Monday 24 July 2017

'Everyone thinks Residence has closed -- but that's not the case'

Despite financial problems, the exclusive club is still open, writes Niamh Horan

Where have all the socialites gone? Residence private members' bar would have been packed to the rafters on any weekend night -- but not last Friday night.

There would be friendly fights over which song was next on the list in the piano bar; it would be an effort to wade through the crowd for a drink; the smoking area would be the only place to go to get a breather from the jam-packed rooms inside. But it's all changed.

After two weeks of blanket press coverage on the woes of the elitist Dublin club, something was amiss.

It was a sign of the influence word of mouth has in Dublin and the power of what it can do.

"For the past fortnight, all that people have been telling me is that Residence is 'bust'. That it isn't even open anymore. And sure that couldn't be further from the truth," said one club member.

"The country has spent the last year hearing about examinership and receiverships until they're blue in the face, and yet people still don't know the bloody difference. They don't understand that the club will stay open until an investor is found or until the receiver decides what to do."

In the midst of all this sat Christian Stokes.

As he took a seat in the lavish surroundings of the upstairs bar, having spent the last week trying to save his family's livelihood, he let the raw emotion of the past few days seep through.

"I have never cried as much as I have in the past three weeks," he said as he surveyed the bar.

"The sheer worry of it all; it's been incredibly tough."

It was a stark contrast to the friendly smile and warm greeting with which he has become famous for among the patrons of his exclusive club.

He spoke of sleepless nights, a family to provide for, a baby on the way -- all the things that weigh on your shoulders when financial woes come knocking on your door.

For a man who had inadvertently developed the image as a poster boy for the Celtic Tiger, he was showing that -- like the rest of us caught up in the rise and fall of the economic tide -- he is only human too.

And now he is working hard with the receiver to find an investor to keep his dream alive. One man who has been caught up in the whirlwind of tittle-tattle surrounding Residence is former Renards owner Robbie Fox.

Only a day after the first court appearance by Christian and Stokes to save their business, Fox was in the club meeting a friend when a staff-member was overheard jokingly referring to him as "boss".

Fox, a close friend of property developer Johnny Ronan who owns the St Stephen's Green building, has vehemently denied any plans to take over. Chris Stokes brushed off the rumour in good spirit.

"Personally I think it's an insult to Robbie to assume that he's going to take over someone else's business when he is more than capable of starting up his own successful club." Last week, as the Stokes brothers were again in court battling to keep their business afloat, Conach Stokes, the wife of Simon, was in the front lounge of Residence with rolled up sleeves, waiting tables.

It was a marked contrast to the cutting and glib references of the Stokes family as armchair businessmen afraid to get their hands dirty.

Since its opening in 2008, Residence has been the late-night playground of rockers, Hollywood playboys, developers and Dublin's beautiful people. Only shortly before Christmas, Bono was in entertaining friends; Jonathan Rhys Meyers could be seen sitting in the garden having a few social drinks; Eamon Dunphy held court at the piano serenading a packed-out room with his version of Bette Midler's The Rose; and celebrity lawyer Gerald Kean got down on bended knee in the smoking section to ask long-term girlfriend Lisa Murphy for her hand in marriage.

You never knew who you'd find holding court or what antics the image-conscious were going to get up to as they let their hair down behind the guarded gates.

It has long been the fire in the belly of a city whose nightlife is on its last legs -- and the great and the good will be sorry if it goes.

Thankfully for the Stokes brothers, rumours may travel fast but they don't stay put as long as truth -- and for now Residence clearly remains open for business.

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