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Lifestyle & Leisure

The future of Irish nightlife

Wednesday, 23rd January, 2019 4:30pm


In Ireland’s major cities, change is afoot.

Looking at the two biggest cities in the country, Cork and Dublin, astronomical rent prices and a lack of accommodation are not the only points of similarity. So, too, is a radical change in how people are going out and socialising.

Several once-thronged nightclubs in Cork have shut their doors in the last few years, an affliction which has seeped into the capital recently, with popular club nights District 8 and Club 92 closing as the city loses major venues like the Wright Venue and the Tivoli Theatre. Just last week, Dublin City Council gave the go-ahead for a new eight-storey ‘rock and room’ hotel at the famous 1,000 capacity Vicar Street music venue.

In Cork, while the music scene has flourished in the past couple of years owing to DIY enthusiasts, collective thinking and independent promoters, artists and sound wizards, there remains a dearth of suitable venue spaces. Regular nights in The Roundy and Cyprus Avenue have plugged some of the gaps, but the city has sorely missed the likes of the Savoy and The Pavilion, which closed down several years back.

But while the financial crisis and changes to licencing laws have influenced matters, there are positive reasons as to why Irish people frequent club nights less than before.

A September 2017 survey carried out by Eventbrite found that young people are drinking less and are partaking in a more diverse range of activities, with more emphasis on gigs, festivals and food events. In short, millennials are more health-conscious and are increasingly opting for more multifaceted offerings (one in three surveyed are going to nightclubs less often than previously).

With a yearning for entertainment comes opportunity. The Give Us the Night group is visiting Cork next week as part of a series of public meetings around Ireland as it aims to start a positive discussion about nightlife in Ireland.

Among the measures proposed by the campaign are the establishment of a ‘night mayor’ similar to that which exists in cities like London, Amsterdam and Manchester, less restrictive licencing laws in Ireland and sequential closing times for night venues, which would allow them to close at different times. It also advocates the scrapping of special exemption orders (SEOs), through which venues must pay monthly to open late, a fee which was doubled due to legislation introduced in 2008.

“It’s not just work, it’s an industry that is part of our community,” says Sunil Sharpe from the Give Us the Night group (and a well-known DJ), which will hold a public meeting in Cork this Tuesday. “The cultural value of our music venues can’t be understated.”

“It’s not just about opening hours and all-night partying, it’s about more flexibility for everybody. There’s a lot of people now who are also open-minded to changes and, even if they don’t know a lot about it, want to know more.”

Among the other aims of the campaign are increased collaboration between community members, local authorities and promoters, and using unused buildings in cities for multi-use purposes.

“When the recession first hit, people didn’t really know what was happening, and artists really thrived because of that, because unused buildings became cultural hotspots,” says Caoilian Sherlock, who manages the Quarter Block Party Festival in Cork.

“We had the likes of Cork Community Printshop and Sample-Studios. Now, we’re seeing those buildings being turned into hotels, and cultural hotspots being moved out in order to bring tourists in.

But from my perspective, I don’t know what they’re going to be coming for if we continue to kick out artists.

“We would like someone who understands the cultural realm and knows how to support people working in nightlife, and cross that with someone who understands the civic authority and economy and how buildings work. Because there’s a missing link between those two areas.”

Caoilian agrees a shift towards multi-purpose use of space would be beneficial to reflect more health-conscious younger generations.

“We at the festival used buildings as a multi-purpose space where alcohol wasn’t the focus. A lot of those are gone now and we have moved to bars, which is great and they’re really supportive, but to survive they have to be selling drinks.

“Our attitude to alcohol is changing, and our interests have changed, I think we have to reflect that.”

Stephen Grainger, who helped to run The Pavilion in Cork for seven years until its closure in 2014, says allowing venues to close at different times would allow for less security issues and a reduced strain on already-stretched hospitals.

“It makes sense for everyone that places stagger closing times and not having everyone coming out onto the street at the same time,” he says. “The licencing laws mean everyone’s looking at their watches, lashing down shots, trying to get in before the club or bar closes, so it directly leads to binge-drinking. Hospitals have enough to be dealing with.”

“Cork has been under the cosh in recent years, and people in the city are passionate about it,” says Sunil. “It’s been very hard to operate venues without interference or undue pressure, and as a result Cork doesn’t have anywhere near the level of nightlife that it should.

“This would ease public order on the streets. Okay, there’s going to be new planning and management of policing needed. But we want people to understand it is not going to lead to the breakdown in society that some people have tried to put out there.”

Sunil says changing nightlife culture would also present a chance for bars and pubs to take advantage of positive trends in young people’s habits.

“This is a challenge of drinking culture as well. Young people are drinking to excess less, and we need to see that as a positive. Would it be beyond the realms of possibility for multiple business owners to open a non-alcoholic bar, something that is starting to happen in Dublin? It’s an extreme example, but we need to look beyond our association with alcohol to nightlife.”

Joe Kelly of The Good Room promoters, who are responsible for the Live at St Luke’s gig programme, says: “We’re still a nanny state when it comes to staying out past two o’clock. But it’s much easier now to start a campaign on social media, that wasn’t an option in the past. This has the potential to get the backing, but it needs to get mass of people behind it. Then, politicians will start listening.”

The Future of Irish Nightlife public meeting by the Give Us the Night group takes place on Tuesday 29 January at 6.45pm in The Roundy, and all are welcome.

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