Monday, March 13, 2017

Meet the Companies Literally Dropping ‘Irish’ Pubs in Cities Across the World

[ed. I used to dream of going to Ireland or Scotland and experiencing the historic pub culture (along the lines of Balleykissangel or Local Hero), but not much anymore. I get the impression everything's been too westernized and Disneyfied (like many other cities and countries of the world).]

The walls of the bar are covered in old art, photographs of Ireland, and yellowing posters in frames. A pair of hurleys, the flat ash stick of the Gaelic game, are tacked above the door frame. The bar’s otherwise full of dust-coated bottles of bygone whiskeys and stouts, musical instruments, and familiar ridged glass partitions that gracefully generate several spaces where there might have been just one.

Christy Moore, beloved grandfather of contemporary Irish folk music, hums over the speakers. The manager — who, pleasingly, shares a first name with Moore — flits warmly and easily from bar to table, genially, and in a Donegal accent, asking about the general well-being of diners and drinkers. Notably, there are few shamrocks, in any form or medium — they, along with leprechauns, are generally derided as emblematic of a very loose grip on Ireland and “Irishness.”

The Auld Dubliner — small, dark, and convincing, with a flat, matte, unassuming facade (red and yellow lettering over black paint, on wood) — rests between a heavily illuminated branch of T-Mobile and a “dueling piano café” on a street approximately 5,000 miles from the place invoked in its name. Almost every part of the bar the eye falls on — from the stocky tables and the upholstered chairs to the floor tiling and the mock oil lamps dangling from the ceiling — were railed into the unit in Long Beach, California, from a 40-foot container that spent between three and five weeks at sea.

The bar’s trappings belie its location — a retail complex — and the year of its opening: 2003. Like thousands elsewhere, it was designed and prefabricated in Ireland: an export not cultural or theoretical, but actual. The assiduous export and installation of these pre-made Irish bars has been going on for more than 30 years, resulting in a global network of establishments that are interrelated but unrelated. A loose confederation. A franchise without a name.

In the late 1970s, Dublin architecture student Mel McNally and some classmates were tasked with analyzing a piece of local architecture. They decided to make their subject the city’s pubs. A dim view was taken of their proposal, but in the end, the project was such a success that it became a months-long public exhibition. Much of the work went missing in the final days, as McNally tells it, so emotive and sought-after were the drawings and renderings.

McNally went on to research the whole of Ireland to establish a definitive playbook of pub varieties, which led to the foundation of a design and manufacturing specialist, the Irish Pub Company [IPC], in 1990. The ambition was to design and build complete interiors of pubs, first domestically, but then for foreign markets, assembling huge shipments of flooring, decorative glass, mirrors, ceiling tiles, light fixtures, furniture, signage, and bric-a-brac, as well as the obvious centerpiece: the bar itself.

The group now sells bars in six “styles” that can be selected from a company catalog: Shop, Gastro, Victorian, Brewery, Country, and Celtic. At a glance, the variations may seem slight. Upon closer inspection, though, the Victorian option makes distinctively liberal use of brass accents and plummy tones. “Country” is a simpler affair: woody, closer to a kitchen, and liable to feature wall-mounted crockery and/or an open fire. “Modern” would appear to be the hipster iteration, the furniture sleek and the setting more contemporary, one conducive to nu-Irish pursuits like craft beer and artisanal gin tasting.

The Celtic style, on the other hand, plays up ancient folklore and mythology. “Brewery” uses related paraphernalia, cobblestone, and slate to get at the historical version of its name. “Shop” riffs on the rural pubs that doubled as general stores — or the general stores that doubled as pubs — a special configuration still found in Ireland.

Asked about essential components of an Irish bar, McNally offers, “I think everybody recognizes that good stained glass makes a difference,” delivering the line with total solemnity. Also important: spaces. “When I talk about spaces in pubs, very few clients know what I’m talking about,” he says, naming Dublin’s the Long Hall — a revered, beguiling Dublin pub, popular and relied upon for generations — as emblematic. Part of a protected structure, the pub has a jaunty red exterior and is a deep red within, like a heart, warm and compact, with chambers that inform the natural flow of patrons. “You know when you walk in how you wind up gathering up with people.”

The brewery behind Guinness, faced with flagging sales internationally, partnered with IPC shortly after its 1990 launch. McNally’s model was a highly effective conduit for sales of stout, and financial backing offered by Guinness enabled McNally’s expansion into continental Europe by subsidizing new operators and investing heavily in marketing.

The companies worked together to promote the flatpack Irish bar, made to order, as a marketable commodity. Introductory workshops were hosted. Country managers were appointed to handle particularly interested markets. Later on, assistance reportedly took the shape of a five-day class on all operational aspects and extended to the recruitment of Irish people to staff new openings.

by Siobhán Brett, Eater | Read more:
Image: Irish Pub Company