‘We poured our hearts and souls into it’: Last orders as landmark pubs and restaurants sell up
Covid-19 has sounded the death knell for hostelries all around the country creating a buyer’s market for those prepared to invest
Foley’s on the Mall in Lismore, Co Waterford. Caitlin and Eugene Lyons bought their pub seven years ago and ‘poured [their] hearts and souls into it’.
The owners of Foley’s in Lismore, Co Waterford could teach the world a thing or two about bad timing.
Caitlin and Eugene Lyons bought their pub seven years ago and “poured [their] hearts and souls into it” . Over time they transformed it into a magnet for tourists and locals from Lismore and the surrounding towns before deciding to put it on the market in the middle of January 2020.
They settled on April 2nd as the auction date and €635,000 as the price they hoped to get for their pub on the main street.
While they knew that leaving Foley’s behind would be a wrench, the couple had other plans and wanted to relocate to Caitlin’s home place of Dallas so their one- and three-year-old children could be closer to her grandparents.
Given that Foley’s had been beautifully done up with a significant amount of space inside and out and had a healthy year-round trade, the pub began attracting interest as soon as word got out that it was on the market.
Then Covid-19 happened. Interest dried up overnight as the couple’s pride and joy – their “third child” as Lyons describes it – and every other pub across the country was forced to shut its doors with no timetable for reopening.
“The timing could not have been worse,” Lyons says ruefully. “Once we were in full lockdown we had no real choice but to pull the auction. We put it back on the market in June and there has been a lot of interest but I appreciate that it is hard in these times for people to pull the trigger.”
“Hard” is something of an understatement. By almost any measure times are tough for the pub and restaurant trade and the future is gravely uncertain. The pandemic has brought the industry to its knees with thousands of pubs across Ireland that do not serve food still shuttered after six months.
While steps are being taken to allow all pubs to reopen shortly, the Vintners Federation of Ireland has warned that as many as two out of every three could be closed permanently by the new year. It recently published a survey that suggested 63 per cent of publicans are suffering from extreme stress while only one in 25 said they could describe themselves as content.
Certainly for anyone in the market for a pub or restaurant it could be termed a buyer’s market. At the beginning of this month there were almost 270 such establishments listed for sale on property website MyHome.ie, with prices starting from less than €100,000 in some locations.
With some lateral thinking, the future for many may not be as bleak as the bigger picture might suggest. Certainly Lyons is upbeat about the future, and if she is stressed it is impossible to detect.
“Food is really our thing and we have had a very busy summer,” she says. She points to their two large beer gardens and says they have been a godsend in meeting the requirements around social distancing.
“By any measure business is thriving and the thing is we don’t actually have to sell. This is a place we have poured our hearts and our souls into for seven years and it has been a wonderful time and we will take what happens next as it comes. We know how special this place is.”
EIGHT BARS/RESTAURANTS TO BUY
1. Nick’s Restaurant Killorglin, Co Kerry
This award-winning Kerry bar and restaurant could – in pre-Covid times – hold 100 in the ground floor bar and restaurant and 40 more in the first-floor function room. Nick’s comes on the market in ready-to-serve condition. It was opened in 1976 and scooped awards in the Irish Restaurant awards in 2016 and more recently in the Bridgestone and McKenna guides awards. It has 4½ stars on TripAdvisor. It also comes with a three-bedroom apartment on the second floor, which could make the commute pretty short.
2. The Spinnaker Bar, Dunmore East
This is an old-school pub with an emphasis on food. The main bar has a meandering interior with seating capacity for 100 and a snug described as “offering an intimate bar with private service hatch”. There is also a sports bar and a terrace to the front, a large deck to the side, and a beer garden and function area to the rear with seating capacity for 100 or standing capacity for 180 – harking back to the time when you could stand in a pub. It also has a sizeable commercial kitchen.
3. The Lake House, Cloonee, Co Kerry
The views from this pub are stunning – at least on sunny day, which Kerry has loads of, right? As well as the views it comes with a storied past spanning four generations of the same family. It includes a ballroom of romance, with its original sprung maple floor from the 1940s intact – and a 1950s tea room. There are six boats for fly fishing on the Cloonee Lakes which can be included in the sale. The traditional bar is – the sellers say – renowned for trad sessions and the property comes with five guest rooms and a function room.
There can’t be many Munster hurling fans who’ve not heard of Mary Willies, the Urlingford pub where legendary sportswriter Con Houlihan would write his accounts of Semple Stadium tussles, without, some say, ever having set foot in Thurles. The pub, halfway between Dublin and Cork, is where Éamon de Valera and Michael Collins met in secret(ish) just three weeks before the latter was killed. A shoot-out followed the meeting and the bullet holes are still in the wall.
Opened in the surfer’s paradise of Doolin on the Wild Atlantic Way almost 20 years ago – before the Wild Atlantic Way was a thing – this restaurant is in the style of a traditional Irish cottage and was placed on the market after owneres Myles Duffy and Karen Courtney decided to hang up their ladles and retire.
Biddy’s Pub in Glencolmcille is on the market for just €90,000. And for that you will get a bar and lounge on the ground floor and the same again on the first floor, which comes with the added bonus of a double-height vaulted ceiling and exposed stone walls.
7. The Mill Race, Balbriggan, Co Dublin
This pub on Balbriggan’s main street is said to be popular among locals with “a great tourist trade” as a result of its proximity to beaches and Ardgillan Castle. There is a large bar and lounge with a feature fireplace. There is also a function room on the first floor which is in need of refurbishment.
Perhaps Boyle’s most famous son, Chris O’Dowd, might be tempted by this pub in his home town? It is centrally located in the town centre and comes with a fully equipped bar and a separate restaurant upstairs.