Sunday 17 December 2017

A round up of Dublin's earthly Day of the Dead celebrations

Aoife Carrigy rounds up a feast of Dublin's earthly Day of the Dead celebrations, from child-friendly to decidedly adult

777 Day with the Dead
777 Day with the Dead

It's close to midnight and all the hollowed-out eyes in the room are transfixed on the burlesque dancer.

She minces down 777's pumpkin-toned bar top, picking her high-heeled way past ghoulish Black Margaritas in rhythm to the DJ's funky beats. She's wearing considerably less than most of the skull-painted partygoers, who have clad their sharpest suits and glammest rags to embrace the Day of the Dead spirit.

"The whole idea of Mexico's Dia de los Muertos is that deceased loved ones return to the earthly realm to visit their relatives," explains Leo Molloy of 777. "After their long trip from the ethereal plane, they need to rest, so people will often put a bed down in front of the altar where the deceased can stay and eat and drink their favourite things. People paint their faces and dress like the dead to honour them, wearing their finest clothes like the dead who were buried in their Sunday best."

Over in Mexico, the night of November 1 is an innocent evening when the souls of the lost children are received, with dolls and sweets left for them on each home's altar. But on November 2, things turn more adult as the returned souls are offered up those earthly pleasures they once loved best. Out come the bottles of mescal to wash down celebratory party food such as stuffed tamales or the chilli-chocolate moles that are traditionally days in the making.

The 4th Annual Dia de los Muertos Costume Party will take place in 777 this Friday 30. If last year's hooley is anything to go by, it will be an altogether adult affair. There'll be disco-spinning DJs and burlesque dancing (we're promised equal opportunity entertainment this year, girls), party-priced spiced-pumpkin reposado margaritas and prizes of dinner for two or bottles of tequila for the best costumes. The €25 cover charge includes party food like roast pumpkin tostadas, habanero hot ribs and 777's much-loved grilled corn with queso fresca, plus welcome shots of maple-cinnamon tequila. But with just 60 tickets on sale (see 777.ie for details), you'd better move fast to snag a ringside spot at that bar.

If you miss the boat there, Baggot Street's Xico is being transformed into a spooky graveyard over the Hallowe'en weekend, with a nightly Feast & Fiesta Dia Los Muertos running October 30, 31 and November 2. Describing itself as "an underground Mexican-styled party cavern", this new kid on the Mexican party block attracts a young crowd for its anything-goes Spring-Break atmosphere, although some of the prices on its extensive tequila and mescal menu are more suitable for sipping than slamming.

If you'd prefer to throw your own party, Dublin's Celtic Whiskey Shop stocks 32 types of tequila and 10 mescal, including the rather special Alipus San Juan Mezcal. Meanwhile up in Portobello, Picado Mexican Pantry has pretty much all your other Day of the Dead party needs covered.

Run by Mexican-born Lily Ramirez-Foran, below, and her Irish husband Alan, Picado will be selling paste for making mole (which Lily describes as "Mexico's answer to curry, but very sexy and moreish") as well as skull-shaped piñatas and other bits and pieces for decorating your own Day of the Dead altar.


Lily has already created a dazzling altar dedicated to Mexican artist and feminist icon, Frido Kahlo, in Picado's shop front window. On Hallowe'en day and Sunday, November 1, visitors to the shop will be treated to tastings of Day of the Dead bread ("very rich and really delicious with a lot of butter and a lot of egg yolks, it's shaped like a bone with a skull made from dough on top and covered in sugar") washed down with caramel-rich, cinnamon-spiced hot chocolate. The tastings are free, with donations going to Temple Street Hospital.

While there, Lily will talk visitors through the tradition's symbolism and pagan origins, which are rooted in the annual harvest.

"This was a way to thank the ancestors for the work they did on the land, so that we could harvest them again," Lily says. "Our ancestors believed that we're dreaming in this life and that death is an awakening, so it's also a celebration of that."

"We'll also be showing people how to make the little sugar skulls that are traditionally placed on the altar. They're a nice way of getting children involved in the preparations."

She suggests using fondant ("it's best for the Irish weather") and decorating with vegetable paint from specialist stores like Avoca so that the kids can eat the skulls afterwards.

Lily will be hosting an intimate Day of the Dead-themed supper club on Hallowe'en night. At just a half dozen places, the dinner is long sold out, but Picado run supper clubs on the third Saturday of each month, plus regular workshops on everything from Mexican breakfasts to tamales, salsas and enchiladas. (See http://www.picadomexican.com for details).

The good news for anyone wanting to eat Mexican-style this weekend is that the shop is packed full of salsas and pastes, corn tortillas and masa-harina flour, tinned tomatillos and canned cuitlacoche and all kinds of dried, pickled and powdered chillies with which you can cook up your own 'dine with the dead' feast.

Just be sure to don your gladdest rags, which are as obligatory as the hollowed-out eyes - although the burlesque dancing is optional.

777 Dine with the Dead
777 Dine with the Dead

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