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The last days of disco?


The stars of the halcyon clubbing days: Adam Clayton and Naomi Campbell

The stars of the halcyon clubbing days: Adam Clayton and Naomi Campbell

The stars of the halcyon clubbing days: Adam Clayton and Naomi Campbell

Blame Colin Farrell. He’s the man who ruined Irish clubbing. The night the Hollywood star walked up the stairs to the VIP room in Renards and asked for a diet coke, the writing was on the wall for the entire nightclub industry.

Farrell was more than just a one man excess-all-areas party with a wallet full of platinum cards and an entourage that would strain any velvet rope.

He was the poster boy for late Celtic Tiger-era excess, the A-lister who made us all want to party hard on a Wednesday night and come back the next night for more.

When Colin was at his supermodelbothering best, places like Lillie’s, Renards and Cocoon were stuffed with celebs, hangers-on and wannabes.

Eddie Irvine was chatting up your girlfriend and the VIP area was bulging at the seams with Bono, Snoop Dog, embryonic Xposé Girls and assorted Corrs.

But, in August 2006, the week that Colin finally checked into rehab and decided staying-in was the new going out, the end was in sight and the staff were starting to clear away the tables.

Now, with clubs hurt by recession and hit by late bars, tough licensing laws and the death of the Superstar DJ, we could be living in the last days of disco.

The super-clubs and chichi bars that flourished in the ’90s are either gone or struggling to survive.

Promoters who once spent small fortunes on flying in marquee DJs like Sasha and Carl Cox are now putting on student nights with cheap drink promotions.

Renards, run and hosted for years by Godfather of Dublin Nightlife Robbie Fox, is being sold off after Mr Fox was forced to call in the liquidators this week.

Fox says his trade “fell off a cliff ” after changes in the licensing laws last year forced clubs to close an hour earlier and he began to face increasing competition from newer clubs that were better set up to handle factors like the smoking ban.

The demise of Renards has been held up as yet another cautionary tale from the crazy days of the Celtic Tiger (as if we didn’t have enough of those). However, one prominent social diarist refuses to ignore The Farrell Factor.

“The writing was on the wall when Colin Farrell decided he was giving up the drink,” says our man about town with the soggy notebook.

“Colin practically lived in Renards and drew a lot of attention and a lot of business. When he went on the dry, it kind of signalled the end of A-list celebs hanging out every night in clubs like Renards and Lillie’s”.

Blame Colin Farrell, blame the economy or rage against our killjoy politicians and the Intoxicating Liquor Act of 2008 — it’s clear our clubs are facing tough times.

There are around 500 venues nationwide, employing 4,000 staff fulltime and entertaining around 500,000 people, on average, every week.

But many, especially in our cities, are struggling to keep their doors open.

And the recession, coupled with our draconian opening hours, amongst the strictest in Europe, is threatening to shut down clubbing in Ireland for good.

Dublin-based promoter Martin Thomas started his first club night in the long disappeared Rock Garden in Temple Bar back in the early ’90s.

He is the man behind Ireland’s longest-running club night, Strictly Handbag in Dublin’s Sugar Club, which has been going in various venues for 15 years.

“Nightclubs in Ireland are facing the perfect storm,” he says.

“You have fewer people spending less money, the competition from the late bars that are operating basically as night clubs and you have the licensing laws that make it almost impossible for people to make money.

“There are now late bars all over our city centres, you can get in for free and they’ll serve you until two in the morning.

So if you are a punter, you are probably asking why you should leave the pub to go to a club where you’ll be charged on the door and maybe get one hour extra drinking time.

“Six or seven years ago, there were dozens of promoters doing different nights around town. And any night, a Tuesday or a Saturday, there was so much variety on offer and a lot of places with progressive music policies.

“A lot of those promoters just gave up because it became too difficult to make money.

“And midweek especially is after becoming a bit of a desert, what you have mostly is people trying to chase the student market with cheap drinks offers,” Thomas explains.

The nightclub industry may be in dire straits but at least one doyenne of the scene, former Lillie’s Bordello madame Valerie Roe, believes promoters and venue owners cannot simply blame the law.

“Dublin has gone stale,” says Ms Roe. “You look at the big clubs and bars and they have basically been the same for the past ten or 12 years.

“People who blame the licensing laws are just looking for an excuse.

“What’s needed is somebody to come along with the vision and guts to bring something new to the nightlife scene, put some energy back into it and get everybody else to raise their game.”

The woman who used to welcome the A-listers to Lillie’s during the golden era of Irish nightclubs believes the best clubs of New York, London and Paris offer the perfect blueprint for the future.

“Look at Buddha Bar in Paris. It’s a fabulous restaurant and bar that changes into a really glamorous club as the night goes on. They offer everything, food, drink, dancing and they do it in style.

“Yes, the economy is in a bad way at the moment — but there’s also a big opportunity for somebody to spend some money on doing it right.

“We need to get that energy and excitement back into the city centre”.

Ms Roe says she has looked into creating a new breed of club herself. “It can be done — all you need is a bit of bravery and a lot of money.”

One Dublin city centre club that has done well in the past two years is Krystle on Harcourt Street, thanks to serious investment and a lay-out that includes a generous smoking area.

But Krystle owner Rangan Arulchelvan sees the high cost of late night bar extensions and opening-hour restrictions as serious difficulties for his industry and fears more closures.

“We had Cocoon close last November then The Thomas Read Group got into trouble,” says Rangan.

“I have a feeling more clubs will go down. It’s a tricky period for everybody.” The mood is grim out there in club land, but Valerie Roe believes we shouldn’t give up on our nights out just yet.

“Look, there is a new generation coming through that wants something different from what’s out there now,” says the former face of Lillie’s. “And as long as boy wants to meet girl, there’ll be clubs”.