People are staying away from nightclubs in their thousands, according to data from the industry. A "tidal shift" in alcohol consumption away from nightclubs/ pubs in favour of off-licences is one factor, according to a report by economist Dr Constantin Gurdgiev, which was commissioned by the Irish Nightclub Industry Association (INIA).
For the first time ever, off-licence alcohol sales by volume were actually higher than in pubs and clubs, at 52% of total volume sales, according to the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland.
Below-cost selling by the multiples due to the repeal of the groceries order and cheap booze from Northern Ireland are major factors in this, according to the report.
"One particular Dublin supermarket branch sells more alcohol in one week than all of the Dublin nightclubs put together," says Oliver Hughes of Lillie's Bordello nightclub.
Restricted nightclub opening times and a trend towards late bars have also taken a huge toll.
The ban on opening past 2.30am has hit the golden hours of profitability for clubs, particularly in Dublin, where a whole industry revolved around late-drinking clubs. Nightclubs served until up to 3.30am but beyond that Leeson Street's string of basement wine bars stayed open into the early morning.
Lillie's Bordello used to serve until 3.30am. "That 1.30am to 3.30am window was crucial," said Hughes. This is when punters leave Dublin's late bars, which close at 1.30am, to hit the clubs. But with nightclubs forced to close at 2.30am, for the sake of one hour of clubbing they're not bothering now. Instead, the nightclubs are forced into direct competition with the late bars, where the former natural order of things was that one took over where the other left off.
"People are pre-loading [alcohol] at house parties instead," added Hughes, giving another reason for the growth in the off-licence trade. Hughes claims there has been "a huge drop" in British weekend tourists, which he attributes to the change in club opening hours here.
Though there were other factors, restricted licensing hours had hurt trade at Renards, the Dublin nightclub that closed last month, liquidator Gerard Murray told the Sunday Tribune. "Its main business was the after-hours trade – they feed from Dawson Street bars like Café en Seine and Ron Blacks."
"There is considerable support for the lobby to change the opening restrictions," Murray said. "Times are bad enough as it is."
Nightclub numbers have fallen by over one-third since 2000, when there were 100 clubs in Dublin compared to 66 in 2008, according to the INIA. Outside of Dublin there were 422 nightclubs in 2000, of which just 262 remained in 2008.
Late-bar numbers have quadrupled in that time. There were just 18 late bars in Dublin in 2000; by 2008 the number had grown to 74. The 38 late bars in the rest of the country had mushroomed to 152 in the eight years.
Dublin's nightclubs earn €170m in total net revenues and cater for some eight million revellers a year. The nightclub industry in total has net sales of around €500m per annum.
The INIA report stresses that 34% of total nightclub revenue does not come from alcohol sales, which means that 66% does come from alcohol.
Nightclubs don't exist, at least in legal terms. Both late bars and clubs are covered by the Special Exemption Orders (SEO), part of the quaintly titled Public Dance Halls Act of 1935.
The INIA wants to see nightclubs defined in law by capacity, size of dancefloor, type of entertainment and facilities. But most of all, it wants opening hours to be 2.30am outside of Dublin and 4am in the capital.
Gardaí tend not to allow late-opening applications for more than a two weeks to a month in duration at a time, so clubs have to send their solicitors to the district courts every two to four weeks to renew their SEOs at a cost of €410 per night, or between €85,000 and €100,000 a year, depending on the opening hours of the club.
The NIAI report argues that nightclubs sell just 5% of all alcohol consumed in Ireland, yet the industry shoulders 70% of the licensing costs levied on the on-trade and off-trade combined.
Changes in the current licensing system, especially the proposed extended opening hours could net the state as much as €54m more in taxes, it claims.
New Dublin Club Seeks To Defy Recession
"Nightclub-goers are looking for a whole new standard of entertainment, a certain theatricality even," Lillie's Bordello boss Oliver Hughes says.
Bravely bucking the trend, given the closure of clubs in recent months, a new Dublin nightclub venture began on a lavish scale last week.
At a cost of €38m, the 2,000 capacity Wright Venue officially opened its doors on Wednesday night with a launch featuring fire-eaters, acrobats and Peaches Geldof on the decks.
Located at Airside Park in Swords on Dublin's northside, the club is backed by publican Michael Wright.
A collection of restaurants, wine bars and coffee shops attached to the venue are also planned.
Club-goers are promised resident and international guests DJs and live gigs.
There are four private party rooms, a room specially for live acts and a penthouse roof garden.
Michael Wright, one of the Howth fishmonger family, runs the Wright Bar Group which owns a number of Dublin venues including Wright's Café Bar, the Bloody Stream, the Anglers Rest and the Findlater.