NOVEMBER 2005 WAS a different planet in Ireland. The Celtic Tiger was at its zenith. The first shoots of the coming financial crisis had yet to poke their way through the soil.
Ireland had money. Lots of it. Most of it on credit, but nevertheless, if someone wished to attempt something outlandish, the capital was there.
Enter the distinctive face of Peter Stringfellow, who passed away this morning aged 77 after a decade-long battle with cancer. For some, the nightclub mogul represented a vulgarian of dubious morals with a mullet Van Halen would kill for. For others, an affable sort who knew how to show people a good time.
Stringfellow had been running nightclubs all his life. He’d never tried his most famous trick on this side of the Irish Sea.
There’s always room for something new.
The Irish project
The self-styled King of Clubs (he’d been opening them across the globe since the ’60s, and had moved into the ‘exotic’ end of the market with the opening of his best-known, eponymous, club in London in 1980) decided to lend his name to an Irish project.
But the plan wasn’t to open within Dublin’s accepted social epicentres. Planning permission was sought on a large commercial site on the capital’s Parnell Street, in the heart of residential north Dublin.
From the very beginning, things didn’t go to plan.
One of the big draws of Stringfellow’s marquee club in Covent Garden in London was its celebrity clientele.
But celebrities and moral protests don’t mix well together. And the residents of Dublin’s north inner city put up one hell of a protest.
Planning was delayed for three months post-November 2005 due to legal wrangling, which saw the club miss out on the crucial Christmas market. Eventually permission was granted by the High Court in January of the following year, which ruled that, sympathies aside, it couldn’t side against the rule of law.
The two-storey club finally went operational, with ‘exotic’ dances priced at €30 for three minutes, and a restaurant and bar thrown into the mix for good measure.
Hiding to nothing
But from its opening night in February 2006, attended by Stringfellow himself and a glitzy host of celebdom, the club was on a hiding to nothing.
The assembled locals, campaigning under slogans like ‘no sleaze in our area’ and ‘protect our women and kids’ weren’t giving up without a fight. They proceeded to picket the club almost every night (Stringfellow’s Dublin stayed open until 3am six days a week).
The celebrities stayed away, so did almost everyone else, and the project, barely in its infancy, started to slip into the red.
After five months of diminishing returns, Sabley Taverns, the company operating the franchise (Stringfellow claimed to have put no money of his own whatsoever into the concern), was forced to pull the plug.
The club’s defeat was greeted as a moral victory by the likes of campaigners Emer Costello (a Labour councillor and later an MEP) and then-deputy lord mayor Aodhán Ó Ríordáin – Costello declared the decision to open in a residential area as being “totally inappropriate”, while the closure was a “victory for people power”.
“The residents were left with no alternative but to take to the streets when they effectively found themselves by-passed by both the planning system and the licensing courts,” she said.
And what of the man himself? “I am personally very sad about this as I thoroughly enjoyed associations with Dublin,” he said, adding that he didn’t believe the club had been placed on the wrong site.
To this day I don’t think it was in the wrong place. I would leave the club where it is. It was wonderfully decorated.”