Discos first surfaced in Dublin during the beat club scene of the mid 1960s, when the DJ played records in between and after the groups finished their sets. Held in small, dark basements, beat clubs sold no alcohol and usually finished up by midnight. Groups like Skid Row, The Creatures and Granny’s Intentions were beat club regulars who, like their fans, loathed the staid showband and ballroom scene. Popular club DJs included Smiley Bolger at Club Go Go in Sackville Place, Pat Egan at the 5 Club in Harcourt St and BP Fallon who DJ’ed at the opening night of Sound City (later known as Club Arthur) on Burgh Quay in 1965.
Hops in local community halls, tennis clubs and rugby clubs were also common, particularly in the suburbs. Long running northside club, The Grove, started like this in Clontarf in 1967 before moving to Raheny in 1974.
But the game changer came in 1968 when two young entrepreneurs, Michael Ryan and Michael Murphy opened Sloopys, a club with lavish sound and lighting dedicated to the disco, with live music coming second. Situated beside the Gas Company in D’Olier Street, Sloopys opened late seven nights a week with room for over 800 people. But, like the beat clubs, it had no alcohol license, so punters had to do with a mineral bar and a cafe serving snacks and coffee. No drink, and, as ex-Sloopy’s floor manager David Baker told me, no drugs. It was very strict, but there were hardly any drugs. You could smell weed a mile away. Any suspects were kicked out immediately and lost their membership.
A membership card was a must have and made getting into Sloopys so much easier. Under the guidance of Irish boxer Noel Halpin the club had a strong door policy: If you had the wrong accent, or the wrong look, you simply didn’t get in. “Sloopys always turned people away and, to create an impression of exclusiveness, they would systematically refuse every twentieth person, no matter who they were – even on quiet midweek nights,” said Baker.
In 1970 just as Sloopys moved to its new home on Fleet Street, five brand new deluxe nightclubs opened in the city. The biggest and most successful of these was Zhivago in Baggot Street. Claiming to be ‘Europe’s No 1 Nitespot’ and armed with a wine license the club aimed for the older, over 21, ‘jet set’ crowd. Interestingly, it too had a strong door policy, managed by legendary Dubliner, Jim ‘Lugs’ Brannigan. Zhivago was successful and survived into the 1980s but none of the other four clubs (The River Club, 2 Ages, Seezers and Tiffanys) lasted more than four years.
As the 1970s progressed, the growth in discos shifted to hotels and even racetracks (Blinkers at Leopardstown or Silks at the Phoenix Park, anyone?) where fully licensed late bars were allowed. At the start of the 1980s, there was signs of hope of and change. Flikkers disco, the members club for the National Gay Federation, opened at the Hirschfeld Centre in Temple Bar and McGonagles in South Anne Street hosted discos alongside new wave bands. But apart from a few exceptions, the Dublin disco scene in the 1980s was little better than the 1970s and it would be 1990 before any significant improvement or diversity arrived.
I’m not sure when discos will reopen in 2021, but, as soon as the pubs reopen, my Brand New Retro exhibition on Dublin Discos 1965-1980 will go on display at The Other Hand Bar (The Circular) 536-538, South Circular Road.
** Exhibition opening takes place Thursday August 26th 2021. Please wear a mask and respect social distancing during the open exhibition. The Circular team will be keeping an eye on capacity at the door & will have the ventilation on full blast! If you would like to stay for a drink after you can book ahead at TheCircular.ie.
Please pop in. Admission is free but neat dress is essential, no runners, no white sox. And make sure you’re not twentieth in the queue.
Words: Brian Mahon, Brand New Retro