As the imminent closure of District 8 ebbs ever closer, the future of some of the city’s biggest electronic music promoters are entering into a new realm of uncertainty. Dublin’s shameful lack of late-night venues has been an established topic of (justified) pissing and moaning since time immemorial. Yet, the seemingly voracious appetite for new hotels – and the associated venue closures necessary to facilitate this unquenchable impulse – has thrown our chronic lack of arts-centric spaces into even sharper relief. Where many of their contemporaries are left scratching their heads, the folks behind Hidden Agenda are changing with the times and their own evolving interests. In the style of their forebears Bodytonic, Hidden Agenda appear to be putting childish things aside and pivoting into a more “grown-up” outlook, entering into a world fuelled by kimchi toasties rather than ketamine.
Hidden Agenda isn’t quite hosting barbeque festivals in the leafy suburbs, but they have opened up a permanent base of operations that clearly leans toward the former in the Quiet One/Mad One dichotomy. Their new home, Parnell Street’s The Big Romance has a lot more going for it than simply facilitating audible conversation. In fact, the venue’s elevator pitch is enough to set The Big Romance apart from the competition. The bar boasts a custom-made Hatchett sound-system to go along with the enviable vinyl collection that lines the back of the bar. Despite their moniker, Hidden Agenda’s motives here are clear; The Big Romance is aiming to be a home for Dublin’s audiophile’s – a safe space for those who venerate the wax ahead of the FLACs. Accordingly, the venue has already hosted an array of vinyl-only DJ sets from some of the city’s pre-eminent musical movers and shakers, eager to show off the less than floor-filling corners of their collection. It has also become the permanent home to Cian Murphy’s Optic Music Record shop.
Publicans take note, what we have here is a novel approach that never drifts into gimmickry, one where the sincere passion of those pulling the strings can only leave a positive impression on their clientele. On the evening of my visit, the pleasantly low-lit pub – the walls lovingly adorned with charming illustrations from Janet Takuz – was abuzz with an unmistakable bonhomie. This was not simply the thrill of the new, more the customer’s shared realisation that they had always pined for a pub like this but didn’t realise until they’d crossed the threshold. Following a slug of Whiplash Beer’s exemplary Slow Life Nitro Stout (€6.50), I catch myself reflecting on the simpatico nature of Whiplash and The Big Romance’s approach – they’re just two Dublin originals doing supremely cool shit with the minimum of fuss. Hyperbole be damned, The Big Romance will sweep you off your feet.
Words: Danny Wilson
Photo: Killian Broderick
98 Parnell St
Ph: 01 598 4117