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9 MIN READ TIME

DEPARTURE LOUNGE

t all started in 1995 after gay bar, the Parliament Inn, housed on the corner of Parliament and Essex St West, was taken over by new ownership. The venue was rebranded not only by name, becoming The Turk’s Head, but also by clientele, as straight audiences were now the target. Frustrated at being forced out of their local, LGBTQ+ customers held protests at the bar, including the Lesbian Avengers kiss-in in 1996, which immediately led to a ‘no gay’ door policy being implemented.

Resilience and adaptability are undisputed features of the queer community, and before long, it was decided that the show must go on, although it would reluctantly have to happen elsewhere. Migrating from the Parliament Inn, concerned parties stumbled upon the Front Lounge just metres away, and christened it their new home.

Having opened its doors in 1995 under the ownership of esteemed publican and restauranteur Jay Bourke, the Front Lounge originally had no intentions of venturing into the LGBTQ+ market. The venue was a relaxed jazz bar, and due to its quiet nature, apartments had been developed above the establishment with residents having a relatively peaceful experience. That all changed with the bar’s new customers, as Ireland’s queer community were frontrunners in bringing dance, disco, and beat-mixing to the country’s nightlife scene.

DJ Gerry Moore spun the decks at the Front Lounge all throughout its booming Celtic Tiger years. Speaking on the music policy, and the resulting conflict with local residents, he said: “When I started early on, the owner liked a mix of indie and pop, and ‘80s stuff as well. But he didn’t mind having us playing house. The problem was, there were neighbours upstairs [...] So when the dance music started, it was a bit of a shock for them.

“As far as I know, they’ve sorted out the insulation and it’s not as bad as it was, but it was a hugely, hugely popular bar, and inevitably it’d have people outside, even before the smoking ban,” he continued.

“I know Temple Bar can be a difficult place to live, but you kind of have to accept that it goes with it -unless you can pay for someone to get triple glazing,” he laughed.

The neighbourhood quarrels, fortunately, did not stop the party, and the venue quickly became known as an unofficial LGBTQ+ bar. Gerry remembers, “A lot of the ladies would drink down the front area, (known as the ‘front’ lounge) and the men would drink up the back (the ‘back’ lounge) and maybe some of the straight people left over from the quieter days” would be alongside them.

He noted that although the bar was not queer-owned, nor did it ever plan to be a queer hotspot, it did appreciate the money that its queer audience brought in.

“The first manager that I worked with, Tony, he wanted it to be very, very inclusive, and encouraged things like sponsoring the Emerald Warriors rugby team.” The venue also supported the LGBTQ+ Pink Ladies Hockey Team, providing them with a space to host their annual fundraising table quiz. The support that the Front Lounge gave to the community translated back into sales, and a loyal partnership was established between the two.

The managers took a particular interest in the LGBTQ+ sporting groups, and some feared that the establishment was trying to become something that alienated a large number of its customers.

“They were accused of trying to start a sports bar. That wasn’t the truth at all,” Gerry remembers. “They put in screens and made it [...] more contemporary while keeping the classic style. So you’d have huge crowds when the Six Nations Rugby was on, or you’d have the women’s GAA. The big events you remember the place was absolutely heaving.”

When the Bingham Cup (essentially the LGBTQ+ version of the Rugby World Cup) came to Dublin in 2008, the Front Lounge was sponsoring the Emerald Warriors, and it became the tournament’s go-to drinking destination.

“I didn’t realise how many teams were going to come over,” Gerry began. “You couldn’t get near the Front Lounge or Panti Bar, but I’d say that was one of the best [memories], and the Heineken Cup actually was brought in.”

The mother of Mark Bingham, a gay rugby player who was tragically killed in 9/11 and who the Bingham Cup is named after, came to the tournament and even popped by the Front Lounge afterward. “All the teams wanted to meet her, she’s an icon now in her own right,” says Gerry.

It was moments like these that made the venue so special, with countless attendees also noting the impact of the bar’s Pride celebrations. “Pride of course always was just insane,” Gerry started. “We used to have access to the back lane where Mother was and it was just one big street party.”

He remembers DJing one particular year, recalling: “The parade had just finished and I was starting the first set, and came in and switched everything on and played Erasure ‘A Little Respect’. The place just exploded, absolutely exploded -it was like everyone just won the lotto. It was fantastic doing Pride. You could play stuff that you wouldn’t normally play, and everybody loves an anthem.”

