The VQ: The renaissance of one of Cork city's busiest areas 

With a new director of operations, the MacCurtain Street area is gaining momentum as one of the best places to be in the city. Roisin Burke chats to business owners and locals about the area’s resurgence
The VQ: The renaissance of one of Cork city's busiest areas 

Jarek Paduch, Noreen, Claire, and Martin Gannon with Moody staff members. Picture: Jim Coughlan

A ‘HUB in which to work, live, and play’ is how VQ chairman Ciarán O’Connor describes the rebranded part of Cork City that centres around MacCurtain St.

A hive of activity, the VQ has educational campuses, new businesses, cafes, restaurants, and bars mixed in with institutions such as the Metropole Hotel, the Shelbourne Bar, and Greenes.

Joining these established businesses are Moody — offering Spanish-themed tapas — two wine bars (Nells and MacCurtain Wine Cellar), 5 Points bagel place, and Thompsons restaurant, alongside the Glass Curtain and Priory Coffee.

Mr O’Connor said the street has seen a resurgence in recent years, with a plethora of businesses expressing interest in setting up there.

“The hospitality offering has improved, the restaurant offering is strong; you have The Everyman theatre, The Metropole Hotel, and a number of independent traders and new businesses,” Mr O’Connor said.

A great deal of redevelopment has transformed the area into the bustling business hub it is today.

Mr O’Connor said the area has momentum. Chatting about the MacCurtain St public transport improvement scheme, which will upgrade the traffic systems of the surrounding area, Mr O’Connor said it will build on what has already been achieved.

Cork City Council intends to reduce the speed limits to 30km/h on MacCurtain St, Bridge St, and Coburg St, alongside other traffic changes in the area, including the provision of new two-way cycle routes along the north quays and Merchant’s Quay. These will connect to the existing facilities on Popes Quay, Penrose Quay, and the Mary Elmes bridge and the city centre.

Áine Conaghan, who runs Nell’s wine bar on MacCurtain St, with Myles Linehan, and Epi Rogan. Picture: Jim Coughlan
Áine Conaghan, who runs Nell’s wine bar on MacCurtain St, with Myles Linehan, and Epi Rogan. Picture: Jim Coughlan

The local authority also plans to remove traffic from Harley St and provide improved access to destinations along MacCurtain St, which will be converted from one-way eastbound to two-way traffic, with a number of changes, including a night-time taxi rank.

“Hopefully, all the works will be completed by the end of next year,” Mr O’Connor said.

“There will be a 70% reduction in traffic on MacCurtain St; it will no longer be one of the main arteries of the city. There will be increased footfall and less people sitting in their cars on the street.”

Mr O’Connor said the temporary footpath will be replaced with a boulevard-style pavement.

“Cork City Council have made a big commitment to help redevelop the area,” he said. “It’s important to make these changes and see transport needs better met by bikes, footfall, and buses.”

As chairman of the VQ, Mr O’Connor said he was proud of the area. “I’m the seventh family to own Falvey’s Pharmacy, on Bridge St, which has been operating since the 1830s and I’m just holding the reins for the next person.”

Mr O’Connor said that as chairperson, he is building on the great work of his predecessors, Noreen Gannon, of Gallaghers gastro-pub, and Joan Lucey, of Vibes and Scribes.

“I’m merely standing on the shoulders of giants,” Mr O’Connor said. “Two strong businesswomen held this role before me and they really turned on the lights in the area.

“They are strong characters and a good example of how business people in conjunction with the council can get results.”

One of the big moves made by the MacCurtain St Business Association — which has become the VQ business association in recent years — was the creation and fulfillment of a new role: Director of operations.

