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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 5°C
story of my bar

'For the quiet gigs you can hear a pin drop': How The Roundy in Cork makes magic with music

The iconic Cork space has changed a lot in the last decade.

THE ROUNDY BAR on Cork’s Castle Street has lots of faces.

To some people, it’s a café where they grab their morning espresso or have afternoon tea. To others it’s a craft beer pub to enjoy a few pints with friends. 

Another crowd might head upstairs at the weekends and so to them it’s primarily a nightclub and live music venue, hosting a wide range of gigs from punk to techno.

But then again it’s also a record store and it’s well known for comedy.

The crowd the bar draws are hugely diverse – and that is the appeal of it says owner Frank Bradley. “It’s a cross mix of people,” he says. The Roundy is aimed at the over 23s, says Bradley: “We stay away from the student market, we are not aiming at that.”

Famous for the curved shape that inspired its name, the Roundy’s location was part of the original walled city in Cork. Sitting outside on a quiet morning, you can well imagine how it was once part of a bustling medieval market place. 

The building itself dates back to around 1850 and it is rumoured to be the bar where Michael Collins had his last drink before he was shot at Béal na Bláth in west Cork.

As of last year, upstairs at the Roundy bar is home to Plugd Records, it’s a vinyl store by day and music venue by night – showcasing talent from across the genres, from jazz improv to punk rock and from folk and into techno.

The aim is simply to host an array of diverse local and national talent from every genre, says Jim Horgan, owner of Plugd Records. “Most of the events are monthly occurrences curated by local promoters,” he says. 

There’s a real sense of community around the space with promoters and musician often swapping ideas and working with each other.

Although featuring a wide range of musical genres, Plugd is certainly part of a dance music revival happening in Cork, says Horgan.   

“There is a strong and fabled history of house and techno in Cork which has seen a resurgence in recent years,” he says. “There is definitely more interest in dance music due to the increase in venues, with local DJs and producers getting a chance to play out.”

He has increased vinyl sales too, reflecting this trend, he says. 

Plugd host electronic nights every Saturday in the Roundy. Electronic music is a broad church so those gigs “can range from more experimental live performances to dancefloor DJ sets,” says Horgan. 

They have a lot of regulars on Saturday nights and those people appreciate variety he says.

The Roundy has a special atmosphere which is partially down to the small size of the space, says Horgan. It is the opposite of a ‘super-club’ perhaps. “People have a lot of respect for the space, the musicians and each other,” he says. “ For the quieter gigs you can hear a pin drop, and at the weekends it’s a real club in a pub feeling.”

The Cafe Bar

Downstairs in the main bar, the owner Frank Bradley was determined to shake the cobwebs off the place, when he took it over in 2006.

Back then the windows were blacked-out so you couldn’t see into the bar. But Bradley wanted to go for the opposite vibe – moving away from the often dark and heavily decorated, traditional Irish pub in favour of a light and minimalist cafe-bar.

“It’s an old-style building but it’s very open inside, lots of mirrors, light,” says Bradley. “It’s a really good place in the summertime and all year round. It’s light-hearted, it’s not a heavy pub style it’s more of a café vibe.”

The bar draws in an eclectic mix of people from diverse backgrounds and has lots of regulars. Some Europeans living in Cork have made the place their local, popping in in the morning for an espresso and coming back in the evening with friends for a glass of craft beer.“We do coffees and have a big selection of herbal teas, cakes, scones, toasted sandwiches and we have a selection of craft beers, which we vary out,” he says. 

Bradley used to run well-known Cork dance music venue Lebowskis from 1997 to 2003, he says. At the time it was the place to go before hitting the legendary Sir Henry’s nightclub – possibly Ireland’s most iconic dance club. “That was a music bar, it was a pre-bar for Sir Henrys and the same style of music,” says Bradley.

Despite that experience, he didn’t have much time to concentrate on getting the gigs going upstairs in the Roundy, he says. He threw a few good events there over the years, but it was all a bit disorganised so he was relieved when Plugd Records got involved, turning upstairs into a record store and professional music venue. 

As well as all that music at the weekends, there is comedy at least three nights a week and comedy improv on a Tuesday too, says Bradley. 

The Roundy is getting a make-over inside at the moment, painting, floors and other touches. As spring approaches Bradley is looking forward to throwing open his big sash windows very soon. “The open windows connect the bar to the street outside, and to all the life that is happening outside,” he says. 

More: ‘It’s humbling’: How a little-used pool hall become one of Dublin’s most exciting music venues>

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