For all my love of exploring foreign lands, there are times when I’ve felt like a tourist in my own city, burrowing into its many urban landscapes and subcultures.
Creeping down the stairs to Dublin’s Liquor Rooms feels like descending into a hazier golden age of glamour and luxury. High-heeled feet sink into plush, purple carpets, and shimmering, retro-patterned wallpaper gives way to velvet chairs and striped ceilings that evoke a circus tent. Attentive, well-groomed and flirtatious barmen offer advice on the best cocktails to suit all tastes, and the finished products are treasure chests of flavour that taste dangerously unlike their high alcohol content.
Miss Fifi La Roux’s Springtime Emporium was an event combining burlesque performances with “alternative traders” selling everything from handmade jewellery to vintage costumes, and from body-safe sex toys to photos with a real live python.
I encountered the snake being carried down the stairs in her portable enclosure, almost falling over her owner before realising what was inside the container. She was soon confined to an area behind a screen where her beautiful, tattooed, aquamarine-haired owner held her lovingly and intrigued visitors approached with apprehension and curiosity.
Dublin’s burlesque scene is female-led, feminist and fabulous, as well as queer and bizarre, and this event embodied all of it. Performers of all shapes, colours and sexual orientations proudly paraded their extravagant, often homemade costumes and headdresses across the stage in a celebration of confidence, inclusivity and body-positivity.
Rhinestoned corsets, huge orange feather plumes and sparkling nipple tassles complemented dancers moving to music ranging from melancholic jazz to brazen samba beats.
Only two years since the people of Ireland voted marriage equality into law, I was in a beautiful underground world of equality and liberation. The flame-haired Fifi La Roux strutted across the stage like a slender 1920s flapper, dripping with gold, while telling the audience how she had fallen in love with each performer’s act. Everything was focussed on gaiety and on the recognition of the great talent on show.
The €5 cover charge on the door seemed nothing more than a gesture for such an enrapturing spectacle. Between performances I browsed the stalls where sellers displayed their wares, while sipping sweet cocktails and enjoying chocolate and rum cupcakes decorated with curvy pink boobs and bums. Even the entries taken for a ‘best dressed’ contest were predicated on an acknowledgement of diversity by not being restricted to male and female, in recognition of non-binary gender identities.
Ascending into the cool night air above ground felt like touching down on the runway after a holiday in an exotic and tropical land, with a sense of arriving home to the humdrum, the everyday and a slightly greyer world. But the technicolour decadence below lingered in my memory and later that night in my dreams, where a sequin and samba haze overlayed reality, and where glittering paragons of tolerance and equality danced away into the night.