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'We just had to let it be': How The Belfry reopened a long-lost local shuttered for years

Stoneybatter’s new arrival on how they opened the doors after years with the shutters down.

ON DECEMBER 8th 2017, The Belfry opened its doors in Stoneybatter for the first time in eight years. The pub had lain empty after changing hands during the recession. Eventually Fergus Kealy and his business partners stepped in.

“We were lucky enough to come in and purchase it,” says Kiely. “Timing was everything.”

Kealy had moved back to Dublin from London and wanted to build a neighbourhood bar. He envisaged it as a traditional local with a modern twist. 

“I loved how these great pubs used to pop up in east London. In real working class areas, you would have a traditional local pub. Someone would come in having worked in central London and do it up while still keeping the character of the pub.”

“There were different elements of the pubs around Stoneybatter that we all loved. The food in Mulligan’s, the pints in Walsh’s, the atmosphere in Dice Bar. We were aware of what the best places offered and we kind of wanted to try put it under one roof.”

After acquiring the pub, they set about doing it up. They were eager to retain many of the pub’s original features all while putting their own stamp on it. Think upcycled furniture and prints designed by local artists. 

“It is quite contemporary, but we didn’t want to let go of that nice pub feeling you get when you go in somewhere,” says Kealy. 

While Stoneybatter may be well served when it comes to pubs, Kealy says he and his business partners identified a key constituency that wasn’t necessarily being catered for. 

“The community is very diverse,” he says. “But there was a section that wasn’t spending their money in the area or drinking locally. They were making the trip into town. I think we’ve hopefully tapped into that a bit.”

“Young professionals are the majority of who we get in here but it’s a nice mix. It’s them and their parents or them and their friends when they come to visit. There’s a real community feel when it comes to our customers.”

Since opening, The Belfry has become a foodie destination of sorts, having wholeheartedly embraced the food truck trend. The pub regularly invites vendors to serve up grub in the outdoor area. Regulars include Village Pizza, Vurgerface, Feashty and The Taco Truck.

“We want to give people the opportunity to do their own thing,” says Kealy.

When it comes to the drinks offering, the pub is decidedly diverse with old favourites and crafty brews happily coexisting side by side. 

“When we opened, I was adamant that a pint of Guinness would be €4.80, which was reflective of where we were positioned,” says Kealy. “But we also put 26 taps in. We have craft beers and taps that rotate.”

Additionally, the pub stocks nearly 40 gins and sells wine by the glass.

“The idea was to give as much product choice as possible,” says Kealy. “We sell out of something different the whole time.” 

 

Kealy says the pub’s first year in business was a resounding success, but a steep learning curve. 

“You have to watch how people react. When we started, we were having DJs at the weekend and live music. None of that really clicked. People just wanted to come and enjoy a nice drink in a chilled atmosphere. We found when we stopped pushing, we started doing better.”

“We were trying to offer more, but the second we sat back and let it be was when it really started to flourish.”

So what can locals expect from year two? 

For one thing, Kealy says there are plans afoot to extend the beer garden ahead of the summer. The pub is also keen to continue its work within the community and intends on working with the likes of Pride and Stoneybatter Festival. Likewise, there are plans to host more exhibitions for local artists. 

“We just want to keep the momentum going,” he says. 

More: ‘You can see the whites of their eyes’: How Coughlan’s went from quiet local to happening spot>

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Amy O'Connor

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