Gallaghers gastro-pub staff Andrew and Emma Gannon, Russell Bast, head chef, Noreen Gannon, Philip Neylon, manager, and Martin Gannon. Picture: Jim Coughlan
Gallaghers gastro-pub staff Andrew and Emma Gannon, Russell Bast, head chef, Noreen Gannon, Philip Neylon, manager, and Martin Gannon. Picture: Jim Coughlan

Together, the local traders have employed someone to spearhead the MacCurtain St renaissance.

Taking up the role in mid-May, Shane Clarke is bursting with enthusiasm.

“A total of 22 businesses came together and put money in to create the role,” Mr Clarke said. 

“There is a range of businesses in the VQ business association, made up of retail, service, bars, and restaurants.”

Mr Clarke, who previously managed Nano Nagle Place, has taken up the role two days a week.

“The idea is to become more strategic and to influence the future of the area, to get a better handle on the day-to-day and make the area cleaner, greener, and safer.”

Mr Clarke said there is a strong sense of community in the area and he is looking forward to the transformation of that part of the city.

The VQ business association is working on a five-year plan, which will be revealed later in the year.

A woman with a business in the area for almost a decade is Noreen Gannon, of Gallaghers gastro-pub.

“The pub has been there since the 1900s, but we have taken it over in the past nine years,” Ms Gannon said.

“We have had a big rebrand at Gallaghers recently; we have a larger emphasis on food and cocktails now. There is a huge interest in ‘going out’ since Covid, I think; small plates and casual vibes are in.”

Ms Gannon is part of a business partnership with Zacarias Fernandez Dominguez, at the other end of the street in one of the newer attributes, Moody.

“Moody has a lovely vibe, Zac is very artistic and dynamic, he is bursting with ideas, he is very passionate,” Ms Gannon said.

“Moody and Gallaghers are two very separate businesses: Gallaghers does a fine fish and chip, Moody is tapas and wine.”

Chatting about the new director of operations for the VQ, Ms Gannon said the association is lucky to have recruited Mr Clarke.

“It’s exciting times, we are all working together, and there is a huge amount of work going on behind the scenes. The area is going to be really distinctive going forward.”

One of the newer businesses on the street is the Glass Curtain, run by chef Brian Murray.

“We were open three months when Covid hit,” Mr Murray said. “We were really busy when we opened and we have been doing well in recent months.”

Shane Clarke speaking at the restored Thompsons building on MacCurtain St. Picture: Gerard McCarthy
Shane Clarke speaking at the restored Thompsons building on MacCurtain St. Picture: Gerard McCarthy

A fine-dining establishment with a casual vibe, the emphasis at the Glass Curtain is on local produce crafted into creative dishes.

He said he feels lucky to be part of such a vibrant street.

“It was a no-brainer picking this location,” Mr Murray said. 

“I have always had a grá for MacCurtain St. There are so many businesses, everyone is so supportive, and there is a really good environment. Everyone knows everyone.”

The Carrigtwohill man, who spent years travelling the world, gathering experience, before moving home to Cork to set up his own place, said he is constantly improving the offering and experience of the Glass Curtain.

“I’m proud of the evolution; we have really gone up a level. The aim is to improve what we are doing and be proud of our work.”

Another new business is Nell’s wine bar, run by Áine and Gavin Conahan.

“This business has been in the works for five years,” Ms Conahan told The Echo. “My husband and I have been working in hospitality for the past 25 years, Gavin used to be a wine buyer for Wholefood Markets in the UK, and the plan was always to open our own place. It was always the dream.”

Ms Conahan said things have gone better than expected. “We are exhausted, but chuffed. We have created a place that we would like to go to. It’s a grown-up place, with beautiful wine and food.”

She said they are delighted with the location. “We always wanted to be on MacCurtain St and MacCurtain Wine Cellar opened up just up the street within a few days of us. We complement each other; when we are full, we send people to them and they do the same for us.”

Ms Conahan said the VQ area is the best place in the city for food and drink. “It has everything, from Greenes and Issacs to the White Rabbit and 5 Points. There is a lot of support; you feel everyone wants you to do well.”

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