Coppers, nurses, culchies, jacks – all welcome here
In a piece published in ‘The Dubliner’ last year, Patrick Freyne visited the club to gauge its appeal
WANT to see what I call the sex corner?” says a girl called Niamh enthusiastically.
“Um. Okay,” I say, and follow her over to a secluded corner behind a doorway near a small bar at the back of the venue. It’s just a corner.
“People sometimes have sex there,” she explains, suddenly aware of how underwhelming it looks.
No one is having sex there. (And the management of Copper Face Jacks later stress that there are no “sex corners” in the club.)
Detached and judgmental writers have often been fascinated by the behaviour of the younger generation (“The bicycles go by in twos and threes, there’s a dance at Billy Brennan’s barn tonight,” wrote Patrick Kavanagh, but sadly left Billy Brennan’s sex corner to the imagination.)
I’ve decided to brave Copper Face Jacks Avenue, with a reputation for being a Dublin meat market, unofficial gardai and nurses’ club and culchie embassy.
Eighteen years old, and it’s also probably the most successful club in Dublin. With an unstintingly loyal clientele, it has flourished as trendier competitors around it (like the POD) have failed.
In 2011, the club and the hotel that houses it made its reclusive ex-guard owner Cathal Jackson €6.48m – €217,146 of that on the cloakroom alone. It’s also where an Obama bodyguard was recently revealed to have had an extramarital affair during the presidential visit.
Now I, a 37-year-old culchie journalist, am there on the night of the Heineken Cup final. In all my time in Dublin, I’ve never been to Copper Face Jacks.
It’s 11 o’clock, which is early in the night, before the queues. Outside on Harcourt Street the people are indeed going by in twos and threes and a smattering of people are already drifting into the two-level venue.
A bald bouncer called Fluffy has already chuckled affably at my suggestion that I’m on the guest list. “Do we have a guest list?” he says theatrically to the guy next to him before letting me in.
On the dance floor on the first floor a young woman in short-shorts is doing exaggeratedly sexy poses while another young woman in short-shorts takes photographs to the strains of Take That’s ‘Relight My Fire’.
Finally one of the young women in short-shorts does an exaggerated pouty pose while leaning against me as though I am an inanimate prop. I try to start a conversation.
“Hi. I’m writing a piece for the Herald Dubliner and…”
A palm shoots into my face. “You. Are. Not. My. Type,” she says.
This is upsetting, so bumping into the Niamhs in the large semi-enclosed smoking room next door is quite refreshing. Four immaculately dressed young women in their late 20s, they all claim to be called Niamh and they are only too happy to chat away about why they love Coppers.
Three of them are from south Dublin, one of them is from England.
“So the thing about this being a place for country people, that’s a bit of an exaggeration then?”
“Oh yeah!” they all say.
“And the thing about it being for nurses and guards?”
They all laugh. “She’s a nurse!” they say and point at English Niamh, who nods vigorously.
“And the thing about it being a pick-up joint?”
“It’s a total pick-up joint,” says the tallest Niamh. “If you can’t pick someone up in Coppers there’s something wrong with you.”
This is when English Niamh takes me to see the “sex corner”. “I did meet my future husband here,” chips in the blondest Niamh, when I return from the sex corner.
“You met your future husband at Coppers?” I say, surprised.
“Well, my boyfriend,” she says. “I met him here but I didn’t get with him here. You’d worry about a guy you’d snogged at Coppers.”
“They’re a bit gropey,” she says matter-of-factly.
They all nod in agreement.
“I had the best pick-up of my life here,” says English Niamh wistfully. There is a faraway look in her eyes. “It was a few years ago now. Over there… near the sex corner.”
At this stage (around 11.45pm) Coppers is, by the standards of any other club, looking pretty full. I venture downstairs to the second dance floor, an area recently done up with white leather and abstract wrought-iron shapes.
There is some quite joyous dancing on the dance floor from a group of be-shirted and be-jeaned young men and a gaggle of high-heeled handbag-clasping young women to ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ by Kylie.
When the DJ plays ‘Single Ladies’ the girls hold their ring fingers up. “You may have noticed something about the dancefloor,” Dave Lyons,Coppers PR man and DJ, says to me a few days later. I hadn’t.
