Una Mullally: Dublin is buzzing but where are the dance clubs?
With the demise of Hangar there is not a single designed-for-purpose music-driven nightclub in the city centre
The news that Andrews Lane Theatre is to be turned into a 115-room hotel means another big dark room where people danced will be gone.
It is certainly odd how Dublin has become a capital city almost devoid of proper nightclubs, but that is what has happened. The news that Andrews Lane Theatre is to be turned into a 115-room hotel means another big dark room where people danced will be gone. The building went from a theatre, to a live music venue of the same name, to a club abbreviated as ALT, and then a newer incarnation called Hangar, and now it has been subsumed into the enthusiastic hotel development trend that is part of the city’s build-everything-but-houses fashion.
For clubbers, the venue worked because like all decent clubs of its type, it was one big room, a large square to dance and sweat in. ‘Hangar’ was an appropriate name, because the space was reminiscent of a warehouse. Sometimes clubs work when they’re small and meandering. Sometimes they work when they’re a network of rooms. But you can’t beat a big empty cavern. It was dark with no frills, an anomaly in the bijou fancypants bar styles that the capital has reimagined since the Celtic Tiger saw some of the worst bar and club design imaginable. Frequently, publicans or club owners buy a building and spend the best part of six months pumping money into it, as if a “refurb” creates a vibe. It doesn’t. The vibe is the people and good music. That’s what you want your club filled with. You don’t add things to a club to make it work, you take them away. All of the mismatched furniture in the world, under-lit bar counters, sensors on bathroom taps, fancy couches, “artisan” cocktails, barmen with braces, and a load of stuff stuck on the walls doesn’t make a good club.
At this stage, you could argue that there not a single built or designed-for-purpose music-driven nightclub in the city centre, as in: a place where there is quality dance music on most nights a week built to host it. Sure, there are bars, and venues, and places that transform themselves into clubs; the Tivoli Theatre calling itself District8 with excellent electronic music bookings, The Academy on Middle Abbey Street, the Opium Rooms with its Asian restaurant out the front, Pygmalion situated in the Powerscourt Town Centre hosting great nights with a lot of effort put into a quality music policy, and hosting major international acts within the shopping centre itself. These are sizeable spaces, and there and other smaller spots. But where are all the “club-clubs”? There are plenty of awful alcohol-driven nightclubs, where quality dance music doesn’t matter, and the punters run the gauntlet of their fellow ossified attendees on Harcourt Street late at night. At the top of that street, the POD complex, one of the best clubs and venues the city ever had, lies dormant, gathering cobwebs.
There are a few other places keeping the town lit, the Bernard Shaw, a multifaceted space has a brilliant ramshackle energy, a pizza bus, flea markets, graffiti jams and DJs playing, but the group behind that, Bodytonic, closed their club Twisted Pepper last year, and have been concentrating on festivals and taking over smaller pubs on the fringes of the city centre; The Back Page, Square Ball, MVP. We need more clubs. Trust me, there used to be far more.
You hate to compare Dublin to other cities, but this lacking never more apparent when you travel to other capitals and are reminded what we’re missing from our nightlife. We’re a small city, and it’s certainly not the promoter’s fault, or the DJs fault, or the person who’s trying to get something started fault. Most of it comes down to money, your bang per square metre. The fact is, having a load of kids dance in a room isn’t as financially viable as charging them €12 for a cocktail. It is especially difficult to make money from a nightclub when there is only a window of a few hours to do business, due to our incredibly restrictive licensing laws and ridiculously early closing times.
People talk about Dublin buzzing, and it really feels like that at the moment. In fact, it sometimes feels as if there is more interesting stuff going on in the city now than there has been in the last 15 or 20 years. A generation devoid of options have become self-starters, and one-off parties, quality electronic music bookings, after-hours parties, new collectives, independent businesses, and so on, have become part of the city’s fabric once more. But when it comes to nightlife, the main demographic being served are those in their 30s and 40s, typified by the relentless restaurant boom. There is also the very pleasant proliferation of new cafes around town. But while new spots have been popping up everywhere, clubs aren’t part of that boom. In terms of nightlife, what have been opening are Pinterest-friendly bars with their exposed brick walls, repurposed furniture, jaunty cocktail lists, and background music. It’s fun, but if you wanted to be cruel about the contrived trends in Dublin nightlife, you could call it the Celtic Tiger through an Instagram filter. Grittiness and edge is always preferable when it comes to an exciting nighttime scene, and often that comes from teenagers and twenty-somethings.
The mass emigration of young Irish people, combined with the changing demographics in the city has gutted Dublin of twenty-somethings, who would either be customers or creators of new clubs. When Andrews Lane Theatre closes, it probably won’t be missed by a massive number of people, simply because they aren’t living in our city anymore.
There has been a more interesting rhythm to the city’s heartbeat recently. Everyone who is doing something creative in the city right now is playing a blinder, doing their absolute utmost with very limited resources and limited spaces. It’s easier to do expensive cocktails than dealing with the grief that comes with sound systems or promoting a party or trying to get through the red tape that tangles up many spaces. Everyone making the city happen at night should be applauded. Wouldn’t it be amazing if there were more spaces to host that creativity, and licensing laws that facilitated it?
The good news is the team behind Hangar are working on a new city centre space. Now we need more of them