Two of Cork’s best known publicans have recently opened premises in Dublin, prompting observers to comment that a new era of southern comfort is being established in the hospitality trade.
Ernest Cantillon and Benny McCabe have each opened Dublin branches of their Cork hostelries — Sober Lane and Arthur Mayne’s, respectively — with further openings planned in the future.
“Huge numbers of Corkonians have moved up to Dublin over the past number of years,” says Cantillon. “There has always been big traffic between the two cities, so it seemed a good idea to bring a bit of Cork style to the capital’s attractions. You could say we decided to bring Mohammed to the mountain, so to speak.”
Located between Sandymount and Irishtown on Dublin’s southside, Sober Lane’s proximity to Lansdowne Road will provide an extra boon to the business in terms of potential footfall. “It’s a great location for us, just around the back of Lansdowne Road, which plays well to our rugby connections. It’s the same basic package as the Sober Lane in Cork, right down to the menu. We’re also putting in a number of staff from Cork to get it up and running.”
Cantillon, who runs Electric bar and restaurant, the Sugarcube, and the Voodoo Rooms in Cork, attracted international attention when he opted to interview potential staff for his Dublin venue via Snapchat — the social media app that allows users to send 15-second videos and photos that disappear after being viewed.
“By asking people to submit their application through Snapchat means we get the most creative and outgoing staff without having to trawl through stack-loads of CVs and try to get to know someone on paper,” says Cantillon.
“Applicants had 10 seconds to impress, which is the most they are likely to have on a busy night in the bar, so it makes sense.”
Applying this unconventional approach saw Sober Lane inundated with 1,300 applications in the first 24 hours, as well as getting global exposure on CNBC, which picked up the story.
“If you want a profession, make an impression,” says Cantillon. “First impressions are everything in our game. We are all about careers. When people get a job here they take it very seriously and it gives us a huge edge.”
Less than a mile away in Donnybrook, another Cork institution has also opened its doors, bringing another waft of Rebel hospitality to the capital. Arthur Mayne’s, the well-established chemist shop-turned-wine bar on Cork’s Pembroke St, now forms the second prong of this southern pincer movement in one of the capital’s most salubrious suburbs.
The latest addition to the Benny McCabe stable of pubs that include the Bodega, Sin É, Crane Lane, the Oval, and Mutton Lane, the family’s first venue outside of Cork will be run and managed by his wife Cliona and daughter Saoirse. “It really is the most beautiful bar we’ve ever opened. We wanted to recreate the atmosphere and style of Cork, but with some extra touches added for Dublin.”
Having originally purchased the Cork chemist shop mainly as another entrance to the adjacent Crane Lane, the decision to transform the space into a wine bar decorated with vintage pharmaceutical paraphernalia became one of the veteran publican’s smartest moves.
“The success of Arthur Mayne’s caught us all by surprise, we never saw just how successful it was going to be.”
By all accounts, the Dublin branch is having the same effect: “It’s been a roaring success, far beyond our imaginations. The reaction from Dubliners has been phenomenal and while there is, of course, a lot of good-natured ball-hopping about football rivalry between the counties, we can see that this move to the capital has been the right one,” adds McCabe.
And if this Cork invasion is gaining column inches and attention, it is not before time, he says.
“Many Dublin pubs have traditionally been owned by people from other counties — Kerry, Galway, Sligo, you name it.
“But, in fact, Cork has been the one county that’s always been under-represented in the pub game. So what Ernest and the McCabes are doing is just rebalancing a situation that needed it.”
Such is the success of the Arthur Mayne’s brand, there are already plans to take it to an even wider audience.
“There is certainly great interest in it, and there are talks about opening a chain of Arthur Mayne’s right across the UK,” McCabe says.
“For the moment, my wife and daughter are concentrating in getting the Dublin place up and running, and there’s no reason that more than one could flourish in the city,” he says.
The Cork invasion looks like a win-win for owners and customers alike.
“It hasn’t been easy keeping businesses running in Cork over the past six years, and putting all that hard won experience to work in Dublin looks set to pay dividends,” McCabe adds.