Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Ace of clubs

It was the kind of publicity money couldn’t buy. Just as well really, because Robbie Fox probably doesn’t have a bean to spend on PR at the moment. The club and restaurant owner spent much of last week talking to …

Mon, Jun 15, 2009, 10:02


It was the kind of publicity money couldn’t buy. Just as well really, because Robbie Fox probably doesn’t have a bean to spend on PR at the moment. The club and restaurant owner spent much of last week talking to newspapers and radio shows about his troubles. With the companies behind such Fox fixtures as Renards, Tante Zoe’s, Brown’s Barn and Barracuda now in liquidation, the owner was in a talking frame of mind. The liquidator is in place, the creditors have formed an orderly queue and the process of paying them some of what they are due has begun. Many of these creditors are probably also in similar queues elsewhere, waiting to get paid by other debtors as Recession 2.0 bites.

But while Fox puts the blame for his business woes on the current economic doom and gloom (not to mention medieval licensing laws, the smoking ban, high rents and big ‘leccy bills), there are other reasons why a club like Renards hits the wall. And these problems are harder to rectify.

What struck me most listening to Fox on the Marian Finucane Show and reading about the downturn in his fortunes in the paper on Saturday morning was how out of time his club now sounds. It was a place trading on glory days from a completely different era. All this talk of keeping a club open late so U2 could fly in after a show in Switzerland for a late pint sounded like the stuff of a Gift Grub sketch. Sure, there are some gombeens who would be happy to go to a club which sells itself in that manner, but these people sometimes need to be reminded that Ross O’Carroll-Kelly is a fictional character.

I also realised as I listened to Fox on the radio trying to deal with texts accusing him of reckless trading, that I’ve never actually set foot inside the club. Not once, not ever. The South Frederick Street joint was never on my radar and I’m sure this also applies to many, many, many others who’ve come of age in Dublin clubland over the last two decades.

Renards belongs to a different age when clubbing was an exclusive, elitist, face-control business, a relic of the days when clubs tried to localise a Studio 54 credo and never quite pulled it off. Even if you were on the list, you were never going to be allowed bring a horse into these clubs. Nightclubs like Renards, its predecessor on the groundfloor of that bland office block, the Pink Elephant, and other so-called celeb haunts like Lillie’s Bordello soaked up column inches and built their rep on the back of whatever A, B or C-list star dropped in to let their hair down of a night. Such name-dropping attracts other names and, voila, more expensive bottles of bubbly are sold. Add in a list of ordinary Joes trying to get in at the door and you have a buzz and a half.

But the music in these clubs was always way down the list of priorities. People came to see and be seen and not to check out the sounds. Sure, there were some very good DJs employed in these clubs down the years, but even they will admit that what they were playing was never the draw.

A club like Renards became outdated the moment the house revolution hit town. Every single city around the world can draw up a list of its own seminal clubs where this revolution first took root on the dancefloor and then went city-wide. These were the venues where no-one gave a damn if you had just flown back from Switzerland after a gig and were looking for the VIP treatment, the venues where the music and not the exclusivity was the biggest draw. When such lists are compiled for Dublin, there is rarely a mention of Renards, Lillies or the Pink.

Naturally, very few of the clubs on those lists are still in business. That’s clubland transcience for you. Fads and fashions change as new club nights, venues, promoters and locations come to the fore, burn brightly and then slacken off again. As new club promoters come out to the play, the fact that the established club runners are still holding onto the prime nights means the newbies will seek out brand new locations and the wheel starts spinning again. The innovative nights and events are the ones always happening furthest from the limelight, but they’re the ones which are hothouses for trends which will influence the mainstream six or 12 months from now.

There will always be, of course, a constituency who will favour a night out at Renards or Lillies. They know what they’re getting so they pay their money and don’t take any chances. The problem, as Fox has discovered, is that they’re not doing so week in and week out. Maybe it’s down to lack of cash in their pockets or maybe it’s down to, as he put it in one interview, having to stand on the street to have a smoke.

But maybe it’s down to the fact that those clubs have become just too predictable and jaded palates are demanding something else from a big night out. Chances are these clubbers won’t find what they’re looking for in Renards, but they will probably find it somewhere else. Luring those regulars back will be a Herculean task, even for a veteran operator like Fox.