Christmas spirit is back with a bang after three years in Dublin city’s most decorated boozer
The Ginger Man in Dublin city centre has clamped down on electricity-guzzling lights this year and ramped up the amount of decorations instead to make it arguably the country’s glitziest public premises at Yuletide.
The effort that goes into transforming three floors in the busy hostelry is immense though and it’s a tradition that started out 32 years ago with just a few fairylights.
“The decorations themselves, we’ve been gathering them over 30 years,” confirms owner Stephen Mooney. “We have got people to send them to us as well. We collected a lot from America. Anytime any of my kids go on holiday somewhere, we would always try and pick something from where they’ve been.”
The foundations are laid as early as the beginning of October.
“We put branches up in October,” he explains. “I’ve a brother with a bit of land down in Wicklow and we cut down some trees. We put the trees on the ceiling in October and we usually decorate for Halloween.
“Then we leave them up and then we decorate. That usually takes us about a week or 10 days to do that end of it. The actual night of the decorations is 30 people and it usually takes us 36 hours to do it.”
Various groups are tasked with different functions in the Fenian street pub.
“We break it up into different sections,” he notes. “Teams of people are in teams of three. Basically, everyone is given a section. Then we have somebody that does nothing else but distributes where things are going. So, we have to be exceptionally careful when we are packing them away every year, so everything is well marked, well packed away, well padded
“Then what we try to do is every year we just try to do something that we didn’t do last year, we try to break it up as much as we can into different areas and we try to change lights into different colours into different areas and stuff like that.”
Last Christmas saw pubs closing at 8pm, with social distancing in place, so this is the first time they are back to normal in three years.
But Stephen decided to go a lot greener this year as he was conscious of the spiralling cost of electricity.
“What we did was we try to put up a lot more decoration and what we did was as you can see we changed the original lights that would normally be on, we changed them to coloured bulbs just to create the atmosphere as much as we can,” he points out.
“We probably have around 40 or 50% less lights than we normally would. It was sort of a mixture of both things. It was No 1 we didn’t want ridiculous bills, but more importantly you don’t want to be seen to be abusing the system because we had been listening over the last few months that we don’t have enough electricity stored and I didn’t want to responsible for using more than my quota as such.
“Lights would usually have been the thing that created ambience and we didn’t want use up too much electricity.
“We had to bit of a break during Covid obviously. We wanted to do something really spectacular this year, because of Covid, we wanted to sort of come back with a bang.”
He is also cautious about heating costs.
“I’m no different to anyone else in the country, we are just more conscious and we are not being as flippant as we would have been in previous years,” he tells us.
Stephen who hails from Perrystown in south Dublin, is married and has four grown up children and two grandchildren.
“I would normally buy all my decorations in January and February after Christmas, when they were reduced,” he reveals.
“ So, a lot of the stuff, we would buy in bulk when it was been reduced in price and we sort of don’t know about it until we open it up the following Christmas if you know what I mean.
“I think you have to put a lot more thought into it and we are lucky enough, the thing that it is its very much family orientated and very much staff oriented, we don’t bring in any outsiders to help us do it. We are lucky enough that we have people that I personally think are quite creative and if you turn around and throw a blank canvass at something, you have a sort of idea of what you’re trying to create.”
They also pick and choose what they buy.
“We try to look out for stuff all the time, particularly centrepieces,” he adds. “This year we got a centrepiece in Galway and try and figure out where it’s going to be positioned
“We’ve spent tens of thousands on decorations. But we buy it in stages. Then you lose decorations. The best thing which came in when the smoking ban came in everything is clean and you are able to reuse it, where when the smoking was on a lot of stuff had to be destroyed.”
Stephen agrees the bar is akin to Santa’s Grotto.
“It’s a huge crowd puller, it’s a huge thing for families,” he stresses. “We have Santa here on Saturday afternoons, he walks around and takes photographs. We have a board outside where you can get your photograph taken and we just try to make it as festive and fun as possible. We have an elf as well.”
He beams business is good because three busy hotels are nearby. But during lockdowns there was an effect from empty offices as people were working from home.
“I think there’s still a lot of people who are still being very cautious and I think people they are looking forward to January and February,” he concedes. “We have been exceptionally lucky because of the weather being so mild, that’s helping us as well because people are more inclined to go out walking and out and about.”
He believes his prices are competitive for a city centre establishment.
“A pint of Guinness is E6.30, a pint of lager E6.80. it’s pretty normal for the city centre,” he argues. “ I think the bottom line is when you have hotels in the area and other bars beside you it’s basically much of a much muchness in that particular area
“We also do a lot of food, up until 11pm, and the one we would be known for is a beef and Guinness pie for E16, while what’s popular with Americans for some reason is fish and chips, which is E18.”
The pub is popular with the Irish rugby and Dublin Gaelic football teams, while it’s also a haunt of some politicians.
“This was Enda Kenny’s local when he was in Dublin and he was like a pop star in here,” he smiles. “ “He put a lot of effort in mixing with people and people appreciated that. “
Manager Richard Kennedy says punters are stunned when they walk in.
“People are amazed,” he concurs. “The first thing that happens is people take out their phones, they take a recording of themselves and the whole entrance as they come in. It’s high impact and they really get it when they walk in. Everything is hand done here with ornaments and lighting, so there’s an awful lot of people involved
“Besides ourselves we have heard the Hole in the Wall is big for this type of thing, and there’s one down in the Strawberry Beds. Certain pubs are done by companies, but this is done completely by the staff. It’s an annual event, and as tough as it is to do it its great fun.”
Day manager Michelle Ryan adds they have little treats like mince pies and musicians playing Christmas tunes to add to the festive spirit.
“It’s amazing in fairness, it works, it’s different,” she exclaims. “ Considering we started 30 years ago with a few branches and these little berry lights, it’s got to this. It’s become huge.”