Inside Business: Irish exploit liquid assets

Dublin snugs are even popping up in Abu Dhabi. Helen Jones explains the allure of the Emerald Isle
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The Independent Online
There Is a shamrock over the bar, Irish stew on the menu and the Guinness is flowing. But Finnegan's Bar is not in Dublin; it is in Abu Dhabi.

There is unbridled enthusiasm for Irish-style drinking dens and as a result a host of O'Hagen's, McGinty's and O'Neill's bars have opened everywhere from Iceland to Australia. And where there is an Irish bar there has to be Guinness.

But instead of taking the risk of investing in its own far-flung chain of Irish bars, Guinness Brewing is assisting other brewers, entrepreneurs and individuals to create them. In the process it is building demand for Ireland's national drink - and all at little cost to itself.

Jonathan Miller, a Guinness spokesman, says: "In 1992 we started to look at the number of Irish bars opening around the world and the amount of Guinness they were selling. There was clearly a connection between the atmosphere in Irish bars and the volumes sold."

It is a picture that is repeated in Britain where Mr Miller says: "The average pub might sell two kegs of Guinness a week but if the pub has been converted to an Irish theme, sales reach 40 kegs a week." He adds that people come in for the craic, the warmth of the atmosphere, the food and the Irish music, as well as for the Guinness.

In order to create these ersatz Irish bars in Moscow, Johannesburg or Sydney, Guinness has brought together designers, musicians and recruitment specialists under the banner of the Guinness Irish Pub Concept.

Anyone who fancies investing in their own Irish pub can contact Guinness, which will provide free design and sourcing skills together with marketing advice. Guinness, in association with a network of estate agents, can help find a potential site and will then design the bar to fit it and ship it over in a couple of containers as a flat pack.

The Guinness Irish Pub Concept comprises five distinct Irish pub designs, including the Irish country cottage pub, the traditional Irish pub shop and the Victorian Dublin pub. They cost on average between pounds 150,000 to pounds 200,000, although one bar owner in the US has spent $1.5m (pounds 900m) creating his pride and joy, which features all five pub styles under one roof.

Guinness is also working with a music agent to organise tours for Irish musicians to Irish pubs and has commissioned Myrtle Allen, an Irish chef, to produce a range of suitable recipes that can be reproduced anywhere in the world.

But perhaps even more important than the decor or the food in recreating the Irish atmosphere are the bar staff. Guinness is working with a Dublin recruitment agency to supply genuine Irish bar staff with big personalities who can ensure that even in the most unlikely of settings, Irish bonhomie will prevail.

More than 100 pubs around the world have been created this way, many of which are financed by private individuals. But in Britain many of the Guinness-designed Irish bars are owned by Bass Taverns. The company has 74 O'Neill's bars decked out as Irish "pub-come-shops" that feature bric- a-brac from offig an phoists (post offices), drapers or hardware stores. They are intended to reflect an old Irish tradition in which the shop owner would sell the odd pint of Guinness alongside his other wares. Bass is planning to launch at least a further 50.

Janice Clark, of Bass Taverns, says: "We have got into Irish bars partly because of emerging competition but also because we think they offer consumers something different. We are trying to recreate the celebrated Irish craic and it is something that our customers have really responded to."

But given the ubiquity of Irish bars is there a danger of overkill? Mr Miller says: "Yes there are a lot of Irish-themed bars about. But many of them are just cynical exercises, they think if you stick a shillelagh behind the bar then it makes it an Irish pub - we call them plastic Paddys. Our pubs are rooted in authenticity. All the bric-a-brac is original, not fake and the bar staff are genuinely Irish. We are recreating a quality environment where people of all ages can relax."

There appears there is no place that is immune to the charm of the Irish - Guinness has just received an inquiry from a potential investor in Mongolia.