The Coppers formula
Copper Face Jacks, on Harcourt Street, is a cheesy nightclub, somewhere between school disco and local rural nightclub, in the middle of the capital. Una Mullally spent a night on the tiles
‘You’re all f***ing faggots!” One young man’s night is ending early as he simultaneously tries to fix his shoe, stop himself falling on the footpath, and shout homophobic abuse at the bouncers of Copper Face Jacks.
It’s shortly after midnight on Wednesday, heading into Thursday morning, and just another weeknight evening on Harcourt Street in Dublin.
By 1.30am another young man outside the club is screaming at the bouncers. “Scumbags! You’re a bunch of f***ing scumbags!” It escalates as far as him trying to hit two of the bouncers, as three of them follow him down the street. His helpless friend tries to intervene, saying “Leave it. Stop.”
The bouncers walk off for a second time, and he turns on his friend, pushing him across the path violently, saying: “Why won’t you stand up for me?”
He returns to the entrance of Copper Face Jacks to shout again, but by now gardaí have arrived. Confronted with two reasonable officers, he calms slightly, detailing his complaint about not being allowed in. “That’s irrelevant,” one of the gardaí almost sighs. Their stoic approach works.
Violence isn’t really an issue inside the club. On the dance floor, before 1am, girls are dancing and falling over, dancing and falling over. In fact, people fall over so frequently, from a combination of booze and heels, that there appears to be one bouncer whose sole job it is to help them up.
Last year the High Court dismissed two separate claims from two women about dance-floor falls in the club. Tonight, strategically placed large rectangular buckets and an endless supply of mops are in a prominent place by the dance floor. So much mopping happens throughout the night that you’d probably give some of the staff a decent shot at curling in the Winter Olympics.
On Monday, there was a crush outside Copper Face Jacks, and seven people were injured. One young woman’s condition was initially described as “critical”, although she is now recovering. Videos of the incident circulated online, showing the dramatic effect of 1,500 people descending on a club.
It was an over-18s night, something the nightclub has said it doesn’t normally run as it prefers an over-21 crowd. The night was promoted as “Messy Monday”, which gives some indication of its intention. The Garda is investigating the incident, as well as reviewing queueing procedures outside nightclubs in general.
“Coppers” is a phenomenon. By the end of January 2013, the club had accumulated profits of €54.7 million, and made pre-tax profits of €6.8 million that year. Its famously profitable cloakroom brought in €217,146 alone in 2011. Door receipts that year totalled €2.9 million. Employment costs are about €4 million, including the salaries of the directors, Cathal Jackson and his wife, Paula, which amount to €1 million.
If Coppers were a tech startup, Ministers would be falling over each other for photo-op handshakes, and Jackson (for whom we left several messages that weren’t returned) would be speaking at the Web Summit.
But Coppers is a cheesy nightclub, somewhere between school disco and local rural nightclub, in the centre of the capital city.
For years, Coppers was known as a club for “gardaí and nurses”. Jackson is a former garda. This week, the club announced the launch of a loyalty card for nurses. It became a household name after the Dublin football captain Bryan Cullen immortalised the nightclub in his All-Ireland-winning speech at Croke Park in 2011 with the words: “See yiz in Coppers”.
Now there’s even a stage production, Coppers Uncovered, which ran in three Dublin theatres last year.
Paul Kilgallon, the entertainments manager of the UCD students’ union, explains the club’s broad appeal. “It’s the music that they play and the vibe it attracts and the people it attracts. If I’m going out on a Saturday night, regardless of where I start off, I’ll more often than not end up in Coppers . . . students feel as if they are guaranteed to have a good time.
“I’d call the music cheesy and the reason it works in Coppers is that people who arrive have been drinking for a while and everyone likes a singalong after a couple of drinks.”
