Saturday, January 9, 2010

Refusing Residence

From Thursday's Evening Herald

Please save Residence -- or these braying Champagne Charlies might end up in my friendly local boozer

By Susan Daly

Thursday January 07 2010

What a frightful palaver over at Residence. For those without a butler to keep an ear trained for the word on the street, allow me. It seems the private members' club on St Stephen's Green is experiencing some cashflow difficulties.

I know, I know -- what's the world coming to when an establishment which initially charged members a €1,600 annual fee for the privilege of crossing the threshold is forced to 'restructure' its finances? And that didn't include the €250 joining fee.

Clearly any lapsed members have their priorities entirely wrong. Who chooses to keep up with their own mortgage repayments over unlimited access to a haven of exclusivity, sophistication and gilt-edged mirrors? Bleedin' riff-raff.

Of course no one should gloat when any Irish business totters on the precipice of life and death. An examiner has been appointed to Residence but the doors haven't shut yet. For the sake of the 58 staff employed there, it would be churlish not to hope that they find some way of staying open.

The club rules -- keeping the hoi polloi firmly outside with their noses pressed to the window -- are going to have to change if that is to happen. Residence claimed to fill a niche that existed in Dublin for an upmarket members' club that was as luxurious but not as stiff as the old-guard establishments in the area.

The nearby Kildare Street club, for example, once turned down Mary Harney as a member because she was a woman. (She joined when they reversed their ban on the skirts, which was nice of her).

Yet Residence was/is as ruthlessly selective, making cash the must-have credential. How elitist on one hand, and on the other -- how very crass.

The other difficulty of trying to fill a niche is that it can only ever cater to a small number of people.

I'm sure there's a niche market too for smoking jackets for labradoodles, but I wouldn't throw the family silver at the idea.

Focusing on a small number of big spenders means that you risk everything on their loyalty (and solvency).

If it is the case that Residence reduced their annual fees drastically in the past year in an attempt to attract members, then they must have alienated a few of the Champagne Charlies who fancied themselves part of an elite.

You can't be all things to all men. Especially when your USP was to be one thing to a select few of them.

And just who wants to belong to a club that would have members like that? Not as many as Residence presumed, I suppose.

I interviewed someone there last year, not at my insistence I might add. The swag-and-tails decor was very nice if you like that kind of thing, although I'm not sure I'd have blown a few mill on it. As it turned out, the club was the perfect venue to record an interview. Nothing rings out as clearly on a dictaphone as the sound of one's own voice booming around the corners of a near-empty room.

It was actually a bit sad -- the lunch was delicious, but there's not much point in producing the perfect tarte tatin if there's no one there to taste it.

Most bars have trouble getting bums on barstools midweek these days but you'd think that wouldn't be a problem for a club whose members effectively pay their cover charge in advance. If it were me, I'd be living in the lounge 24/7 to get full value for my moolah.

But perhaps I have more sense than cent. For one thing, I refuse to take up Residence in any bar that lets Eamon Dunphy and Eamon Keane commandeer the piano room. Possibly even at the same time. Good heavens -- has the VIP club fallen asleep and woken up in Lillie's circa 2004?

I do have one concern should time be called on Residence's tenure and its brass knobs (on the door, people, on the door) are polished for the final time.

Does that mean the contents of No41 St Stephen's Green will be evacuated into the nearest 'public' houses?

The last thing I want to hear in my friendly local is some hee-haw Henry braying loudly about how it's impossible to get a bellini made with fresh peach pulp in this town.

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