On Francis Street, a Collective Offers a Little Bit of Everything

Singer-songwriter Miles Graham sits at a corner table in 74 Francis Street Collective strumming his guitar on a blistering-hot Saturday afternoon.

“All right, Two Pups people, this is the bit where you join in,” he says, cajoling the audience to sing along.

A small crowd has drifted in, lured by the sound of the music, and it fills the space. There are only a few tables, so most of the people stand next to racks of vintage clothes or lean up against the coffee counter.

This is just one of many live events that take place at the small venue, which opened last December in Dublin’s antiques district. 74 Francis Street Collective is the brainchild of vintage clothier Dee Macken, of Temple Bar’s Lucy’s Lounge.

Macken grew up nearby, and holds the area dear. “I’ve always thought Francis Street has had something special about it,” she says. “There’s a great sense of community there, and it’s always been maybe a bit more on the artistic side than say, Meath Street.”

When the opportunity arose to take a vacant space at the end of the street, she jumped at the chance. She set about finding others to help her occupy the building.

Like barbershops with gigs and comedy nights, cafes that double as art galleries, and opticians that host poetry readings, part of the collective’s squeeze-’em-in ethos grew from the cost of space.

“Sometimes the only way around some of the high rents in the city is with a group of people working together. I didn’t have a list; it was a question of finding the right people who could work together,” she said.

74 Francis Street Collective is made up of Kiki’s Booteeki, Jenn Zenn Hairdresser, Vertigo Vintage, and Two Pups Coffee, each of which Macken approached over the winter and corralled into the space.

Kiki’s Booteeki and Vertigo Vintage are both veterans of the local vintage clothing scene, and both were trading in the Dublin Flea Market in Newmarket Square when Macken convinced them to come to Francis Street.

“She sees it as an amalgamation of many things, bringing together clothes, coffee, hairdressing, all under one roof,” says Kiki Booteeki’s Karen Forrester.

Macken acts as the point of contact between the collective and the landlord. Rent and bills are divided up based on how much space each member occupies, and they vote on how they run the space – on everything from paint colours to poetry-slam plans.

It’s all rather democratic, and everyone seems willing to lend a hand.

The space was empty, damp, and in need of a coat of paint when they first saw it last December, says Two Pups Coffee’s Zoe Ewing-Evans.

Now it is filled with furnishings and light fixtures, racks of colourful clothing, artwork, and the aroma of fresh coffee. A disco ball hangs from the ceiling. Miles Davis plays on the stereo. The shop’s exterior has been brightly painted by a local street artist, Fink.

“I just randomly emailed him,” says Ewing-Evans. “I said, ‘We’ve got this blank canvas of a building. Would you like to work with us?’ And he said, ‘Absolutely.’”

“In fact, he’s going to come back and do more for us. But that’s the thing about here. Somehow everything has fallen into place; it’s become like a magic zone,” she said.

Macken operates a workshop on the floor above, where she modifies clothes for Lucy’s Lounge. There is a jewellery designer upstairs, and a reiki studio plans to open there soon.

The customers are varied: locals of all ages, fashionable shoppers looking for one-off items, and hipster-ish students.

“The area has changed a lot over the years,” says Two Pups Coffee’s Kevin Douglas. “And a lot of people have come back to Ireland after being away for a few years, and they’ve brought an enthusiasm and a wider scope of the world.”

When I first meet Douglas, he’s up a ladder working on the collective’s sign. When I see him next, he’s sawing massive beams to make tables and benches in the large space at the back of the building, which — if all goes to plan — will soon be open as an expanded space for gigs.

As the collective’s resident handyman, he is often called upon to build something. He’s happy to do it. But he’s happier talking about coffee.

Their coffee is from Irish roasters 3fe and Cloudpicker, and Berliner roaster The Barn.

Before the collective, he and Ewing-Evans used to haul their monster espresso machine, which weighs almost 170 pounds, around markets. He’s pleased to have found a more permanent home for it now.

Upcoming events at 74 Francis Street Collective include a talk on foraging for medicinal foods and how they link with the Celtic calendar, and one on how a piece of clothing can tell a story about you. For the latter, customers will be encouraged to bring in clothes from their wardrobes that have a history or great sentimental value.

Although the atmosphere is fun, it’s still run as a serious business.

“All of us are over thirty,” says Ewing-Evans, “so maybe we’re a little more mature.”

The collective nature of 74 Francis Street with its all-for-one, one-for-all attitude suits the participants.

“This is perfect for me,” says Vertigo Vintage’s Maeve Brady, steaming a sheer dress. “I don’t have the time or the energy to take on a place of my own. I’m here in the afternoons.”

And there’s a catch-as-catch-can vibe about the place.

“I used to be the singer in a jazz trio here in Dublin called Vertigo,” says Brady. “I had business cards with the name Vertigo made, so they did double duty for the shop,” she says.

CORRECTION: This article was updated on 9 June at 14.35 pm to reflect that Zoe Ewing-Evans is not the co-owner at Two Pups Coffee. Sorry for the mistake.

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