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'Neon lights, smoke and hazy images': How 80s movies inspired a very different bar in Hang Dai

Will Dempsey and Karl Whelan wanted to create a unique atmosphere.

Image: Hang Dai

FROM THE OUTSIDE, Hang Dai doesn’t seem like one of Dublin’s hottest late night bars. In fact it looks more like your typical Chinese takeaway, the only clue otherwise being its intricate neon sign.

“Part of the fun of the place is when people walk into the reception and think they’re standing in a takeaway. It’s kind of a reveal when see the interior. There was always going to be some kind of reception so we thought let’s make it look like a Chinese takeaway.”

So says Will Dempsey, co-owner of Hang Dai. Dempsey was initially a sales rep for medical equipment but after DJing for many years around the country, he had the urge to create his own business.

With his business partner Karl Whelan he started brainstorming concepts, settling on Chinese food. “I grew up with Chinese food as a kid. So we started thinking of Sichuan food, and the types of dishes they don’t do here that Irish people are missing out on.”
But it was a fateful trip to Amsterdam that took Hang Dai to another level.

“We were having dinner at a restaurant that had upside down umbrellas on the ceiling. It was a normal restaurant until 11 o’clock and then the umbrellas started flashing and a DJ began playing. Suddenly it turned into a club.”

“It was great. We had our dinner, got some cocktails, and had a full night out there. So we started thinking about incorporating everything we love into one place and having a venue that transformed from a restaurant into a late night bar.”

To that end a hand-built sound system was installed while Dempsey and Whelan took a month long tour of China, sampling the country’s savoury delights.

On the visual side of things, Hang Dai takes its inspiration from some of Dempsey and Whelans’ favourite films. “We’re really into John Carpenter movies from the 80s, that type of atmosphere with neon lights, smoke and hazy images” says Dempsey.

The aim was to create something “kind of dark and seedy.” But it’s a tricky balance when you’re also catering for people who want to eat a meal.

“It’s tough, you’re trying to make sure people can see and eat their food, but you don’t really want to see much when you’re in a club. That’s why all the lights in the ceilings and walls are adjustable and get darker as the night goes on.”

While Hang Dai’s fusion of Chinese cuisine and a late night bar is enticing, many are simply drawn to the eclectic tunes. As well as hosting nights by Nialler9 and David Kitt, Hang Dai has a revolving door of some of Ireland’s best vinyl DJs.

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“The music is definitely for deep record collectors and people with open ears. I like rarer sounds, whether they’re from the 60s, 70s, 80s, so I wanted the music to be like that.

“I ask DJs to come in and play different types of sets than they normally would. Most of them spend time going through their collection, getting a unique set together for their night here. It’s a great opportunity for DJs to hear their rarer records on a killer sound system.”

It’s been two years since Hang Dai opened, and the response has been promising. Recently it’s hosted events in conjunction with Another Love Story. This year’s festival will see Hang Dai running their own stage, bringing the same combination of great music and food that has made the bar such a success.

“It’s taken a while for the music side of things to get going,” Dempsey reflects. “People have started to realize that Hang Dai is more than just a restaurant. We keep going from strength to strength.”

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