Tucked away just-off Portobello Bridge and under The Lower Deck is one of Dublin’s most recent rising venues. With it’s refurbished furniture, exclusive backbone, and tailored events, Bello Bar is being revived from the old sports club it was and now becoming the music venue to kickstart your career.
Sitting down with Ciara, Shane, and Anna, the three designers who work to promote, book, and run the venue. There is a sense of their hard work going into making Bello Bar the best it can be. From established local acts like September Girls to members of Sonic Youth, things are shaping up nicely.
Speaking of how their management came to be and the old venue where Shane once spent his teens, he says, “It had a certain charm. They had irregular opening hours and I don’t think the owner was particularly happy with the turn out. So about two years ago, he saw a guitar in our apartment when he was fixing the toilet or something and asked us if we wanted to do it.”
As odd opening lines go, the trio were not initially keen on the idea, even if “it was only for a gig or two” as Ciara adds.
Yet a few years later, here they are in an interview about the running the venue, which begs to ask, what changed their minds? “We came back and had a look at the space and we had forgotten how much potential it did have. So through that, myself and Shane were designers and knew we could turn the space around with the logos and that stuff.” Shane then jumps in to add that they turned down the idea because they knew it wasn’t a job for just two people.
At this point, Shane was working in Swatch with Ciara and through some similar interests such as music, it became clear that Ciara had a background in PR. This was something Shane and Anna felt less confident about doing themselves. “I had worked with some fashion and music blogs, PR for different club nights in town” says Ciara. So with this new addition to their team, the three went back to the owner with a bigger idea than the initial one. The idea was to not just take on the venue as it was, but to revamp it, kit it out with the right equipment and reopen with a new name.
“One of the biggest catalysts for that was working with Musicmaker.” says Anna, “We bought the PA from them and then they sponsored us the fantastic backline we have here with names like Orange and Gretsch. So basically all our budget went into the sound equipment because that is the bit you can’t fake.” For a venue that is trying to pride itself on being a good grounding for music, this was an important step for the venue to have a high standard for making bands sound the best.
As for the gigs themselves, Bello Bar is only open as a venue and not a regular bar. Meaning that it is regular for the crew to have a busy Friday and Saturday on a weekly basis, with the odd Thursday or Sunday thrown in for good measure. In terms of the aspirations for gigs, booking acts has thrown some surprises their way; “Within a year we had members of Sonic Youth playing here.” says Ciara, “So we had actually overshot what we had planned to do in the first place and that was pretty amazing.” It has been a more consistent process for the team, as Shane mentions,”we’re starting to learn more now how the industry works to our advantage. And what is more important is that each night is like an individual night for us, because if we don’t get a date booked, we don’t open essentially. Taking pride in each night.”
The way the process works for Bello Bar is quite simple, they facilitate the promoters that book the venue. It works well for an event space given that the venue get their fee and cover, while the promoter looks after the entry fee (if any) and the night they have planned. This in turn, shows two different groups of people caring about how the venue is run on the night, which can reduce the risk of issues occurring. It also offers a range of events and audiences in one space along the quaint canal.
Favourite gigs and sell out nights maybe one thing for the venue, but the history behind what once happened here also resonates with the vision. “This venue has a musical history, the likes of David Bowie and Mick Jagger used to hang out here back in the 70’s.” says Shane, “I’d like to bring it back to that.” he adds with a laugh.
As for the location, Portobello wouldn’t strike many a popular scene given it’s proximity to the mainstays of Whelan’s and Vicar Street, but Anna is adamant that the location can be perfect for Bello Bar’s future; “I definitely think Rathmines and Portobello are coming up in the world at the moment, I mean there’s already places like The Bernard Shaw doing a great job of establishing it. But as with a lot of spaces two feet of the beaten track, everyone goes ‘Where?’ But as soon as they’ve been here, it’s fine then.”
So how do they feel now? Well as Shane says; “Its insane when I look back, it was like three months of intensity from when I left Swatch, Anna left Yankee Candle a month or two before and you (Ciara) were just like anytime you had off you were just here, it was crazy.” Anna adds, “I don’t think any of us knew what we were in for,” as the other two nod in agreement, “I don’t think we even knew at that stage what we were working towards.” To this Ciara adds the final piece, “I think I said it to you guys before, with design and art anyway, when you make something you leave it behind. That’s how I had worked before.” It has been quite the step into the unknown for the three friends, even with their experience of being in bands or working with them, they still aren’t quite used to how far they have gone. “To have people like The Strypes and obviously others like Lee Ranaldo here, I was just like ‘What the hell?’” Shane adds.
With no further plans to expand currently, the venue work with various blogs and run a newsletter to update gig goers. Individually they each have a role to fill, but as they establish more relationships with bookers in the Dublin music scene such as Hard Working Class Heroes, the venue can only go from strength to strength with it’s varying atmosphere.