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'It reminds people of a New York dive bar': From Polish pub to vinyl paradise on Parnell Street

The story of The Big Romance.

THE BAR ON 98 Parnell Street has gone through many incarnations over the years. According to Come Here To Me, it served as a family grocers from the nineteenth century until the early 1960s. 

Since then it has housed everything from Zagloba, a pub aimed at the city’s Polish community, to the Dublin Supporters Bar. In November, the space welcomed its newest tenant, The Big Romance.

Founded by Hidden Agenda’s Dave Parle and Stephen Manning, The Big Romance is a vinyl bar with a craft beer bent. The duo have spent years putting on gigs and club nights around the city, but this marks their first foray into the pub trade.

“We’ve been doing events with Hidden Agenda for about six, seven years,” says Parle. “It’s always been on our radar to have our own space.” 

In 2016, Parle was traveling around Japan and was taken with the vinyl bar culture that existed there.

“It felt to me that kind of record shop atmosphere I would have had growing up where you’re going in and getting a feel for their collection and meeting similar, like-minded people,” he recalls. “I felt there weren’t many similar things to that in Ireland.”

Over the next few years, they set about finding a suitable space, eventually settling on 98 Parnell Street.

Inside, the bar is home to a front room and lounge space. The walls are black, but the bar’s signature red neon sign ensures the room doesn’t feel too dark.

“It seems to remind people of a New York dive bar,” says Parle.

The name of the bar is partially inspired by the David Kitt album of the same name. 

“It’s probably one of my favourite records and there was something about the phrase itself that really resonated with me,” says Parle. “We particularly liked the name because it’s very warm and it had a nice message from the off.”

It also serves as a nod to a particularly legendary romantic liaison. 

“We spent a lot of time trying to come up with a name that resonated with the area on Parnell Street,” explains Parle.

We came across the story of Charles Stewart Parnell and Kitty O’Shea. They had an affair that went on for years and that linked in nicely with the idea of ‘big romance’.

Music is at the heart of The Big Romance. On any given day, you might find the barman playing Radiohead’s OK Computer or a guest DJ spinning gems for their own record collection. 

“People can expect to hear afrobeat, soul, funk, disco. Maybe a bit of house as it gets later,” says Parle. “It’s quite a broad mix, really.” 

 On Fridays and Saturdays, the bar tends to turn into a dancefloor. 

“That’s been happening every week and I think it’s sort of nice for people to have a middle ground between a bar experience and a late night club experience,” says Parle. “I think people have enjoyed being able to go listen to really nice music, have some nice drinks, wrap up their night at 1am and not wake up feeling too bad.” 

Going forward, the bar has plans to host listening parties whereby people can gather and listen to classic albums in the bar’s lounge. 

“As part of the Dublin Bowie Festival, we had a listening party for Blackstar and Berlin Trilogy,” says Parle. “We’re going to be doing more of them. In April, we’re going to have a Kate Bush listening party. People will come in and listen to Hounds of Love straight through at a really nice volume. They’ll get to hear records in a way that they can’t quite listen to them at home.” 

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Nearly there...

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The bar’s other main focus is craft beer with the likes of Whiplash, Rascals Brewing Co, Cloudwater Brew Co, To Øl, and Kinnegar all available on tap. 

“I have a strong interest in craft beer myself and I like the tone that it sets,” says Parle. “While people do drink to go out and have a good time, it’s nice to see people drinking for flavour and discovering new things.”

Additionally, the bar regularly hosts tap takeovers with the likes of Yellowbelly, White Hag and Garage set to make guest appearances over the coming weeks and months.  

The Big Romance also has an impressive food menu with culinary outfit Chew serving up toasties and bar snacks with a twist. Think kimchi cheese toasties, house olives and currywurst hot dogs. 

Parle says running a bar has been quite the learning experience so far, describing it as “all-consuming”. 

“As much as I had experience of putting on shows in venues, I had never been on the other side of the bar, really,” he says.

“But we’re lucky to have found really good staff and they’ve been brilliant in terms of operation and behind the bar. We’re learning loads as we go along and I’m sure in five years’ time, we’ll still be picking up things.”

As far as he is concerned, the positive feedback from punters who have stopped in for a beer and a bop has made it all worthwhile. 

“It’s nice to feel like we’re doing something that adds to the city a little bit.”

More: ‘I saw Ray Davies perform to 160 people here’: How the Róisín Dubh became one of Ireland’s must-play music venues>

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Amy O'Connor

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