to take away from this list is that there is no difference between a chain without a liquor license that sells takeaway burgers for €1, and an independent restaurant that serves eat-in for €15 plus booze.
“That’s a whopping 100 burger joints in Dublin that have our population of 1.8 million spoilt for choice.”
See? A hundred is better than 8 or 9.
“How did this happen?”
He arbitrarily picked a few names of burger places out of his head and typed them into his computer, or whatever device it was he wrote this on.
“How did we all become Americanised?”
He means, why did 4 or 5 restaurants open during a recession selling a food item that in terms of ingredients and associated labour costs was, and remains, relatively, um, cheap.
“Have the CIA infiltrated us with a bunch of spooks posing as burger chefs?”
Let’s not split hairs about whether the ‘have’ should be ‘has’, but the rest is probably Niall doing tongue-in-cheek. That said, he does love a good conspiracy.
“How did we end up with a place in rural Ireland called “Barack Obama Plaza”?
No idea, but one is guessing it somehow has something to do with the common practice of American presidential candidates finding a distant Irish relative of some sort in their family tree.
“The answer is actually quite simple and it can be linked to our broader history and to our pub culture.”
Broader history? Our culture? Something outside-the-box-game-changer on the way here…
“Young people are not going to the pub anymore, and indeed, Irish people in general have ditched it in their droves.”
That’s why there’s a place called Barack Obama Plaza?
“People say that Dublin has a cafe culture but I think we actually have a burger culture.”
Niall is fond of saying that “people” “say” things. He generally uses this rhetorical device as a springboard to a monologue of tripe, or otherwise as the non-existent ‘one side’ of an argument against which he will then introduce the (also non-existent) ‘other side’.
“To see a true cafe culture, head to Melbourne or Marrakech (I’m writing this on a plane back from there) and watch how people linger over their coffee or tea for a couple of hours, having meaningful conversations with each other.”
Of course, these days there are lots of ways to ascertain the meaningfulness of the conversations being held in a Moroccan teashop without being able to speak Moroccan Arabic. Record them all on your iPhone, say, and put the translating job out to tender on some site or other. A random Tunisian fellow might do it for a fiver.
“Discussing life in the same way is something that us Irish used to do in the pub.”
Regardless of when this was and whether it’s even actually true, more importantly it will soon become difficult to tell whether Niall thinks this was, or might have been, a good thing or a bad thing.
“This was mainly due to the fact that pubs were the only places that stayed open late.”
This is pre-McDonalds, or when? In fairness, all sorts of places have stayed open as late as pubs down the years, but pubs have usually been the only ones that served alcohol.
“We’d sit for hours drinking, smoking, arguing about politics and whose side we were on in the great Saipan debate.”
Imagine being pals with Niall and trying to engage him in meaningful political debate after he’s had a few. Like, he presumably wrote all of this sober.
One is tempted to hazard he was for Roy, but then switched to Mick, then went back to Roy. And then said “Hey who cares, the main thing is we’ve started a discussion. More pints?”
“It was comfortable and familiar, a true home away from home.”
So pubs are great.
“Luckily Irish people have been able to slowly wean themselves off the pub, and the alternative has come in the form of burger joints.”
Fuck that, pubs are crap. Pick a place from the list of burger places at the top to visit for your socializing needs instead.
“A group of mates heading for a coffee doesn’t quite work here yet, but going for a big, meaty burger and a couple of craft beers seems like the perfect way to spend the evening!”
Obviously not one of the chains he used to get his list up to a hundred, though. One of the places that sells booze as well, so either GBK, JoBurger, Bobo’s or Bunsen. But best to ring ahead. Remember, Niall says there are 1.8 million people living in Dublin. Good thing Bunsen’s opening a second one!
“Now, the negative side of all this is that Ireland could be at risk of our food culture emulating that of America.”
Hold on, emulating usually has positive connotations. Anyway, he was giving the impression until now that he liked burgers. Does he not like burgers?
“Many might say we already have our noses firmly up their arses as it is!”
Nose-up-arse usually does have negative connotations, though. Let’s go with he-doesn’t-like-burgers for the minute.
“Tourists don’t come flocking here for a double cheeseburger and sweet potato fries – they’re looking for trad sessions and a hearty Irish stew.”
