Josephine Colley is disappointed.
She’s from Churchtown, and when the Bottle Tower reopened there after a refurbishment, she was excited about having somewhere local to eat out. There’s no other pub nearby.
But it didn’t work out. Instead, Colley is now one of hundreds of residents of Churchtown and surrounding areas who have joined a Facebook group calling for a boycott of the pub.
“They don’t want the locals going in for a few pints and a bet, nor the older ones,” Colley said “I think they were thinking more Churchtown upper-class, and they just don’t want the regulars there.”
We tried to ask the management of the Bottle Tower what exactly their door policy is, and why they are refusing so many people. They declined two requests for comment by phone, once on Friday and again on Tuesday.
We also phoned the owner at his city-centre offices, but he did not get back to us before publication.
While this is the latest instance of customers left bitter they’ve been barred at the door, it’s a common enough issue. Whether or not customers have any recourse is complicated.
Outside the Tower
Colley says she’s boycotting the bar because her daughter was refused entry without an explanation, on her 28th birthday.
“My daughter and her partner were refused on Saturday the 10th of October at about half past three in the afternoon. Two friends who were meeting my daughter for her birthday meal were refused just before them,” she says.
“Myself, my husband and two other daughters were due to join them but there was little point.” So Colley says she called the bar to see what the criteria were to get in.
“I was told neat dress and friendly smile, when I said family members had just been refused, he said ‘Nothing to do with me,’” she says.
When Colley said she wouldn’t be going to the Bottle Tower again, “He told me to suit myself and put the phone down.”
She continued to look for explanations through the Bottle Tower’s social media accounts, and when she got no response she posted publicly. She says her comments were deleted and she was blocked.
“As that Saturday progressed, people started posting on their [Bottle Tower’s] Facebook page, but all comments were deleted except any one that made the person posting look common. They never delete anything with the word ‘kip’.”
The Bottle Tower was established by the Finnegan family in 1962, and was frequented by locals until it was bought over and closed in November 2015 for renovation.
It reopened in September 2016, with the slogan “The Bottle Tower in Churchtown has something for everyone.”
Like Josephine Colley, Lisa Meade was pleased to see it reopen. But Meade was soon told she wasn’t welcome there in the pub, she says.
“Apparently I’m barred now,” Meade said, “because I went in for food and a few drinks with my friend and her son. He is 18 – but now they are saying the place is 21s.”
Meade’s friend was asked to leave with her son, Meade says, and the entire group has been refused re-entry to the bar as a result.
She adds that elderly neighbours have also been asked to leave the pub after ordering food. Meade is part of the boycott effort now too.
I spoke to several other people who said they were refused service at the Bottle Tower, but they declined to speak on the record for this article.
There isn’t much, actually, that locals in Churchtown can do, besides boycott a place that doesn’t seem to want their custom anyway.
Legal action would be difficult. Yvonne Woods, communications manager at the Free Legal Advice Centre (FLAC), says all publicans do have a right to refuse any customer they want, and they don’t have to provide an explanation.
This right has its basis in the common law, and the constitutional protection of private property, rather than specific legislation, Woods said.
“However, where refusal of access is targeted at a person or group covered by one of the nine equality grounds, then a claim of discrimination under the Licensing Acts may be possible,” Woods said.
But if some Churchtown locals feel their being shut out of the Bottle Tower because they are working class and the management there is trying to attract posher clientele, they would have difficulty bringing a discrimination claim on those grounds.
Social class is not currently protected under equality legislation, says Woods, other than in the context of the provision of accommodation, where people who get social welfare payment are protected from discrimination. So social class is not grounds for a discrimination claim in most cases.
Even for people who are part of a group protected by equality legislation, it is more difficult to successfully bring a complaint against a pub than any other type of business.
If the discrimination takes place at any other type of business, the complaint can be heard in the Workplace Relations Commission, which means the person bringing the complaint doesn’t have to bear the expense of hiring a solicitor.
But if the discrimination takes place at the door of a licensed premises, the complainant has to go to the district court, a much costlier proposition.
According to FLAC, people seeking to take a discrimination case in the district court can apply for civil legal aid, but this application will be subject to a means test and a fee of a minimum of €130 will apply.
They will also likely face substantial waiting lists, and should they lose their case they will be liable for the costs.
People are also sometimes barred from pubs based on the way they’re dressed.
Many pubs and nightclubs throughout Dublin continue to administer dress codes, but some have now abandoned the once widespread (and fairly pointless) policy of not serving customers in runners.
“The Button Factory operates a casual dress door policy – trousers, trainers etc. are all okay for our club nights,” said Linda Monahan, operations manager of the Button Factory.
“Once customers approach the door in a nice friendly manner, aren’t already intoxicated or straight from the gym in sweatpants we generally don’t have an issue admitting them,” she said.
Carl Andreucetti, marketing and events Manager at Copper Face Jacks, says that the dress code there is casual, and runners are fine.
“They won’t let you in”
If some people face occasional discrimination at the doors to pubs and clubs, Travellers say they live with it every time they go out.
“If they know you are a Traveller they won’t let you in,” he says Michael Collins, a health worker with Pavee Point, the Traveller and Roma human-rights group.
“I’ll go to the door and they’ll say you’ve had too much to drink – even though I had nothing to drink beforehand. Or, ‘Not tonight, or ‘Regulars only’,” he says.
If there is a queue, he might chat to settled people on the way, in an effort to get into the pub.
“If you are a Traveller you have to judge the bouncers before you go up, you are hoping they are actually a foreigner as then they won’t know the difference [between a Traveller and a settled person],” he says.
Collins comes from Coolock in Dublin, but he feels his accent gives him away as being a Traveller, so he often tells bouncers he is from Limerick. “Honestly you have to tell lies to get in, you basically have to hide who you really are,” he says.
Equality legislation doesn’t help, as publicans can use any of a number of excuses to deny Travellers entry, Collins says.
For a Traveller to successfully take a discrimination case, they have to be able to prove the person who refused them entry knew that they were a Traveller, which can be difficult, says Caoimhe McCabe an information officer at Pavee Point.
Collins believes that there were more successful discrimination cases by Travellers in the past because discrimination was more blatant, more straightforward. He says he hasn’t heard of any in recent years, and thinks publicans now know which excuses to use to get away with refusing Travellers.
Collins says he used to get frustrated about the discrimination he faces when he wants to go out to a pub. “When I was younger I used to get annoyed by it but now I just walk away because either way you’re not going to get in,” he says.
He explains that many of his settled friends believe discrimination against Travellers has declined or disappeared.
“People will say to you, ‘That doesn’t happen any more, times have changed, it’s the 21st century.’ Well it’s not for us,” he says. “I can’t see it changing any time soon.”