The Third Space

August 15, 2014 – Cafe culture
The Importance of the Dublin Café, Pub and Stoop.

Coffee is not the only reason that you will go to the café. Let’s be realistic here. You will go for the atmosphere, for the music over the speakers, or to see a friend. The latte you just ordered might go unnoticed by your side while you converse with a friend about whom did what the other night. You will go to that coffee shop because you feel comfortable or enjoy the vibe. It is only in recent years that the beverage itself has gained so much Dublin-based focus, thanks to the speciality coffee community. The café is an important place of interaction; between barista and customer, between friends and work partners. It has even become fashionable to go on a quick date over a coffee. The pub, the café and the restaurant are places to wind down and relax. The space around the cup and the people that fill that environment contribute immensely to how you will enjoy (and understand) what you are drinking. We all have our local hangout in the middle of the city centre, a place where we are likely to run into a few friends. There are small café corners where your associates know to glance over to instinctively find you. There’s the specific end of the bar where you head to first to order your Guinness after work. You know where the plugs are. You know what table catches the best light. The pub might serve the drink, but it is the chatter around it that makes the evening.

One of the first and most popular coffee houses in Dublin was Dick’s Coffee House, established by the literature proprietor Richard Pue around the end of the 17th century. He, according to sources, was well known for his peculiar type of banter and the rhymes he used to write about the customers that frequented his establishment. So, even close to the introduction of Dublin coffee culture, banter and conversation were as important as the coffee being slurped. These primary places of coffee were also hubs for information and conversations among the lads. One of the pulls of the old coffee house was the international newspapers and books it provided access to.

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The urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg wrote of the importance of the “third space” for the local and national community in the United States. According to Oldenburg, it was a space that was seen as lacking. He stated that there were three spaces within the sphere of the community member that contributed to the health of that person,

The “first space” is that of the domestic: the home. It is where one dwells and may have a family or even a gang of friends that they live with. It could be the apartment you live in or the bedroom in your parents’ house. It is your primary dwelling, and it is private.

The “second space” is the workplace or the place that is “gainful or productive”. While not all workplaces may be gainful or productive it is easy to understand the headspace that one enters between clocking in and clocking out. It is the rules, regulations and responsibilities that do not even need to be voiced that dominant in this environment. We act according to this space, and there is a conscious feeling that the first and second spaces are the most essential (or gainful). They provide us with shelter and money, and we assume that these two spaces are the only ones in our lives that are important.

The space that is least imagined as being essential is that of the “third space”. According to Oldenburg, the “third space” is based on the focus of social interaction and it’s distinctive characteristics of what it is not.

It is not the workplace and it is not the home.

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It is a third realm to solely interact with others and hold conversation. A space for lighthearted interaction. It is a comfortable setting that one is likely to meet friends and others for leisurely conversations, where other points of interaction may flourish. It is more homely than home. The third space is a place to relax away from the pressures of the rest of the other two spaces. In Dublin, this third space may be the local pub, the café or even the steps of the Powerscourt Centre. It could be that new restaurant in the middle of Temple Bar as it relishes in the lull between lunch and dinner. We have all caught cabin fever in our homes or counted down the minutes of the work shift to the final hour. The third space helps to kill loneliness and restore a sense of community within us. It should be seen to be just as important as other spaces, if not essential. If we think of our community and our lives as stood upon these three “legs”, it wouldn’t feel very satisfying if it were lopsided?

So lets see these places of comfort and banter as places of value. It is just as significant to stretch before the run as the run itself. We should respect these places also, and keep them as part of a balance in our lives; socialising but seeing the importance of our own company and our own productivity.


Yet, not all spaces in Dublin now fit the “spaces” that Oldenburg describes. They have transformed and become hybrid. At the time of Oldenburg’s writing he stated that “in Ireland, France, or Greece, the core setting of informal public life rank a strong third in the lives of the people”(17). This was printed in 1989, a good few years before the reign of the Celtic Tiger (oh I used the big bad cat phrase). So did Ireland transform its places of everyday through this boom and bust?

I think so. Ireland’s spaces transformed and crossed. New creative minds had their hands on money, or had to use their heads after a sudden loss of funds. The morphing of spaces occurred. The clickity-clack of laptop keyboards became more commonplace as the years advanced, and the corner table of every coffee shop became open offices. People ordered several americanos while they had business meetings over graphs on a small screen, their shoes interlaced around macbook chargers and phone wires. The second space invaded the third space. Walking into a café, one could hear the chorus of email typing. But was this not common place already, just a more advanced technical version of people sitting about the reading the newspaper? Maybe, but it seems now there is less of a chatter of voices and more of a clatter of keys. Work was following the person of Dublin right through to home and “the home away from home.” A well-known Dublin lifestyle website even listed the best places to work on your laptop and enjoy a pint while you format those spreadsheets.

But it is not all bad. Meetings in third spaces create more informal communication; there is enjoyment and less of a stressful headspace around the business. One may switch between friendly banter and work when the laptop is closed over and the phone is put to the side of the table.

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The first space is now transforming as well. Resourceful heads are bringing business and the ideas of the third space into their own personal homes and houses. A table set with family plates and glasses feed a booked group of patrons. Guests with prepaid tickets arrive together in night shift taxis, stepping out across the shiny wet street to the event in the large Georgian home. A personal space that has been rented out for the dining pleasures of others, or a cosy bedroom rented out by a phone app for a weekend away. The loud spaces of the nightclub or pub might not count because you can’t hear the faintest of what your mate is screaming as they drop their pint over some young wan, but the breezy smoking area might. Pubs like Grogans in the centre of the city are perfect spaces of the third. Cafés are adapting themselves to the businesses and buildings around them, expecting how long people might sit in the window according to the atmosphere (and possible need for wi-fi).

The “third space” is an important part of Dublin culture, but one that is transforming. It perpetuates the culture and suspends spaces for it to manifest and display itself. It is not the same as it used to be, with some places now influenced by the second. Yet we all know where we may go to catch up on some banter or sit in the sun and enjoy watching other city people go by. Dublin is its voice; Dublin is it’s creative minds and conversations.  Dublin is transforming third spaces.

Words & Photography: Susie Kealy