Just Bricks And Mortar (written in 2005)

follow me at @ronanfromcork

I wrote this pretty much 10 years ago for a now defunct magazine, about the Lobby Bar which had recently closed for the first time, or maybe second… but it’s definitely long since closed.

The Lobby’s owner, Pat Conway went on to open The Pavilion along with Joe Kelly & Stevie Grainger, where I also did some work, which closed a few months ago.

My 34 year old self would suggest some slight changes the 25 year old who wrote it, but won’t make any. Both are very happy with it.

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“It was just another pub. Bricks and mortar with a cold room”

I’m 25, I went to the Liberty enough to miss the place after it closed, but by god there are grown men and women, who were regulars of that place who still wander the city like lost souls looking for a new home, not looking comfortable anywhere else, if you sit with them long enough they’ll start telling you how “you could leave your flagon there and collect it the next day” and how “every Friday the music would stop and we’d watch Fr. Ted and if you talked during it you’d be kicked out”. I was there on Friday nights myself, people talked. I rarely saw flagons being passed back over the counter. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it happened but I just didn’t have that attachment with the place to remember it so wistfully. It was just another pub to me.

“It was just another club. Bricks and mortar with a DJ box and a sound system”

It’s the same with Sir Henrys. I served my time there. Freakscene on Wednesdays – “lollipops all round!”; Sweat On Saturdays “where’s me lollipop?” The music I heard for the first time there, and the music I loved played loud (the only way to listen to music). The mass congregation outside after kick out time. “What’s your name again? Do you know where the party is?” A million chips being ordered at the exact same time. Drivers praying to every god in the sky that the crowd would split so they could get over the bridge onto Barrack St. Those faces I used to see inside and outside Henry’s, are the same ones I see when I sell them tickets to get into the club I work at it now, the look on some of their faces – you’d swear they are Abraham about to kill Isaac. “it’s not the same without the sticky cider carpet is it?”, “it’s all young ones now, they don’t know what they’re missing”. While it was great, I don’t cry for the place, I wasn’t part of the vigil when it got knocked down, I just didn’t have that attachment. It was just another club to me.

“It was just another pub. Bricks and mortar with a stage and few microphones”

I’m sure another hairy, opinionated, caffeinated gobshite like me, will be saying in a few years about the lobby. But not my Lobby. The Lobby I know (knew?) was my favourite place in the world. I worked there for years, I played there longer than I worked there and I went there longer than I’d played or worked there. I can’t remember ever not going there, I know there was a time. Pints I’ve had, gig’s I’ve heard, people I’ve seen, friends I’ve made; all there. So much of my life is intertwined with the place. No point going into it all now, this isn’t my autobiography.

Everything was just better there. The trad session every Sunday made me feel Irish and comfortable to be so, whereas every stylisimo and magazine implores us to be European, somewhere our culture could be in the same room as the latest nokia videophone, and it was the phone that looked clichéd. Where 14 or 15 musicians would take a break to eat 4-Star Pizza and then back into McGinley’s slide or the Ennis jig or whatever our music’s name is. I remember a little girl maybe 6 or 7 years old, borrowing Stan’s fiddle one day when there was a break and literally silenced the packed room when she played some tough and involved classical music piece. That was the kind of the place the lobby was. Where music came first, cos we all know it’ll out live us all anyway.

It was a “listening venue”, but it wasn’t pretentious about it. It had a personality and a character, which people could feel. When I’d meet any other musician in Ireland, they asked how to get a gig there. The venue upstairs was perfect, 80 to 100 people (who needs a bigger crowd than that), one barperson (who needs more than one drink at a time), a great view of the river and a stage. No back stage rubbish; walk through the crowd and play. The people who played there knew why the place was special; Tommy Peoples, Bert Jansch, Glen Hansard, I’m picking these names of the top of head now; I could list hundreds if you want but that’s not the point. The people who went there to see a gig knew why it was so good, why it was special. If I could describe it’s qualities, then every venue would be able to have it, but I can’t and they aren’t. Anyone who ever went to a gig there knows what I mean though. You all have had a favourite gig there, instead of me describing mine [INSERT YOUR MEMORY HERE]

But it wasn’t just the ceoil. Some of the best pints in town came from those well-worn taps. Their photocopied simplex crosswords always seems a little bit easier than the exact same ones you’d get anywhere else (the only one I finished was there, I framed it and hung it on my wall). Whiney American tourists who would labour over a half of stout for three hours and talk about their ‘ahnsestors’ seemed charming and innocent. Even Paddy Casey’s album was passably listenable. When we won the all-Ireland last year everyone I knew seemed to head to the Lobby afterwards, spontaneously. It was a pub in a world of bars. If the Lobby was a person, it’d be your best friend.

Then one day in February, those green double doors didn’t open. The gig guides went out as usual. The website said “temporary closure”, that changed to “short term closure”, then a “for sale” ad in examiner”. All things point to the lobby being closed for good, until someone else buys it. Now of course, it could reopen as it was, unlikely though. It could, be bought by a rich regular who wants to keep it exactly as it was, unlikelier. It will probably be bought and change and it won’t be the Lobby any more, it won’t be my Lobby any more.

As expected, the Corkese whispers (the only thing worse than Chinese) have been in full flow: “they owe a fortune in tax”, “no fire escape”, “he’s run off to Australia”, “Charlie’s are buying it”, “the clarion bought last week”, “it’s reopening on sat” , “ the gardai have bought it”, and many more. As I said I worked there, I could ring the owner and ask him, but it’s not my business. It’s his pub and it’s closed, I can’t go in there any more and it’s gone. That’s the black and white of it. Some people want to suppose, gossip and imply; fuck that. Not my lobby, it deserves better than that, we shouldn’t be digging for dirt, something to whisper over a cigarette or shout in a character-less, late bar, we should be mourning, we should be wearing black, we should encase the whole place in bronze and keep it as a monument so future generations can see what a pub (not a bar) should be like. We should do something to prove we won’t forget. To show how important it was…… but maybe it’s just because I have an attachment to the place. I suppose it was just bricks and mortar.

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