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Why is Copper Face Jacks so popular? ‘A one-eyed hunchback could score in this pub’

The ‘big, sweaty’ Dublin nightclub is successful because it ‘doesn’t have notions’

If there was ever a Dublin club whose reputation precedes it, it's Harcourt Street's Copper Face Jacks. Even the Lonely Planet got wind of that idea that it's a beloved haunt for off-duty nurses and policemen. "Don't let the presence of the law put you off though," read a recent edition of its Dublin guide. "From what we've heard, they're the biggest miscreants of the lot, especially if there are nurses about!"("A one-eyed hunchback could score in this pub," surmised another online review).

For this and other reasons, Coppers has enjoyed pride of place in shows like Republic of Telly and Can't Cope, Won't Cope, but it was only a matter of time before someone thought to fully immortalise it in pop culture. Dubbed "West Side Story – With Carvery", Copper Face Jacks: The Musical stars Johnny Ward, Michelle McGrath and Roseanna Purcell and has been created by writer/creator Paul Howard, also known for creating Ross O'Carroll Kelly.

Howard explains the plot thus: "A girl from Cahersiveen, Co Kerry, called Noleen Nic Gearailt moves to Dublin to fulfil her lifelong dream of working in the claims department of the VHI. She takes a bedsit on Harcourt Street, and discovers that Dublin is a lonely place. One night she's lying in bed in her bedsit and the strains of Maniac 2000 drift across the road. Her first instinct is, 'I must ask them to turn the noise down', so she wanders across the road to Copper Face Jacks."

The road from rural GAA disco to Harcourt Street is certainly a careworn one, and the figures indicate how much. Who knew, for a start, there was money in cloakrooms? Presumably Copper Face Jacks' owner Cathal Jackson does, who was likely pleasantly surprised to find his cloakroom receipts for 2011 reach €217,000. In 2017, the company behind the nightclub saw its profits soar to €72 million, or a pre-tax profit of €100,000 a week.



In its two-decade history, the club has encountered infamy. Down the years, the headlines keep coming: in 2014, there were reports of a crush outside the club owing to a particularly well-attended drinks promotion. In 2013, a woman attempted (unsuccessfully) to sue the club after she suffered arm injuries after a man fell on top of her while they were, according to reports, "dirty dancing". In 2015, a woman who became pregnant after meeting a man in Copper Face Jacks more than 12 years ago sought the help of Ray D'Arcy's radio audience in finding the father of her son. The patronage of the Mayo and Dublin GAA football teams have propelled the club's reputation too: after winning the All-Ireland over Kerry in 2011, Dublin captain Bryan Cullen made a call to arms as he hoisted the Sam Maguire in front of a rapturous crowd: "see yiz in Coppers!".

It is, as best we know, the only establishment with its own 'shifting wall'

In another notable moment, multi-billionaire businessman Elon Musk, was found enjoying the night away on the Coppers dancefloor in 2013.

Much of this is likely more accident than design. It's certainly likely that when Cathal Jackson opened the doors of his establishment, he had little idea what lay ahead. That Jackson is a former garda often explains away the club's name, though the club is called after the first Earl of Clonmel, John Scott, who lived on Harcourt Street and was better known as Copperfaced Jack. The owner of the adjacent Jackson Court Hotel, Jackson launched a club in the hotel's basement in 1996. And from small acorns, a mighty monster grew.

In 2016, the club celebrated its 20th birthday party with an impressive guest list: Leo Varadkar, rugby player Malcolm O'Kelly, former Garda Commissioner Martin Cullinane, club owner Robbie Fox, hotelier Louis Fitzgerald, Bernard Brogan and publican Charlie Chawke were all reportedly on hand to help Jackson blow out the birthday candles.

Drinks promotions

And to this day, the queues into the establishment snake down Harcourt Street on most nights. Estimates put the crowd size at around 1,000 on any of the seven nights of the week that it operates, with the numbers doubling on Saturdays. Is it the drinks promotions that have people return time and time again? The guarantee of a good time? The opening hours that stretch long into the night?

"I suppose back in February 1996 when we first opened our doors, we could never have imagined the level of success that we have had," Jackson tells The Irish Times. "People would often ask 'What's the secret?', or 'what is it that makes Coppers so popular?' It's very hard to put it down to just one reason, but when we opened we went with a particular style of music and it just worked. We've been very consistent with that formula right to this very day.

“Over the years many things have changed, and it would have been very easy to switch things up, but we’ve just been consistent in who we are and what we do. The phrase that comes to mind is that, “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it”. As a result of this we’ve got a name for being the place to be, and become such a unique part of Irish culture in the heart of Dublin.

