From the iconic Sir Henry's nightclub to Tinder Tuesdays in cosy pubs... Cork's nightlife has been utterly transformed 

From the iconic Sir Henry's nightclub to Tinder Tuesdays in cosy pubs... Cork's nightlife has been utterly transformed 
Sir Henry's in the late 1990s 

CORK'S nightlife is thriving and the vibrant social culture is showing no signs of abating, according to leading publicans Benny McCabe and Ernest Cantillon.

With Tinder dates keeping cosy pubs packed on weekdays and a new cohort of young professionals looking to enjoy a strong quality of life, pubs and late-night bars are on to a winner.

Benny McCabe, who owns a number of popular watering holes in the city, including The Oval, Mutton Lane, Crane Lane, The Vicarstown and The Rising Son’s Brewery, has his ear to the ground in terms of the nightlife trends.

Mr McCabe said pubs and clubs suffered a great deal over the past decade when the Celtic Tiger faded and subsequent economic crash took hold of an entire generation, locking them into high mortgages or losing them to emigration.

Benny McCabe in his smoking room in the Bodega Bar in Cork. 
Benny McCabe in his smoking room in the Bodega Bar in Cork. 

The economic slump and wider societal changes have brought about a decade of change on the nightlife scene.

“We’re missing a huge cohort of people between the ages of 25 to 40, to mortgages and emigration. They were a lost generation and that is what actually informed the decline of the nightclub as we know it in Ireland.

“However, there is a massive cohort of young people, under 25, stepping into the workplace and they are beginning to be seen and felt as a spending force.” 

Mr McCabe said that what is being experienced now is just a trickle of what is to come.

“In about five to six years, we are going to turn around and say, ‘Jesus, we need more nightclubs’, without a shadow of a doubt. The population within the city will demand it anyway.

“What closed down over the last few years will be lamented. We will need more of them.” 

As well as the younger generation coming through, Mr McCabe said that the older, settled population, have rejigged their socialising habits somewhat.

“Older crew, anyone with kids, have seen an end to Friday nights because they have to be up for Irish dancing or training or hurling on a Saturday morning, so the drink driving laws have taken them out of the equation. They can’t be out at night and then on a sideline at 8am the next morning for a match.

“The evenings, rather than the nights, on a Saturday and Sunday have become exponentially busier as people embrace them.” 

Mr McCabe said this essentially provides two new streams of business that the city did not have for the past ten years.

“If you took Friday and Saturday a few years ago, nobody came to town until 7pm or 8pm. Now every pub in town is busy at 4pm, because of the drink driving laws.

“The young cohort is bringing on a resurgence of the late night and the settled generation, married with kids and cognisant of the drink driving laws, are coming out in the early evening.” 

“The city is going good in that sense.” 

Mr McCabe spoke of the decline of nightclubs and said the success of social media over the last 20 years has led to the rapid spread of new music, new genres, new sub-genres and new sub-subgenres.

“What this means is that the appeal of all these sub-genres leads to massive audience fragmentation to the point that putting on a night for those individual types of music has not been financially viable for a decade or more.”

Mr McCabe said that to combine this break away from popular music with the cost of insurance, it is understandable that specialized small clubs are not financially viable as a stand-alone unit.

“Until, or if, a new type of music that will unify an entire generation in excitement or even in opposition comes along then there will be no market for a club like say the halcyon days of The Hacienda or Sir Henry’s.”

Another key aspect of the nightlife culture that has changed drastically is the romantic element of clubbing.

According to Mr McCabe, Tinder has a key part to play in the demise of the nightclub while also being a reason for the success of pubs and late bars with a surge of people looking for cosy snugs and quiet tables for dates.

“All hail Tinder Tuesdays, all mourn the passing of the slow-set and the national anthem at the end. The pub is the new club and I can’t see it changing for now, but everything changes.”

Ernest Cantillon, owner of Electric Bar and Restaurant as well as Sober Lane, agreed that the nightlife scene has been transformed utterly, also noting the move towards early evening drinks.

“Tea time is really good, and it would be regular for us to be busier before 10pm than after 10pm.

“If you came at 7pm you would think we were the busiest pub in town. In town, it is 6pm to 10pm as opposed to 10pm to 2am.” 

Ernest Cantillon, Electric Bar.Picture: Denis Scannell
Ernest Cantillon, Electric Bar.Picture: Denis Scannell

Mr Cantillon said that trade is shifting earlier and earlier, which is good for a number of reasons.

“There is a benefit to quality of life for me and my staff - I would much rather be busy at 10pm than 2am in the morning. I’d like to be home at 2am.

“Also, it is a better chance to upsell, so if you are chatting to someone at 10pm you can say to them ‘Why don’t you try this craft beer? This slightly more expensive bottle of wine? Would you like a pizza with your beer?’ Whereas at 2am it is just ‘gimmie whatever’.” 

Mr Cantillon said it is a more sociable time for employees, employers and it stands for a better experience for everyone.

“It is also a better way for us to run our businesses because we are open for fewer hours.” 

The Electric and Sober Lane publican also agreed with Mr McCabe that the slightly older generation are out and about on a Saturday evening, as opposed to night.

“If you are a married couple with kids, you have to pay a babysitter, get dressed up, pay for taxi. If you are just out in the evening, you don’t have to get as dressed up, you can probably sort a babysitter and you can use public transport to go home.

“There is a massive social and financial saving to going out on an afternoon. There is probably some sport on and it’s a nice time to eat.” 

Mr McCabe said the pub is rapidly reclaiming its primacy as a place to socialize.

“People are generally becoming more conscientious of the way they drink and what is emerging is a notable reduction in-home drinking.

"Drinking at home is now seen as somewhat seedy and emotionally damaging which is the pendulum swinging the other way after a 20-year attack on pub culture by elements of government as opposed to correctly tackling binge drinking whether at home or in the pub.” 

Mr McCabe said it is also becoming more socially acceptable to be in a bar even if you are not drinking alcohol.

Cask Bar on MacCurtain Street is one of the more recent additions Cork's nightlife
Cask Bar on MacCurtain Street is one of the more recent additions Cork's nightlife

“Good product development in low and zero alcohol options are opening the pub forum to those who might have shied away in the past,” Mr McCabe said.

Both Ernest and Benny said that the new 24-hour bus route between Ballincollig and Carrigaline could be a huge boost to the night culture in Cork.

“That 24 hours route from Ballincollig to Carrigaline, that could potentially be a gamechanger for nightlife. A cheaper way to get home and if you miss the first bus you just get the next one. If anti-social behaviour doesn’t derail it, I think that will be a real winner,” Mr Cantillon said.

Mr McCabe suggested another route from Passage West to Hollyhill also be set up.

Taking in the positives that are there, both Ernest and Benny said that the future was bright for Cork.

“Just taking these emerging trends alone is positive for pub culture and that’s before the event centre, associated hotels and freeing up of single-family housing due to the activation of new student accommodations come into measurable effect in the next few years,” Mr McCabe said.

“The event centre would make a big difference,” Mr Cantillon said. 

“And the hotels opening up will too. Already we are seeing trade from the hotel on South Mall, big time.”

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