When Greg Spring and This Greedy Pig advertising agency decided to take over, for one night, a Poolbeg Street building, they thought they had it sussed.
“We decided we were going to run an early evening, early into the morning, celebration of Irish electronic music in a space that hadn’t been used before,” he says. “It is something that people complain about, the same handful of places and that.”
Spring and the gang, along with the building’s owner, planned the night for two months. They pulled together an all-Irish line up and knocked through two walls on the ground floor to ensure they were fire-safety compliant, they say.
“We got a phone call form the Gardaí saying, ‘What’s going on?’ Saying they’d received complaints already,” says Spring. “They kind of just tacitly implied that they were going to come down and make our lives difficult.”
In the end, despite their against-the-grain efforts, the night was pulled. It wasn’t worth the oncoming hassle, says Spring.
It’s a complaint that you hear these days from many a Dublin promoter. With a gargle culture, and strict licensing laws, it’s hard for them to establish pop-up nights at unusual locations in Dublin.
Some want that to change, and they have some ideas on how to get started.
The building on Poolbeg Street was in private ownership, but, as the promoters saw it, the night was bound to get closed down before the 3am finish.
(The Gardaí press office has yet to respond to queries relating to this instance, as well as a number of questions relating to such events that have been held, or attempted, in Dublin.)
“A lot of these events get clipped before they get off the ground though,” says Spring. “There’s an assumption that you’re going to be doing something wrong.”
Emmet Condon succeeded in offering an alternative space. But only for a time. When Mabos on Hanover Quay closed in 2014, Condon had been looking after booking music for the venue.
Now running music-promotion company Homebeat, he sees Mabos as a shrine to idea that if you have the space, it can be done.
Condon, however, says the challenges of doing something a little different in Dublin were laid bare when it came to the authorities.
“One night, the fire officer came down,” he says. “We had done the hard work to set the place up so there was nothing they could do. They walked through the place trying to shut it down, dying to shut it down, and they just couldn’t.”
And, even if you’re fire-safety compliant, a whiff of alcohol on the premises is a no-go.
The Legal Ease
Jennifer Murphy, a solicitor based in Dublin, describes the licensing laws as “complex and technical”.
To get a licence to serve alcohol, you must have a management plan and a Revenue tax clearance certificate. And you must notify the Gardaí and then notify the fire officer.
“It’s technical,” says Murphy, “It’s not hard, but it’s technical.”
Part of the problem is that in Dublin, as well as the rest of the country, a licence is not only granted to the proprietor but the premises itself.
Even for a restaurant, says Murphy, there are various licenses that one can apply for and it’s up to the courts to decide.
“Because it is so complex, and you usually don’t know what kind of licence you may or may not need, you do need to get the legal input,” she says. “It is costly and you’ll still have to get tax clearance. There’s still lots of hurdles that you have to climb through to become a licensed premises [in Dublin].”
Murphy says that, depending on the licence as well as the Gardaí and the fire officer, six to eight weeks is often the minimum wait time before you get one.
And then, of course, there are potential objections.
“That’s where it really gets dragged out,” she says. “The court obviously has to hear those objections and it can run on for some time, especially if there are noise issues.”
Ultimately, there’s no fast-tracking a pop-up night hoping to serve alcohol just the once.
It’s the Drink
John Mahon, who runs thelocals.ie, sees the problems surrounding pop-up nights in unlicensed premises as twofold.
“The number one problem could be summed as culture, the culture of doing alternative spaces and alternative events and the lack thereof,” he says. “A close second to that is the fact that you need to have a bar.”
The demand to serve drink, says Mahon, comes from Dublin adults who simply expect one.
“There’s a huge amount of work and a big chance of being told no [in Dublin],” he says. “The barriers to doing it here are massive.”
A couple of years ago, Mahon organised an event in London in a studio space, which he pulled off with relative ease.
“We had to apply for a temp, which went into the local police and council but it was pretty straightforward,” he says.
