Devastated by the downturn in consumer spending, much of the pub and nightclub market in Dublin has been left with a hangover after the non-stop party of the last decade. We've witnessed trouble at Capital Bars, the closure of Robbie Fox's legendary Renards and the collapse of the Thomas Read group, which is now in receivership.
Despite this, others have opened new venues, most notably The Wright Group's €38m Wright Venue in Airside near Swords in north Dublin, which has a licence for 2,900 people. Also in Swords, developer Gerry Gannon has just applied to demolish a house and other buildings in the middle of Swords to construct a pub and restaurant as well as shops and a sandwich bar.
The latest to wade into the nightclub sector is, perhaps surprisingly, FBD Hotels, part of FBD Holdings, which has announced they are set to open a new nightclub in Dublin city centre after investing €2m in the venture.
The club will be located in the Temple Bar Hotel in what was formerly Boomerang Nightclub. By their own admission, legislative changes have led many investors to become cautious about expanding into the business but the company believes it can offer something new and fresh.
Paul McDaid, group general manager of the FBD Hotels in Ireland, is confident their new nightclub venture will be a success. "A depressed economy is not a reason to put a great opportunity on hold. Dublin city centre is still an international hotspot and will remain that way," he said.
The choice of location makes sense. Temple Bar is holding up well, according to rival publican and restaurant operator Jay Bourke, who told the Sunday Tribune the area is still thriving and the "people will continue to come" there because it is part of Ireland's tourist offering.
FBD's principal activity is providing insurance and other financial services but the group has property investments and hotel interests in Ireland. It recently rebranded its Tower Hotel Group as FBD Hotels, which includes Faithlegg House Hotel and Golf Club, Tower Hotel in Waterford, Castleknock Hotel and Country Club, and Temple Bar Hotel in Dublin.
It also owns two resorts in southern Spain, La Cala Resort and Sunset Beach Club. Now though, it is eyeing the nightclub scene and has used consultant Bob Tweedy, who owns the Tweedy Group in Waterford, in drawing up its offering.
A number of other consultants have also been used while designers O'Donnell O'Neill, who also created Krystal in Dublin, Halo in Galway and Havana Browns in Cork, were involved in the design.
The new superclub will open at the end of this month and will host gigs during the week, when the tourist euro is less in evidence.
For the future, though, the nightclub sector says its needs the licensing legislation to be updated.
"We need some clarification on the legislative issues, particularly the opening and closing times. It's costing €411 a night to get your late-night licence," said John Ryan, who specialises in pub and nightclub sales for CBRE. "That's crazy. Every day in the licensing court there's a mill of people trying to get block extensions for the month. We need clarity on what's what in the sector. Staggered closing times are one area I think they should look at."
He welcomed the move by FBD into the nightclub business. "I think it's great, it proves it's a viable business. Boy will always meet girl, that's never going to stop," he said.
Ryan is currently handling the sale of The Towers pub in Ballymun, which operates a late-night bar on behalf of Declan Taite who was appointed receiver to Knockalena Limited. Ryan has not issued a guide price but it is believed the property is likely to sell for more than €3.5m when tenders close on 5 November.
The pub is beside the existing shopping mall, where Treasury Holdings recently secured planning permission for an €800m mixed-use scheme that will include a new, enlarged shopping centre.
Bourke agrees the legislation needs to be clarified and is frustrated by the pace of reform.
"The government are promising a nightclub permit and that will help with banking and credibility. That's the thought but they're taking their time," he said, adding that they've been in talks on the issue for eight to nine years.
"The Consolidation of the Sale of Intoxicating Liquor Act affects the livelihoods of 250,000 people. It's astonishing incompetence that it's not law yet. It's an indigenous sector and is key for the tourism market, which is so important now. It's mind-blowing it's not law yet."
He said people will always find a way to go to nightclubs to meet people, even if it involves making some sacrifices elsewhere.
"People need to dance and nightclubs are all about the music, the décor and the marketing. We always do a lot of marketing for our nights because it's very different from the pub and even the late-bar business," he said.
When things go wrong, however, they can go very wrong as they did in June for Robbie Fox, the experienced promoter who was forced to close Renards and other venues with debts of €6.6m.
The liquidator of Renards gave up hope of selling the business as a going concern in July and warned at the time that the premises could be "shuttered up" for two years.
"It's that kind of market at present. It's going to get worse before it gets better, unfortunately," Gerard Murray of GM Business Advisors told this newspaper in July.
The subsequent troubles that hit Capital Bars proved he was right.
Its Café en Seine, The George, Howl at the Moon and Zanzibar venues have all entered examinership in recent weeks. If those four companies were to go into liquidation there would be a deficit of more than €121m, the independent accountant's report states.
The group is expected to make a loss of nearly €740,000 this year and a loss of more than €675,000 next year. Tough times indeed.