WHAT’S IN A NAME? | Pocketmags.com

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Younger members of Dublin’s LGBTQ+ community might assume that an institution like PantiBar has been around forever. However, the iconic pub only opened 16 years ago. That hasn’t stopped it becoming one of the most beloved go-to venues and hubs for members of the capital’s queer community. Brian Dillon gets the lowdown on a jewel in the capital’s queer social crown.

Named after its owner and Queen of Ireland, Panti Bliss, PantiBar’s status as a staple in the big smoke’s queer scene is the result of a simple strategy; offering members of the community something that had been lacking before.

That’s exactly what happened when PantiBar opened in the location where GUBU used to be found on Capel Street. GUBU was a gay-friendly pub in the early 2000’s and is remembered as one of the few specifically queer-friendly venues in Dublin at the time. It was somewhere big city queers could meet for a pint with their peers and enjoy some hilarious entertainment from the likes of Katherine Lynch, who hosted her G-Spot show there every week before becoming a TV regular.

While GUBU is remembered fondly by many, PantiBar would be the establishment to come along and turn this watering hole into the iconic venue it is today. Having opened in 2007, it didn’t take long for the classic boozer with a queer twist to become a favourite.

There’s nobody better to tell us about PantiBar’s history than someone who was there from the very start. Manager Shane Harte brought PantiBar to life along with Rory O’Neill, AKA Panti Bliss. Shane explained why there was a need for somewhere like PantiBar in Dublin and how he ended up leading the charge along with Rory.

“I had a great friendship with Katherine Lynch when she did her show G-Spot in GUBU. It was kind of a comedy cabaret draggy crazy show with the likes of Paddy Fagan and a few of those well-known names on the scene.

“Personally, I always thought GUBU had a bit of an identity crisis. It had kind of been labelled as straight-friendly. I think maybe that caused a bit of confusion. Is it straight-friendly? Is it gay-friendly? I think sometimes when you sit on the fence you end up offending everybody. I think that was eventually GUBU’s downfall. Maybe the community didn’t get 100 percent behind it because it just didn’t have a clear identity.

“That was kind of why, when we decided to open a new pub, we called it PantiBar. It was very obvious that it was Panti’s Bar. It’s obviously an LGBTQ+ venue.”

PantiBar opened with the goal of providing the city’s queer community with something they had been missing beforehand. Shane explained that at the time, most of Dublin’s LGBTQ+ venues were large clubs rather than smaller, more intimate, gay bars like the ones found around mainland Europe.

“There has always been a demand there for something more. For so long, our scene had consisted of a few very large venues that tend to cater to everybody as opposed to what you might find more of on the continent; lots of smaller bars that cater for more niche segments of the market.

“Even now I would say that there is a demand for more and there should be more variety.”

He added, “Myself and Rory were there for about two months beforehand trying to fix the place up. It was kind of left abandoned for six months. There was about a foot of water in the basement. We had to redecorate and give it a new look and a new vibe on a very small budget. We were working away ourselves, really, in the early days.

“We opened with a bang. Panti, even back then, had so much support in the community. People were absolutely delighted to have somewhere they could go and see Panti on stage once a week. It was another thing that just put us on the map. It used to pull in a huge crowd.”

In true queer style, PantiBar thrives in the face of challenges. From local opposition to its sign to hateful graffiti to global crises, the obstacles put in front of PantiBar only seem to propel it forward. I mean, us queers are more than used to blossoming in the face of adversity, especially when our community gets behind us.

"We had the big screens in and people were just crying after seeing the positive results. That’s when you really sense the community in a space like that. That’s when you can really feel the love...

PantiBar opened the year before the global economy fell apart. Shane explained, “Little were we to know that within a year the economy would totally crash. Our honeymoon period didn’t last very long.

“Even though we were hit with struggles quite early on, we had that energy to adapt and try new things, being creative and maybe sometimes going against the grain in ways to try and keep the business afloat. We weren’t just sitting in shock at what was going on. We were looking for new ways of getting customers in.”

Like other LGBTQ+ venues, PantiBar is more than just a pub. Granted, it’s a lovely bar where folks can enjoy a pint and have a chat with the stunningly friendly staff. But it’s also a hub for the community.

For Shane, one of the moments when this became really clear was during one of the most significant times in Irish LGBTQ+ history - the Marriage Referendum in 2015. “That was just an incredibly moving experience,” he said. “That’s when you really saw it become a community space. People were sitting around on the floor with their placards painting them on a Monday night.

“The day the results came out we had the big screens in and people were just crying after seeing the positive results. That’s when you really sense the community in a space like that. That’s when you can really feel the love.”

“There have been a few smaller wins that we have felt quite proud of over the years,” Shane added. “We had a lot of difficulty at one stage with local objections to our gorgeous big PantiBar sign outside. Dublin City Council Planning sent an enforcement notice for us to remove it and of course, we appealed and applied for retention. We lost that and then we appealed to An Bord Pleanála and we got a lot of support from our community in our application for our appeal, including local politicians. We actually won our appeal based on the cultural significance of our sign and our venue.”

PantiBar has done nothing but grow into an institution since it opened in 2007, so much so that the team launched a second venue. Pennylane opened across the street in 2019, giving punters the option to enjoy a chic gin bar offering a much different vibe to PantiBar.

Shane explained, “We had the opportunity to open the sister business across the road that offers more opportunity to our customers. They have the option to go just across the road to a venue that has a different vibe and might appeal to a slightly different demographic.

“As myself and Rory are kind of getting on a little bit, we wanted something that maybe on the weekends was different to the full-on disco bar vibes that we have in PantiBar.

“It’s kind of an extension of PantiBar. People go back and forward between the two. We’d been looking at that courtyard for years and the beautiful facade of this gorgeous old building. We had always had it in the back of our minds that it would be great to get our hands on that and do something in there. It’s turned out to be very successful, thankfully. It’s just an amazing compliment to PantiBar.”

Opening right ahead of unprecedented times seems to be a familiar occurrence for the PantiBar team. It wouldn’t be long until both bars were faced with the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. However, the loyalty of both bars’ customer base didn’t go anywhere during that difficult period.

“As soon as we opened again, our customers were straight back the next day,” Shane revealed. “It is incredible to have a business within a community that is so incredibly loyal. There are many businesses that never came back from Covid.

“If you’re open for long enough, you’re going to go through all of those things anyway… We are well able to adapt.”

Looking at the story of PantiBar makes one thing clear; that Dublin’s LGBTQ+ community will always get behind the places and things that mean the most to them. And it’s obvious that somewhere like PantiBar will always have a special place in the hearts of people.

Anyone who walks into PantiBar will likely notice how friendly and welcoming the venue is, which is perhaps the most vital ingredient to a long-lasting LGBTQ+ venue beloved by queer folks from all generations. Through the highs and lows of its journey, PantiBar has never stopped providing Dubliners with a gorgeously warm queer experience. PantiBar so excellently offers the best elements of the classic pub experience with queer touches on everything, from the perfectly-poured Guinness to the glittery and glamorous live entertainment. Long may she reign.

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