The Manhattan (formerly ‘Tony’s Cafe’ or ‘Toni’s Cafe’) on 23 Harcourt Road was a late night cafe from at least 1941 until the late 2000s.
In April 1941 Anthony Tighe, proprietor, was up in court for allegedly ‘selling or permitting to be sold intoxicating liquor without holding an Excise licence’. On February 1st, it was put to the judge, Tighe had been selling intoxicating liquor between the hours of 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. Evidence was given that customers with porter in cups were found on the premises by Gardai.
Tighe told the judge that ‘none of the drink was paid for and that he was only treating the people’. The case was dismissed as there was not sufficient evidence to convict.
In February 1952, the Performing Rights’ Society was granted an injuction to restrain Tighe from permitting his cafe to be ‘used for the performance, in public, for profit, of musical works of which the right of performance was in the society, without its consent’.
Catherine Foley of The Irish Times visited The Manhattan (as it had been known for decades by that stage) in January 1990 and talked to two staff – Bernie who had been working there for ten years and May who had been there for 21 years. (May was so loved that the cafe was colloquially known as ‘Auntie Mays’)
The article suggests that The Manhattan was opened in 1954 but that was probably when it was taken over by a new owner and renamed.
According to May the clientele ranges from ‘the high ups to the low downs’ – taxi men, gardai, bank managers, actors and lumanaries such as Richard Harris, Joe Dolan, Dickie Rock, Charles Haughey, Bono and others.
The same article also referenced The Gigs Place on Rathmines Road, opened in 1970 and still going strong and The Stage Door on Dame Street which since has shut its doors.
The main sign, on white backlit plastic, looks an awful lot like it might have been hand-painted. It’s pretty sharp and I hadn’t noticed until standing right underneath. You can see it around the edges and the curves of the letters, or inside the windows of the skyline, where the brush didn’t quite follow the lines. Letters are steadily disappearing with time, leaving us the two bookending skylines, a bit of the ‘m’ and the second ‘a’, and just ‘ttan’ unobscured. The skylines are probably the best part (a vague suggestion of tall buildings totally undermined by there being very few, rather big windows) and if the building is ever demolished, I’ll be scavenging for them.
On the window railings below, there’s an ‘m’ held in the centre above the small, thick panes of glass. It’s slightly silly, like a monograph on a beach towel, but it also disturbs the closed-down domestic look by putting the business at the forefront. There’s little possibility that the customers in search of soakage would have spotted the detail, sure, but it’s a nice oddity in daytime.
Nicko Farrell - “Never went home without hitt’n the manhattan for a mixed grill and a bottle of the house white (milk!), served up by aunty may, the stairs up to da loo was like a ladder it was that steep at least half a dozen punters fell down it most nites, but due to embarrassment or the gargle they just got up and headed off, don’t think anyone ever claimed, twas a different era but good times none the less.”
Colm Carty – “I used to run a club in McGonagles in the late 80s and afterwards always brought the guest DJs there for a fry up. Coldcut, Dave Dorrell and Norman Jay amongst others all loved it. As far I remember they had Tyson versus Bruno on the TV one”
Brian Coyle – “This is the only place I was ever a regular in my life. Most times the breakfast was on the table before I’d taken my jacket off. One memorable night was ignited by an aul fella who baited a few lads from Cork with the “you shot Michael Collins” line… to which someone retorted “It might have been an eskimo that shot him but we’d still buy frozen fish.”
The Irish Times looked at the topic of late night cafes and restaurants later in 1990.
While the Trocadero and Pizza Stop are both still open, neither remain open late. Topo Gigio on Balfe Street is closed while The Kapriol on Camden Street is now Zaytoon.
Today the Gigs Place and Tandoori Bite on Richmond Street South and Afsana and Shans’ on Temple Lane South remain favourites for hungry revellers after a night out.