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'When they step into the room, there's magic': The Grand Social's rise from the ashes of a superpub

In a former life this was Pravda, a Celtic Tiger cavern. It’s now something very different.

YEARS BEFORE IT became The Grand Social, 35 Liffey Street Lower was home to Pravda, one of the first ‘superpubs’ in Dublin. It was here that John Brereton played DJ sets and organised gigs during the week.

“At the time, the upstairs and downstairs were connected,” says Brereton. “There was a hole in the floor of the venue so you could look down onto the next floor like a gallery. I always thought ‘God, if that floor was filled in, this room up here would be a brilliant sized venue.’”

Brereton DJed in Pravda for six years until 2007. Two years later, it went into receivership. When Brian Montague purchased the property, someone mentioned a guy who used to run events in Pravda; apparently he had ideas about turning it into a music venue. That’s how Brereton became involved in what would become The Grand Social.

When Brereton came on board, his number one priority was to offer bands the best experience possible, the rationale being that if the band is happy, the customers will follow suit. Brereton is a member of Irish indie band Sack, so he knew what musicians wanted when they played a venue.

He brought in a team of experienced sound engineers to fit out the PA system, led by Joey Kenny. Their work has earned regular nominations for tech team of the year, often going toe-to-toe with huge festivals like Electric Picnic in the same category. “I think one of the reasons why The Grand Social has persisted is the sound,” says Brereton. “The sound quality is unparalleled among similar sized venues.”

Visually Brereton wanted The Grand Social to stand out from its contemporaries in the city. “There’s a lot of other brilliant venues around, but they’re quite dark, just a black box really,” he says. “That’s tried and tested, it works, but ours looks different to a normal rock ‘n’ roll venue. I think the festoon lighting and the green and red drapes make people feel like they’re at a festival. So automatically when they step into that room, there’s a magic to it.”

The Grand Social’s programming spans jazz to indie rock, hip-hop to string quintets. In today’s climate, Brereton says every venue has to do a bit of this and a bit of that. Even still, The Grand Social offers a variety of acts that puts many venues to shame.

That makes it hard for him to pick a favourite gig from over the years. What makes The Grand Social so irresistible is the way it combines the vibe of a snug 300 person venue with the relaxed candor of an Irish pub. The crowd interaction has led to some gigs that he will never forget.

“We have a guy called Bob Log who wears a motorcycle helmet with a mic in it. He brings this inflatable raft and then he does a song where everyone brings him around the room on the raft. The Americans are showmen. They know you can’t just get up and play, you have to sell it baby. I really enjoy those gigs because you never know what’s going to happen.”

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“I find now when I go to the bigger venues like the 3 Arena, you start getting a bit… Not bored but a little disconnected,” he says. “There’s something about seeing a band in a small venue when you’re up close. I especially love when the gig is over and the bands are selling merch. Everyone chats with them as they get a drink or takes their picture or gets them to sign their record. There’s just something nice about it.”

The Grand Social shows no signs of slowing down in the coming months. There’s talk of turning a section of the downstairs bar into a 150 person venue, or creating a TV channel to host interviews and videos of the bands performing. And now that Frank Gleeson of Whelans fame owns the bar, there’s the possibility that The Grand Social will grow in size.

Still, you get the sense that these are all just bells and whistles for Brereton. When asked what the future holds, he’s delighted to tell me that The Grand Social is getting a new PA system installed. “Our current one still sounds brilliant but I’m dying for the new one to come in,” he says. “We’re going to sound even better!”

More: ‘People meet, discuss, hear stories and sing’: How one of Ireland’s oldest houses became a pub… again>

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