Okay, suddenly tourists are part of his equation. Note how Niall’s just giving this information away. It’s hilarious when you consider that Bord Fáilte probably paid a small fortune to some goon on one of those uncontested government contracts to tell them the same thing.
“If all our good looking, charming and entertaining folk are off dunking their fries in chipolte mayo who is going to provide the legendary craic that we are famous for in our pubs?”
Most of Niall’s written work contains a definitive moment when the goodbyes have been said, the tent has been departed, and only the blizzard can beckon from here. But reviewing, editing or completely deleting are never viable options. Niall would regard this as wasteful.
And so, like a misfiring jazz solo, instead new disparate elements must be introduced, non-existent positions touted, goalposts moved.
“Well the good news is, that the burger generation do love a good night out.”
A non-question probably deserves a non-sequitur as a non-answer.
“The difference being that instead of 8 pints, a packet of Marlboro Gold and a basket of sausages they are more likely to be in some up-and-coming gastropub.”
Okay, so it turns out this has all just been about sausages versus burgers?
“We tend to look at the pub scene that used to exist here through rose tinted glasses. But much of the reality was that the service was shocking, the beer expensive and the experience quite dull.”
Niall remains reluctant to give the precise time-span of this purported Golden Age of pubs, possibly it finished around the last time Ireland made a World Cup.
Shocking service could mean that his barman didn’t call him “Buddy”.
Experience dull could mean the place didn’t have a Space Invaders.
Beer expensive could mean he hadn’t yet ingeniously talked UTV into giving him a few mill for a Facebook page and the mobile number of an NCAD student with two camcorders.
“You could argue for every pub closing in the suburbs these days it seems that a burger joint is opening elsewhere.”
Yes you could argue that, as long as nobody asked you to illustrate your argument with facts. But really, what argument? Pub closing in the suburbs? Seems? Elsewhere? Never mind, let’s have another arbitrary piece of meaninglessness.
“People aren’t going out less – they just want a better way to spend their 20 quid.”
Less than at what other time? The sum mentioned is Niall pretending to be down with an imaginary adult readership of his site that goes out socially at night for food and drinks somewhere indoors in Dublin with a twenty.
“For many that means chips, a burger and a beer and if you’re lucky, some change left to grab a couple more to drink when you get home.”
It’s perhaps an unnecessarily downbeat picture that Niall paints amid all the fake positivity that otherwise pervades Lovin Dublin. Trudging home alone, in the rain maybe, after a mediocre feed of minced beef and fried spud, having been unwilling to tip your waiter in order that you could buy an extra can in the offo with which to drink yourself to sleep.
“The purists will complain that we should support the pub industry; they’ll also argue that supermarket discounting as well as other factors, are changing the landscape of traditional Irish culture.”
The “purists” here we can understand as equivalent to Niall’s notion of “people” or “many”. Or you could simply substitute them with “Nobody”. They’re another figment of his imagination used to muddy the waters with a few more non-counter-arguments against a non-existent argument.
Remember, he’s writing all this on a plane. Imagine him sitting in 14F squinting torturedly into the distance, scouring his brain for the mot juste.
Whoever was sitting beside him probably thought he was doing something important.
“Some of the best nights I’ve ever had were in a pub having the craic with my mates.”
So anyway, we’re going to settle on pub good.
“But I’ve also had as many tediously boring nights in a pub where you end up spending 50 quid, only had a few laughs and have a stinking hangover to ruin the next day.”
Hold on wait. Pub bad again. To clear up this confusion there really should be some sort of app with an algorithm that measures laughs-per-pint, but also factors in stuff like stinkiness of hangover. Get on it Harbo.
“Personally I plan to spend more afternoons there watching sport in an atmosphere that I know can’t be created at home, but it’s not where I like to socialise anymore.”
No wait, pub good. But not for talking to people, just for looking at football. Although we can probably rely on him to take things up a gear charm-wise if there are any tourists around. He’s a star in that regard.
“I believe that our cafe culture will improve over the next couple of decades. In the meantime, we’ve gone for something in the middle – for now, we are very much The Burger Generation.”
Wow. The Burger Generation. On this sort of form, if they ever do The Office for here, our boy’s a shoo-in to play Brent.
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