“Well, it’s the only dancefloor in Dublin where you can bring your pints with you,” he says proudly.
Around the edges a cordon of shy young men stand awkwardly holding beers, a solitary couple are wearing the face off one another and a short man with a terrible jumper and a jaunty hipwiggle is repeatedly dancing up to young ladies he doesn’t know.
In each case he puts his arm around them, initiates a conversation and is instantly rebuffed. His baseless confidence – though possibly indicating that he is a sociopath – is strangely likeable (“Shine on, Mini-Casanova!” I think.)
Everywhere there are judiciously placed bouncers in black gazing into the distance with a look of ennui (what have those 1,000-yard stares seen in their time?).
Back out in the smoking area, which is getting increasingly hard to walk through, I speak to a couple of lads from Wexford. “It’s our first time in Coppers,” says Ivan waving a cigarette around.
“We came up to watch the match in Flannery’s,” he says. Mick is swaying beside him. “Take a picture of us,” Mick says pointing at my dictaphone.
“This isn’t a camera, it’s a dictaphone,” I explain again (I had already explained this).
“Yeah, but take a picture of us,” he slurs. Ivan looks at me and shrugs.
“It’s not a camera,” I say specifically to Ivan.
“Take a picture anyway,” Ivan advises and gives me a reassuring look.
They pose. I pretend to take a picture of them with my dictaphone.
I go back upstairs, which is now heaving. Three girls dance out of the toilet in a line to the strains of ‘We Found Love (in a Hopeless Place)’. I decide to retreat to the gents where I scribble down some notes in a cubicle. Outside, a surreal conversation is taking place along the urinals.
“Tommy, what did you have for dinner?” shouts a Cork accent. “Peas, fish fingers, oven chips, cup of tea,” shouts Tommy.
“What did you have for dinner?” “A curry,” shouts the Cork accent. “Hey Noddy, what did you have for dinner?” “I went to McDonald’s,” shouts Noddy, probably not the same Noddy that appears in theEnid Blyton books, but I can’t be sure (I was in acubicle).
Then they all started singing some sort of football/rugby/marching song accompanied by the sound of weeing.
By one in the morning there is a lot of raucous unselfconscious dancing and a smattering of snogging couples on the edges of the dance floor.
An assortment of young men point at my beard as I pass and gleefully yell: “It’s the guy from The Hangover!” (This happens a lot in Dublin late at night.) I pass the “sex corner” again but nobody is having sex there. So far the only difference between Coppers and any other nightclub I’ve been to is how blissfully upfront people are about why they’re there.
“They say,” says Naoise, a trainee nurse in a throng of other trainee nurses, “that if the lights went up in Coppers by 10%, the STDs in Dublin would go down by 100%.” She grins widely.
Later, Dennis, an architect, says: “Coppers is the only club in Dublin where you can get with someone by tapping them on the shoulder.” He’s there with three friends – two nurses and an engineer – and they’re grooving at the fringes of the basement dance floor.
“We come here because I know one of the guys on the door and if he sees us he lets us in for free,” he says.
Behind him on the dance floor a very fat and sweaty man is doing an exact replica of the dance Christina Aguilera does in the video for the song ‘Dirrty’ . . . to the strains of Christina Aguilera’s ‘Dirrty’.
“That’s upsetting,” I say to Dennis.
The venue is now heaving. “The capacity is 2,300,” Dave Lyons tells me later. “We’d get that number most Saturday nights. We’d get maybe 1,000 on week nights.” (It’s open seven nights a week.)
“Do you ever get more than that?” I ask him.
“No,” he says firmly. “That would be unmanageable.”
At two in the morning the queue is still straggling 200 yards down the street to the left of the venue, while a crowd of hopeful people gather for preferential VIP treatment to the right.
There are guards on the street directing taxis and rickshaws and the walking wounded who stagger around after being rejected. I attempt to talk to a few people in the queue. “I really don’t want to be here,” says a red-haired boy in check shirt, sullenly. “And I don’t want to talk about it.”
I approach a group of cheerfully guffawing young people instead, but as I do so the queue lurches forward and I find myself thrusting my dictaphone at a bickering couple.
They both turn angrily towards me. “Yeah, Kevin, why don’t you tell this stranger what you feel about me,” says the girl sharply.
