Cork barman: I enjoy the banter and the cráic with the lads

The Bar Stool series: Horgan’s Bar on Blarney Street has been in the family since 1938. CHRIS DUNNE catches up with the current owners
Cork barman: I enjoy the banter and the cráic with the lads

Rommel Horgan at Horgan's bar on Blarney street. Picture; Eddie O'Hare

IT’S a Thursday afternoon when we call, and Rommel Horgan is busy behind the bar at 56, Blarney Street.

He likes to look busy.

“My mother often pops in and I want to look busy so I always have a cloth in my hands!” says Rommel, who features in The Bar Stool series.

“She comes in for a night out with the girls .”

Kathleen Horgan causes a stir.

“When she comes into the bar, everybody jumps,” says Rommel.

“She is the Queen!”

The pub business was always a family affair for the Horgans.

“My grandad got the first pub licence here on September 30, 1938,” says Rommel, who has one brother, Martin, and one sister, Janice, who owns the Residence Bar further up Blarney Street.

“We are neighbours!” says Rommel, who is married to Charyl. The couple have nine year old twins, Chris and Zara, aged nine.

“My dad, Christy, still has an interest in the bar and he comes in almost every day to see what’s going on,” says Rommel.

“My brother Martin has an interest in the bar too. He works in the background.”

Rommel Horgan behind the bar, which has a large whiskey selection. Picture; Eddie O'Hare
Rommel Horgan behind the bar, which has a large whiskey selection. Picture; Eddie O'Hare

Rommel grew up in the pub business.

“I remember being much younger and collecting glasses almost from the time I could walk,” he says.

“I loved listening to the sing-songs when there was a session downstairs. The pub was always a busy pub.

“I took it over in 2000 and I extended the bar when I acquired the old house next door. It used to be a shop. That’s why the counter is so long. It extends the length of two buildings.”

Rommel is an unusual name.

“I know!” says Rommel.

“My mum liked the name, even though we have no German connections.”

His pub has a large clientele.

“Our customers range in age from 19 to 90,” says Rommel.

“Horgans is a real local pub. We used to have a lot of old-timers who were real characters. Sadly, many of them passed away.

“We had one great character coming in 10 or 15 years ago; we named him ‘aches and pains’. He complained all the time and he had every ailment known to man. If you had something wrong with you, he had to be worse than you,” says Rommel.

“One day I was very busy and he put up two fingers to call two pints, or so I thought. When I called him for his drinks he came up to the bar and said he called only one pint. You called two, I told him. ‘No, he said, ,I have arthritis in this finger and I can’t move it!’ That was his excuse. You’d have to laugh all the same,” Rommel adds.

Horgan's bar on Blarney street has lots of quirky memorbilia. Picture; Eddie O'Hare
Horgan's bar on Blarney street has lots of quirky memorbilia. Picture; Eddie O'Hare

“I enjoy the banter and the cráic with the lads. I really missed that during lockdown.”

Things don’t always stay the same.

“The pub scene has changed since Covid,” says Rommel.

“People seem to be more cautious and many people tend to come to the pub only for special occasions. Having a few drinks at home became more common.”

Rommel didn’t think lockdown would last long.

“In the first few weeks of lockdown, I thought, this is great, for a while. Then, as time went on, it became more serious.”

Rommel ran out of things to do when his pub was closed.

“There was only so much grass you could cut and only so many fences to paint! I got the bar ready for re-opening, getting screens fitted, etc.

“When the 5pm closing was suggested first that wasn’t good for me. And the 8pm closing around Christmas was a bit of a blow, even though I have a good day trade. At Christmas you get a lot of family members home from abroad. I find people push the boat out, drinking whiskey and spirits later in the night rather than earlier in the evening. But by the end of January we were well ready to go with normal closing back again.”

What does Rommel like about the pub trade?

“I like everything about it,” he says. “I am genuinely interested in alcohol and I really like dealing with the public.

“Blarney Street can be a really busy street, with people going up to Shandon or with tourists visiting Cork Gaol.

“Growing up here, I used to know everyone in every house and I know about 10% of the people now. There are so many people renting properties now who work for Apple or who work in the city centre. Before, it was all families who lived here.”

Rommel Horgan is glad to be busy again. Picture; Eddie O'Hare
Rommel Horgan is glad to be busy again. Picture; Eddie O'Hare

But some return home.

“Many people make their way back to their roots,” says Rommel.

“Many people return to where they lived before.”

Rommel caters for all tastes.

“The trade is constantly changing, with a big range of drinks on offer. One time it was Paddy, Power and Jameson. Now there is a huge of Irish and American whiskies; 50 Irish whiskies, and about 40 American whiskies. You have to have a large stock of drinks and I like having a good display of drinks behind the bar,” says Rommel.

“I have a personal collection of 70 bottles of Jack Daniels which are all collector’s editions.”

Rommel always looks for new ideas.

“When I go abroad travelling, I like to visit as many bars as possible to get ideas.

“I bought the chandelier hanging up beside the bar and I decorated it with Heineken bottles,” says Rommel.

“It is different. Often, you’d see a lot of pubs with Guinness or Beamish mirrors. It’s nice to have something different.”

Rommel’s lamps around various shelves and window-sills in the bar have an animal or a bird at the base.

“Everybody likes the parrot light and the cobra going up the wall,” says Rommel.

A telephone light sits beside a framed poster of the Beatles. Overhead, Jimi Hendrix, Rory Gallaghar, Bob Dylan, Jim Morrisson, David Bowie, Elvis, Queen, AC/DC and Pink Floyd all look down from above. Rommel has an enviable collection of posters he has featured on the large wall.

“That wall was blank for years,” says Rommel.

“I love music so I decided to decorate the wall with posters of famous rock bands.”

Rommel likes being busy catering for his customers.

“The buzz is good,” he says. “Nobody wants to sit in an empty pub. People are out for company. The pub is a meeting place for people to gather and chat. I know 90% of my customers by their first name.”

Rommel knows a lot more.

“I know their wives’ names and the names of their cats and dogs!”

He likes working behind the counter.

“It is a really long counter,” says Rommel.

“It is the focal point of the pub. It’s great now people can sit at the counter; they all missed that when social distancing was in place. People drinking at the counter makes for a better atmosphere.

“We still have to be a bit careful, but we can relax more now. Not having to present Covid certs makes life a lot easier.”

Up the road, Janice O Callaghan, Rommel’s sister, is double-jobbing.

“Like Rommel, I grew up in the pub,” says Janice.

“Being in Blarney Street near our neighbours and friends is great.”

Being near her brother is great too.

“I’d often call into him. It’s great he’s so near and there is enough custom to go around for everyone.”

Janice, like her brother, loves the bar trade.

“I love it and it has always stood to me.”

Janice was busy during lockdown.

“I trained to be a celebrant for weddings and funerals and special family occasions,” she says.

“During lockdown, we put up a Shebeen out the back, so that might come in handy now too. People can get married there!” jokes Janice.

Janice, married to Stephen, opens The Residence early.

“We open at 10.30am. Our first customers come in then. Having a few bars in the area is good, people like moving around for a bit of variety.

“I often call into Rommel and he calls in here from time to time. Blarney Street is a really friendly street.”

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