Red Bank

In Brief

The "Red Bank" was a restaurant at 19-20 D'Olier Street, just south of the O'Connell Bridge over the Liffey. It was also a name for some famous oysters harvested in County Clare and sold at the restaurant when they were in season.

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In 1845 a man named Burton Bindon opened the restaurant under his own name, but later he changed the name to Red Bank to capitalize on the reputation of the oysters grown on beds that he owned off the Clare coast (Mairtin Mac Con Iomaire, The Emergence, Development and Influence of French Haute Cuisine on Public Dining in Dublin Restaurants 1900-2000: An Oral History, 2009: 100). In 1904 the Red Bank was known as one of the finest restaurants in Dublin. The funeral cortège in Hades passes by it just before crossing the Liffey and traveling north along O'Connell Street. The occupants of Bloom's carriage see Blazes Boylan "at the door of the Red Bank," probably emerging after lunch. Martin Cunningham, Jack Power, and Simon Dedalus all try to attract his attention. Bloom looks at his fingernails.

Later, in Lestrygonians, Bloom processes some thoughts about the supposed aphrodisiac effects of eating oysters: "Fizz and Red bank oysters. Effect on the sexual. Aphrodis. He was in the Red Bank this morning. Was he oysters old fish at table perhaps he young flesh in bed no June has no ar no oysters." The thought is apparently still on his mind in Circe when he "eats twelve dozen oysters (shells included)," demonstrating by this and sundry other miracles that he is indeed the Messiah. In the same chapter his grandfather Virag, author of the notable Fundamentals of Sexology, waxes rhapsodic on aphrodisiacs: "Splendid! Spanish fly in his fly or mustard plaster on his dibble. . . . Redbank oysters will shortly be upon us. I'm the best o'cook. Those succulent bivalves may help us and the truffles of Perigord, tubers dislodged through mister omnivorous porker, were unsurpassed in cases of nervous debility or viragitis. Though they stink yet they sting."

Molly does not know that Boylan has lunched in the Red Bank, but she too thinks about him eating oysters: "he must have come 3 or 4 times with that tremendous big red brute of a thing he has I thought the vein or whatever the dickens they call it was going to burst though his nose is not so big after I took off all my things with the blinds down after my hours dressing and perfuming and combing it like iron or some kind of a thick crowbar standing all the time he must have eaten oysters I think a few dozen he was in great singing voice no I never in all my life felt anyone had one the size of that to make you feel full up."

Thoughts about Red Bank oysters reach their lowest point in the book when the narrator of Cyclops describes the clot of phlegm that the Citizen ejects in response to Bloom saying that he considers himself an Irishman: "The citizen said nothing only cleared the spit out of his gullet and, gob, he spat a Red bank oyster out of him right in the corner."

JH 2015
1926 ad for the restaurant, and 1934 photograph of the outside, from Mairtin Mac Con Iomaire's The Emergence, Development and Influence of French Haute Cuisine on Public Dining in Dublin Restaurants. Source: comeheretome.com.
The building that housed the Red Bank restaurant in 1904 now houses the Ashfield House, a youth hostel. Source: Gareth Collins.