“As a result of the style of music we play, which for the most part is Irish music, Coppers became a ‘home away from home’ type of place. With so many people relocating to Dublin for work, college or whatever it may be, we became the meeting place that all country people could go and feel at home.”

He’s certainly not wrong. Yet talk to a handful of the clientele on a typical night and the crowd runs the gamut: social work, marketing, advertising, engineers, IT, bankers.

Port in the storm

This mix is precisely the nub of Coppers’ success; shift workers are able to relax and imbibe into the small hours. For young students and newcomers, it’s a proverbial port in the storm. It feels and sounds like the local disco back home; a boon for those struggling with big city life. It’s a stark contrast to the vibe in some establishments on nearby Camden Street or South William Street. Coppers knows what it is and makes no bones about it.

It’s probably unfair to call Coppers a cattle mart – cattle marts usually don’t bother with lush dark wood, velvet cushions and scarlet flock wallpaper – but still, the reputation has stuck. And it is, as best we know, the only establishment with its own “shifting wall”.

There have been branding experiments of late: a Copper Face Jacks "gold card" has been described as the Holy Gail of clubbing. In 2014, there was the reported launch of a special "nurses" loyalty card. And now in its fourth year, the Annual Ski Trip means that you can sample all that the club has to offer, albeit at a geographical remove, on the slopes in Livigno, Italy. Whatever it is that Copper Face Jacks does so well, it's finally gone airborne.

  • Copper Face Jacks: The Musical runs at the Olympia, Dublin, until August 12th. Tickets are €26 and available at

Coppers & Me

Paul Howard
Creator/Writer, Copper Face Jacks: The Musical
The idea for the musical did arise out of Anglo: The Musical. Anglo was a hated Irish institution and I began to realise that when people come to a musical, it doesn't matter what it's about – they want to leave feeling better than they arrived. I knew Coppers had happy associations for so many people, which is why we went with it.

Why is it so popular? I think it’s because it doesn’t have notions, and that’s a real thing with Irish people, especially people outside Dublin. There was a kind of club in the Celtic Tiger, all full-length mirrors and polished steel, and you could check out your full reflection the whole time. That never really happened in Coppers. It wasn’t full of posers: just people being really unselfconscious, making fools of themselves by chatting up men or women. The drinks were reasonably priced too – you weren’t handing over 50 quid for a round and getting shrapnel back.

I did go to Coppers a lot back in the day. I never saw aggro or trouble, which probably had something to do with the off-duty guards drinking there. I never had a bad night in Copper Faced Jacks – it was never part of the plan for the evening, though. You either end up there, or get ragged there. The one thing I take with me everywhere about Coppers is that to this day, they still play Cotton Eyed Joe. It must be the last nightclub in the world that does that.

Anna Geary
Camogie player, Cork
Before I was ever even in Coppers, I knew about the place from GAA circles. I grew up in that sporty world, and we have a place down here called Rearden's that is to Cork what Coppers is to Dublin. Being a country girl coming up to the big smoke, I'd always say, every single time I went on a night out, "presumably we're going to Coppers?" God forbid we'd go anywhere else.

When I first went there, I was mesmerised. It was so big, so sweaty – you really do need to be in a certain frame of mind for it.

The worst experience I had there was the day of our  7th All-Ireland Final, because we lost. It’s like a funeral, when no one knows what to say to you, and the last thing we wanted to do was go to a hotel. We danced our misery away there, and it turned out to be a great night.

It took me a long time to explore the pastures beyond Coppers, because that was always our default place. It’s like a Sunday roast – it’s just what you do. Who am I to not adhere to the rule? My one piece of advice is to leave right before they put the lights on at the end of the night. The trick is to stay as long as possible before that. You don’t want to be there when the lights go on.

Alison Spittle

The first time I ever went to Coppers, I was in college in Ballyfermot and lived with an American guy called Joe. We lived with 16 other people and I thought Joe was great because he'd done college in America. We had a very close friendship for three months, during which time he brought me to Coppers and we had the best time ever. I got covered in mop water, for some reason. I liked the music – they used to play Maniac 2000 and the Irish version of Country Roads. I remember spending a lot of time on their smoking area because I was both a smoker and a student and I was able to get the makings of a cigarette – the tobacco, the paper, the filter – off three different people.

I did get lucky once there but it was only the shift, and it was a bit like Seaworld. It’s great to look at, but you don’t bring it home with you.