I make my excuses and leave.Back at the entrance, I meet Siobhan, a friendly, sober girl from Tullamore who’s wearing jeans and is here with her brother who has a ‘Garda pass’.
Dave Lyons denies the existence of such “Garda passes” but loads of people mention it. “Oh, the ‘privilege card’,” says Dave, when I tell him of seeing people flashing a gold card to skip the queue and enter for free. “That’s for longstanding regulars… not guards.”
Siobhan bemoans the Dublinification of Coppers. It’s all because of Dublin captain Bryan Cullen’s victory cry last year, apparently (“See yiz in Coppers!” he yelled). “Nowadays you get the Dublin football team and the rugby team and it’s all very D4,” she says.
“I mean they’ve got a VIP section now. Coppers with a VIP section! It doesn’t feel right.” (The VIP section itself is a small, stylishly designed room on the first floor with a bar, couches, a security man on the door and, that night, no identifiable celebrities.)
Back inside, I ask two messy-haired, heavily made-up blonde girls in Leinster jerseys why they come here.
“To get the shift!” says the first girl, whose name is Jenny.
Her friend Kate is eager to dispel some notions about the people who go to Coppers. “You get rich people here,” she says.
A male friend with a mop of Bieber-hair chips in.
“Don’t go to [NAME OF CLUB REDACTED],” he says in a posh, south Dublin accent. “It’s full of knacks.”
“We like rich boys,” Kate clarifies. “And Dublin people come here. It’s not just culchies.”
“My parents are from Tipperary,” says Jenny. “So I’m a bit of a culchie.” She gets a bit mistyeyed.
“I dig turf in summer with my granny, so I’m not a proper Dublin person.” Ivan staggers by. “Where’s Mick?” I ask. He points to a corner where Mick can be seen enthusiastically engaged in a grope-athon (with a girl . . . not by himself).
“We were at the bar getting drinks, I looked around and that was happening!” says Ivan, forlornly.
There is still no action in the sex corner (am I relieved or disappointed? I’m not sure anymore). As I scribble in my notebook like a low-rent Dian Fossey (“2.53 AM – no sex in the sex corner”) I am approached by a muscular chap in a tight T-shirt accompanied by a beanpole in a denim jacket.
“Hey, where’s Wilson?” says the muscular chap, punching me playfully/painfully in the stomach. “Where’s Wilson? He looks like Tom Hanks in that Desert Island movie, doesn’t he?” (This is new.)
The beanpole nods. Their names are Patty and Scano.
They come from Galway and Meath and work in banking. Patty is boastful about the ladies he has met so far this evening (he shows me a text from one of them). Scano is unprintable.
“We come here to ****s the ****s with our ****s,” he says. “Sometimes we **** and then get ****ed.”
“That’s true,” says Patty, nodding seriously. “*******s” adds Scano. “And *******.”
At this stage, after three in the morning, you can hardly move without being nudged by eagerly dancing elbows and the air smells of sweat and perfume.
As the dance floor bounces (to ‘Jump Around’ by the House of Pain), pints get lowered and lips get snogged all around us,
Patty gestures at one of the ATMs (there’s an ATM on each floor) and waxes philosophical. “This club is like an ATM,” he says thoughtfully.
“For ****ing,” says Scano, but Patty ignores him.
“You put in your card,” says Patty, “and you take out of it what you want. Other clubs you put in your card,” he pauses and sighs, “and you get judged.”
He looks momentarily angelic, then disappears into the throng. “Godspeed, sweet prince!” I think.
Copper Face Jacks is also clearly a bit of an ATM for its media-shy owner Cathal Jackson (“You’ll get nobody to talk to you about Cathal,” Dave Lyons says to me later. “Because nobody knows anything about Cathal.”)
What I did learn is he is a former garda at Blanchardstown Station. He left the force soon after running a pub in the north inner city and then soon after opened Coppers.
Since it began, many club empires have fallen around it, but Coppers is still there, with its unpretentious approach and a loyal clientele of nurses, guards, large Christina Aguilera impersonators, girls called Niamh, pint-sized Lotharios and pissed foul-mouthed philosophers.
Whatever they’re doing, it’s working.
*Names of customers have been changed.