THE owner of a string of Cork city’s best known bars, Benny McCabe, and his brother Leo, have bought the former Pavilion “Pav” Bar and Nightclub for €1.3m.
Mr McCabe is planning a return to the glory days of cinema at the venue with “lamps on tables and a high end cocktail table service” where audiences can sing and dance along to classic cinematic musicals like Grease, or popular contemporary productions such as Mama Mia.
“I personally want to see the Rocky Horror Show while enjoying a pint and I have personally promised myself an afternoon showing of Kelly’s Heroes [World War 2 movie starring Clint Eastwood]” he said.
The venue, which originally opened as a plush cinema in 1921, will also host live cabaret “Berlin-style” and other forms of live music. Art exhibitions and theatre may also take place there.
“I want it to be a fun place and I am hopeful that we’ll be in for The Jazz,” he said. The Guinness Cork Jazz Festival, pandemic permitting, takes place over the October Bank Holiday weekend.
Mr McCabe said the decision to buy the building outright was on foot of the transformation of the city centre in recent months, largely thanks to outdoor dining.
“With the influx of domestic visitors, there’s a clear need for more entertainment venues, which is something I wouldn’t have considered until six months ago.
“But I am seeing how Covid is changing the make-up of the city. I’m absolutely buzzing with excitement about what is happening.
“I wouldn’t have said it a year ago, but a lot of it is down to Cork City Council, the outdoor seating, Cork is as good as any place now and we are going to build on that,” Mr McCabe said.
Mr McCabe described the Pavilion building as “a unique landmark” in the city, adding that he was “privileged to be bringing back to life”.
A striking feature of the nightclub was the vaulted ceiling which dates back to the opening of the cinema in 1921. Its ornate plaster mouldings have been retained, despite the passage of a century.
Mr McCabe said the investment, which also involved some business associates, was a significant vote of confidence in Cork city.
In terms of movies the venue will host, Mr McCabe said they will be working with the Fastnet Film Festival and Mick Hannigan, former director of the Cork Film Festival. He said they will show “everything from Arthouse to Foreign Language”.
However Mr McCabe said he will be “taking a back seat” as it’s time for “younger blood to come in”.
The venue, which operated as the Pavilion Bar and Nightclub for much of the past 30 years — with the exception of two years when it operated as Dali nightclub — ceased trading at its Carey’s Lane premises following the arrival of Covid-19 in March 2020.
It had been in the ownership of Dave Dwyer, who opened a Ramen Asian street food restaurant on the ground floor of the licensed complex in December 2017, with Dali nightclub operating overhead.
Mr Dwyer took the decision to close saying it was “simply not possible to operate a nightclub under an open/close traffic light system.” The sale of the 608 sq m Pav bar and nightclub, spread over three floors, was completed by Cearbhall Behan of Behan Irwin Gosling, who also handled the sale of the premises in 2017, to Mr Dwyer. Mr Behan said while demand for hospitality units in 2020 was “non-existent” there had been “a notable increase in demand since the lockdown lifted, with very limited supply”. Mr Behan said the success of the “eat-on-the-street” initiative had been “a real gamechanger for Cork”.
If the City Council was to extend the initiative to St Patrick St, Mr Behan said it “should remedy a number of the vacant units on the street”.
When the Pavilion Cinema opened in 1921, it created quite a stir, with its plush 900-seat auditorium and fashionable restaurant. It was the first in Cork to be equipped with technology for the new 'talking' films.
After it closed in 1989, music store HMV moved into the front section of the premises on St Patrick St until 2013, followed by current occupants Golden Discs.
In 2017, the Irish Examiner reported that this retail section of the building had been sold to an investment fund for a sum in the region of €4m.
Mr McCabe said they expect to employ 35 staff at the new Pav. He said there are 300 people currently employed across his 15 pubs, which include The Mutton Lane Inn, Crane Lane, Arthur Mayne’s and The Oval. All of his pubs are now open as they have the space to do so, Mr McCabe said. He added that they expect to have 500 workers in the city by Christmas.