The Abbey Street pub is back open seven days a week, but concerns remain about the north side of Dublin city centre
Louis Fitzgerald is to reopen his Gin Palace pub on Dublin’s Abbey Street seven nights a week with a new food offering.
But the veteran pub and hotel owner is making the move despite his serious concerns about problems faced by businesses in the north inner city – an area he says is not enjoying the post-lockdown boom being felt by pubs just across the river.
Fitzgerald, like everyone in the pub trade, took a hit during the pandemic. But now the biggest problem faced by most of the over 19 pubs, hotels and restaurants in his group since nightlife returned has been staff shortages.
“At the moment our pubs in the south city, and in the suburban areas in particular, are really doing very well. Getting staff is very challenging. We looked after our staff during the pandemic though and there is a loyalty there that stands to us now. We employ 1,250, but it is a struggle every day to keep ahead of the posse in order to retain our staff.”
But at the Gin Palace – the Abbey Street venue made popular by its mix of cocktails and trendy gins – the problem has been the opposite.
“The Gin Palace is a lovely pub but Abbey Street has gone backwards in terms of activities and footfall. We are hoping though that with new hotels in the area coming on stream, that it will come back a bit.”
Fitzgerald had restricted opening hours, keeping it shut on Mondays and Tuesdays: “The business just wasn’t there.
“But from next week we are open seven days a week and a new menu is being introduced. We love the pub and think we can get it rolling again.”
But there is a wider feeling of gloom felt by many business owners in the streets around O’Connell Street which many feel is being left to deteriorate from neglect and anti-social behaviour.
“It is a crisis for the area but not one that has happened today or yesterday. I’ve watched it get worse over the last seven years. Covid speeded that up.
“Fifteen years ago there was a lot of optimism and high expectations for the area but in reality it hasn’t happened.”
Nevertheless, after 50 years in the trade, and plenty of ups and downs, he has decided to take an optimistic approach at the Gin Palace, hoping that long-promised support for the area, as well as the nearby redevelopment of Clerys, will begin to tempt back an evening crowd which, for now, is staying stubbornly south of the river.
The Arlington Hotel, nearby on the north quays close to O’Connell Bridge, is also part of the Louis Fitzgerald group and, he says, is doing well since the return of theatre shows.
But on the streets a block or two further north, the buzz has not returned.
Reopening for business seven nights a week at the Gin Palace is a move of hope more than expectation.
“Footfall just hasn’t been what it used to be but we’re hoping things improve. You have to be open to generate business. By going down to five days open you’re going backwards so we have to get back to seven days.”
Fitzgerald says there has been an uptick in policing activity in the area but he still believes the north inner city is left to cope with a disproportionate amount of the fallout from the city’s drug and homelessness crises.
“A lot of the tourist hostels became homeless shelters during Covid and are still not available for tourists. The north city needs a serious injection of support,” he says.
A radical change in the GAA season – with the hurling and football championships now wrapping up by early August rather than in September – will also come as a blow.
“September was a month of GAA that businesses in the area looked forward to. People were able to come to Croke Park and get hotel rooms at a reasonable cost but in July you can’t get a room in Dublin.”
Fitzgerald is a well-known supporter but he says he cannot understand why the GAA has given up its hold on the public consciousness in September.
“They’re trying to fix something I didn’t think was broken. They were always two of the best weekends for hospitality in the city. And the GAA is missing out because by September all the focus will now be on the Premier League.”