Harcourt Street, where the club is, has become what Leeson Street was in the 1980s and 1990s, a gauntlet of nightclubs – Dicey’s, Krystle, D2, Bond, Everleigh Garden – vying for the stumbling crowds of dolled-up women and hands-in-their- pockets men. It’s a familiar scene across countless cities: this is where you go to get drunk, dance, possibly hook up with someone, have fun with your friends.
But compared with other European capitals Dublin has an underdeveloped culture in terms of music-focused clubbing. Our strict licensing hours, which dump everyone out on the street at the same time, result in binge drinking. Many young people have drunk a lot of cheap supermarket alcohol before they are even inside the club.
And nightclubbing as a cultural endeavour is reducing, partly because Ireland’s demographic of twentysomethings is falling dramatically. The number of people in their 20s in Dublin has dropped by 26 per cent since 2009.
So how did Monday’s crush happen? Coppers is uniquely positioned on Harcourt Street. One side of the club is bounded by Camden Place, a lane that leads through an arch from Harcourt Street to Camden Street. The mobilisation of large numbers of students all heading to one venue is in one way accidental, and in another way a pack mentality of everyone descending on the same place for a club night that had been promoted through Facebook.
Kilgallon, who has been working in the industry for the past five years, says Monday night was “a freak occurrence . . . the feedback I got from people on the street was that [the reaction of the staff of Copper Face Jacks] was very good, and Cathal Jackson landed as the event took place and literally cleared the doors of his own club.”
Although UCD isn’t linked to the club in an official capacity, Kilgallon stresses the professionalism of Jackson and his staff.
Many clubs face queue problems. Brian Spollen, who used to run the popular Andrew’s Lane Theatre club off Dame Street in Dublin, explains a similar situation he encountered there in May 2012.
“The queue started to build. At that point we had a very rigorous and strict queuing system because of the lane [around the venue]. We managed it, it worked really well. At 11.45pm they started arriving in hundreds, all at once. In the space of 15 minutes more than 1,000 arrived and completely packed the laneway, pushing and shoving, fighting.
“We were trying to get them in, but as soon as they were going in they were coming out to smoke, literally paying and coming out the door. It was 15 minutes of very nervy stuff until I said, ‘Cancel it, evacuate the building.’ Moments after we made that decision, gardaí arrived and aided us and the entire place was dispersed within 45 minutes.” No one was injured.
One thing that sticks in Spollen’s mind is the crowd itself. “It’s the same thing, 18-year-olds from south Co Dublin who are just crazy. No idea of behaving. They drink cheap booze on campus or at home, they stock up and have no fear of repercussions. We got out of the club game shortly after. If these people were our customers, we didn’t want to deal with it.”
Cheap alcohol in supermarkets is a legacy of the abolition of the Grocery Order, and cheap alcohol in nightclubs is the legacy of botched “happy hour” legislation. Section 20 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003 banned the supply of alcohol on a licensed premises at a reduced price during a limited period on any day.
Publicans, promoters, and punters found an easy way around this law by scratching the “limited period” part and just offering discounted alcohol all night.
But the race to the bottom that typified nightclubs in the capital over the past couple of years as venues were desperate for business, culminating in many clubs simply giving alcohol away, isn’t part of the sell in Copper Face Jacks now.
Thursday night is quieter and, again, the only real visible trouble is outside on Harcourt Street. At 2.30am, two gardaí are manning the laneway. The doorman says they close at 3am, but shortly after that, they’re still letting a smattering of people in.
An argument between a couple ends in the young man pushing the young woman violently. She falls against a lamppost.
Ten minutes later a girl is half-carried out by a friend, hobbling, with a cut on her leg. A fight is about to start between two groups of young men, one of whom is shouting “You’re slagging my girlfriend,” but violence doesn’t break out.
A man leads a young woman down the street. They appear to be a new “couple”. She’s too drunk to form a sentence. “My friends . . .” she says, slurring her words. He leads her away, before she has to stop and sit on steps nearby. Fifteen minutes later, he’s leading her down the street again, past a discarded, empty vodka bottle.