Re-make core pub components relevant

“The Irish pub has a history of success. The core components work, they just need to be made relevant again.” So stated James Morrissey, the owner of an expanding US Irish hospitality business, speaking to Irish publicans at an event on Future Trends of the Irish Pub hosted by the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland and the Support Your Local Campaign.

“The Irish pub has so much to offer,” he continued, “As a nation, we know hospitality and we’re fortunate enough that there’s an appetite internationally for our heritage and history.”

Originally from Dublin, James Morrissey owns a number of pubs, bars and clubs in the United States including some of the most talked-about bars in Manhattan.

These include the Late Late Bar & Spirit Grocer and The VNYL – Vintage New York Lifestyle, a massive 650sq m (7,000sq ft) space over four floors in the East Village. Last year The Wall Street Journal called The Late Late Bar the Irish Pub 2.0 while Timeout New York crowned it the best Irish bar in New York.

“New York has been home to many of the largest Irish bars in the United States for decades and they’ve had many years of consistent success,” he stated, “Today, sales in Irish pubs across the US are facing bigger challenges than ever. Unfortunately, many traditional bar owners have found it difficult to adapt to the fast changes in contemporary society. And as a result of lack of change in some of the older operations, businesses are suffering. It’s not just in the US – pubs in Ireland are also under pressure with the threat of Brexit and high excise being issues”.

Speaking at the event Campaign Manager for Support Your Local Bart Storan said, “Excise makes it difficult for Irish business here to succeed. When you consider that James pays $29.99 or €26.50 for a 1 litre bottle of Irish Whiskey in New York, almost half of the €46 we pay here – all down to our high excise. It’s no wonder the Irish drinks business is under pressure.”

James added, “I run my business as a corporate operation – analysing consumer insights, market trends, rents, sectoral and geographical trends.

“The front-of-house might be a bar, restaurant or hospitality space but the back-end resembles that of any other corporate entity. I focus on cutting-edge standards of interior design, food and beverage innovation, as well as communications. These are all essential elements of any business in the retail sector whose objective is growth. This is especially true in highly competitive markets.”

While studying in UCD in 2007 James started his first company, the Signature Group, to operate and promote events in clubs around Ireland. The company flourished, packing what had once been failing venues and attracting young people to their mailing lists in the thousands.

“When I expanded into the US market I analysed the Irish-owned sectors of retail which had come before me: pubs, liquors, beers, textiles, hotels. Brands who have enjoyed the most success internationally from Ireland have been those who’ve created cutting-edge products which happen to be Irish-owned.

“Rather than the Unique Selling Point solely being about Ireland, Baileys and Jameson are examples of brands who’ve enjoyed phenomenal growth internationally, with Ireland being a very important part of their key messaging, but with quality, design and communications strategy being just as important,” he added.

“We’re now creating lifestyle spaces in the US which are cutting-edge in terms of interior design, food and beverage innovation, comprehensive communications strategies and creativity. For me, it’s all about the story. Creating something authentic and not ‘themed’. There are subtle Irish undertones in my venues, inspirations.

“For example, at The VNYL we designed all of our mid-century styled furnishings in the US but had every piece manufactured in Newry, Co Down and shipped to New York. We serve Guinness at The Late Late Bar, but it comes in a range of custom cocktails which we’ve created. My objective has been to be different and test the boundaries while remaining relevant.

“I would give the same advice to any publican in Ireland. No amount of ‘Irishness’ will take away from the fact that it’s not a great pub.”



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