There were countless occasions of note that took place in the Front Lounge over the years, from the Marriage Equality celebrations, to GCN’s My Big Fat Gay Pub Quiz, and even to X Factor auditions in 2016. One particular event that was a resounding success for over a decade was the Casting Couch, a Tuesday night karaoke competition.

Kickstarted by the one and only Panti Bliss in 2000, she manned the reins of the Casting Couch up until 2006 when she left to open Panti Bar. April Showers took over until 2010, and it was then finally passed on to Davina Devine.

“I actually had an apartment right over the Back Lounge,” Davina explained. “We had many a crazy night in the Front Lounge, and many a crazy night above the Front Lounge,” she laughed.

“It was always such a fun crowd and a really different crowd to The George or to other places [...] During the Celtic Tiger time, the Front Lounge was the place to be. It was the place for you to get a little bit extra dressed up, and I think that’s really why the Casting Couch was so popular there. It was a place to be seen.

“And it was on a Tuesday night, and you would not find a place in Dublin that would be that busy on a Tuesday night. It was a great pre-Glitz place.”

But it wasn’t always seamlessly successful, and the event suffered dark times, no more so than on the night of March 2, 2004. It was then that 43 year-old Frank McCann was tragically killed by the bar’s piano, in front of a crowd of horrified pub-goers. A trainee chef was found guilty of the murder, but declared insane on account of paranoia and schizophrenia by the Central Criminal Court in 2005.

The Casting Couch and the Front Lounge as a whole also went through a difficult period as Ireland emerged from the Celtic Tiger and fell into recession.

“The scene was just changing because we were going through recession. Things kind of shifted quite quickly,” Davina began.

“People were going out less, [and we were] trying to come up with ways to try and get them to come out more. And it wasn’t the easiest I have to say.”

The owners wanted to try something new in order to bring business back in, and closed the Front Lounge for refurbishments. When it reopened, it had a restaurant, and it left many of its old traditions, including the Casting Couch, behind.

During the Celtic Tiger time, the Front Lounge was the place to be. It was the place for you to get a little bit extra dressed up...

On the new venture, Gerry said: “When the crash came, they wanted to try something new, so they went with the restaurant option. They’re entitled to try different stuff, but I think it was a step too far because they kind of alienated the people that liked to drink and dance in there. But they weren’t showing up in enough numbers so you have to do something different.”

Unfortunately, the Front Lounge never fully recovered from the effects of the recession, and the leasehold of the venue was put on the market in early 2016. It was later announced in November of that year that the bar would “no longer exist the way as it was for the last decades,” as new ownership and management took over.

Street 66 was opened in its place on December 8, 2016, and has continued to do a phenomenal job of cultivating a safe and fun environment for queers in Dublin ever since. Now an out and proud LGBTQ+ bar, its dancefloor still holds history for so many pub-goers. If those walls could talk, who knows what they’d say, but GCN readers have been filling in some of the blanks by retelling their fondest memories.

One customer recalled, “The gold-flecked piano in the back bar and the pianist playing on Friday nights,” adding that it “always lead to some sort of sing-song. It really was something special and made the ‘Flounge’ stand out as the place to be.”

Several people remembered it as the first gay bar they ever visited, while others even met their spouses there many moons ago. Unsurprisingly, our readers also raved about the Tuesday night karaoke, and another commented that it was “The place to feel really safe and to flirt as a lesbian”.

While many people’s memories echoed universal sentiments, some party-goers had unique recollections of their antics in the bar.

“I feel I need to apologise to the old Front Lounge,” one reader began. “Back in the noughties, at the peak of pure bouldness when I was out, I used to decouple sections of beads off the chandelier in the back bar, and then cheekily ask random, fun, people with pierced ears to wear them as earrings, and go dancing (which they usually did, and looked all kinds of gorgeous and sparkly with it). What a brat!”

They added: “I have so, so many memories of silly, funny, craic-filled nights at the Front Lounge, and [...] The team at the Front Lounge were so lovely, so friendly and chatty (when they had a few precious minutes to spare) and I have such fond memories of the soundness of the mixed crowd that went there.”

Queer spaces are often credited for what they provide externally as physical establishments, but the greatest measure of success is the internal impact a venue leaves on its attendees. From the aftermath of decriminalisation in the mid-’90s, to beyond Marriage Equality in 2015, the Front Lounge provided Ireland’s queers with a safe haven to dance, date, drink, and drag to their hearts’ content. Much more than a bar, it was a place to find yourself and foster connections, which in many cases turned out to be life-changing.

This article appears in the 371 Issue of GCN

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This article appears in the 371 Issue of GCN