“There was no problem. By 9:30pm the place was set up with a stage, a bar and a sound system. By 5am it was over. By 9am the next day it was a studio again. Nobody died, it was great and money was made all round.”
The Pop-Up vs. the Pub
Mahon says he thinks the government in Ireland would have to act in relation to licensing, and to act, it would have to be persuaded that the nightlife culture is changing.
Yet, to liberalise licensing is to challenge the mighty pub, he says. “Much like deregulating taxis, deregulating places that serve booze, that’s going to challenge their business.”
Indeed, says Donal O’Keeffe, chairperson of the Vintners Association. “[Licensing laws] aren’t strict enough if you ask me,” he says.
Why should the pubs have all the fun and the promoters attempting pop-up nights be left out on the cold?
“We would regard it as grossly unfair if there was a compliance regime, and all the associated costs enforced on publicans and not on people who are operating pop-up venues,” says O’Keeffe. “We’d be very concerned about [pop-up nights].”
Pop-up nights would be fine, as long as alcohol isn’t served at them, he says.
For Greg Spring, the experience of trying, and ultimately failing, to pull-off a pop-up night amidst the greyness of Georges Quay may stop him trying again.
“I wouldn’t say it’s totally burned our fingers but I’d be hesitant to do it again,” he says. “The only variables tend to really exist for the promoter. The DJ gets paid no matter what, the club take money at the bar so for us … we’re all set to lose out.”
These days, Mabos’ Condon says he often encounters people who, the odd time, remark that a venue doesn’t feel like Dublin despite being within the city space.
“When it happens in Dublin they don’t see it as part of Dublin,” he says. “It’s sad that they say that because it shows that people are longing for the thing that’s in the other city.”
And it’s exactly “the other city” that we should be looking to for inspiration when it comes our nightly offerings, says music blogger Niall Byrne.
The solution could be a night mayor, an idea opened up by the Banter team earlier this month.
An After-Dark Authority
If Dublin had someone who would look after the city’s nightlife, it could lead to a vibrant, alternative scene rather than the clustered hubs of Dublin, says Byrne.
It could also create a closer relationship between the council and those who thrive after dark, he says.
Cities like Zurich and Amsterdam have appointed such officials, and it’s time Dublin did the same, says Byrne.
“It seems like there’s a big disconnect between what actually happens at night and the laws that govern it,” he says.
“There seems to be a lot of negativity around what happens at night. But there’s a case to made that what happens at night-time brings a lot of culture and enrichment to the city.”
Byrne argues that by staggering closing times in venues, the sprawl onto the streets would lessen.
In Amsterdam, he says, ten clubs have been granted later licenses and these clubs, on the city outskirts, have proved a hit with locals.
The difficulty in establishing pop-up nights or club nights in other areas is a problem for Dublin promoters, Byrne says.
In Temple Bar, for instance, he helped run Monster Truck out of a gallery space with a BYOB policy. But, he admits, it was only because “you were in the middle of all that noise anyway” that it was allowed go ahead.
The Council’s Role
Deputy Lord Mayor Rebecca Moynihan, of Labour, says that because the alcohol licensing for premises is based on national legislation, there’s little the council can do to change it.
But even without alcohol, the challenges remain for pop-up events.
“I’ve tried to work with a couple of small, independent retail shops who trade at a night market around Drury Street, but it’s a nightmare,” she says. “The road closures and the impact on the traffic in the rest of the city is really, really expensive.”
Mahon of thelocal.ie says Dublin City Council should be pressured to at least engage with the issue, and work towards a better pop-up scene.
“The city council aren’t incentivised to change things … without external pressure,” he says. “I know people at the council who are open to the idea of streamlining event applications, but it’s not their remit.”
Dublin City Council press office did not respond to several queries about efforts to change the nightlife culture in Dublin.
But, says Mahon, they could as an introductory phase start small.
“Experimental things like looking at certain venues [that] could do a certain amount of events a year,” he says.
“I’ve had embarrassing conversations where I’ve had to tell [visitors] to go back to the hotel room on a Sunday because there’s nothing to do.”