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'There's been nothing but support': How 'a bunch of hipsters' in Lucky's regenerated a Liberties shopfront

The Dublin 8 spot has also become a haven for local artists.

Image: Instagram

WHEN JOHN MAHON left Bodytonic in 2014, he was eager to set up a new bar. Having spent the last eight years running The Bernard Shaw, he wanted to apply everything he’d learned to his next project. But Dublin’s strict licensing laws quickly put the brakes on.

“The process took a long time. Way longer than I would have hoped or expected,” he says. “It was a good three years of chasing places, wasting weeks and months being led down a path by vendors. There are so many things at play that you’ve little control over.”

In the interim, Mahon started a family and kept busy with freelance event work. But when a location became available on Meath Street, Mahon and his co-owners Barry O’Donoghue and Simon Conway saw a unique opportunity.

“Everyone wants to know what it’s like being a bunch of hipsters breezing into Meath Street, but there’s been nothing but support,” he explains:

It’s a really diverse, interesting area. You have your tourists, you have your NCAD students, you have all the local heads, you have lads going around the place on horses. There’s nowhere else like it in Dublin.

From their time spent living and working in The Liberties, Mahon and his partners knew there was a desire for something different. Beloved as Meath Street is, by the evening its businesses have mostly closed for the day – it would take more to get people in the door.

After reflecting on the limited options for eating out in the area, the three realized that food would be a huge drive for customers. That led to them recruiting Coke Lane Pizza, which was operating in the back of Frank Ryan’s in Smithfield at the time:

We got in touch and said we had this idea and they saw the same opportunity we did. It was kind of an evolution for them – to step up from a gazebo in the back of a pub to a shipping container in the back of a pub!

Beyond the great food, Lucky’s offers a relaxed vibe, welcoming to newcomers and regulars alike. “The neighbourhood pub thing was the constant,” Mahon explains: “The place was gutted by the time we got it, so there was an opportunity to create something contemporary and stripped back, but cozy as well.”

Mahon considers Lucky’s to be an amalgamation of the owners’ interests, particularly art. In addition to markets and Bring Your Own Art nights, in which any budding artist can bring a piece to sell, Lucky’s regularly hosts art shows. “It’s become part of the identity of the bar”, explains Mahon:

We change shows every six weeks, so it can go from print to sculptural work… I’m conscious these days that there are less and less places for casual shows. But everything that goes in is definitely considered. We try to figure out if it’s right for us and right for the artists.

It’s important for up-and-coming artists, says Mahon:

There need to be spaces where artists can take a chance, or be given one. With us, they don’t need to sell for a ton of money and have the gallery take the cut. I love supporting it.

It’s been just over a year since Lucky’s opened its doors and the response so far has been positive. There’s a possibility that in the years to come, the three owners will try to come up with “something new”, but for now, the focus is on making Lucky’s as good as it can be. “It just needs to be better all the time – that’s our daily challenge” explains Mahon:

We need to be constantly turning the screw and be better than we were the day before. If you want to keep the door open, you have to be constantly on top of things. It’s just not good enough anymore to be sitting on your arse pouring pints and hoping for the best.

More: ‘You never know who you’ll bump into’: How The Boar’s Head cemented its place among Dublin’s best sports pubs>

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