"They've moved the flap on the bar, I mean they've already done that. And that table, they've moved that too."
John, a 27 year-old Briton, looks mildly exasperated at the changes that have been made to one of Bratislava's cultural ex-pat institutions, The Dubliner Irish Pub. The pub, which on most nights has little more than standing room only, passed from the hands of its founders - three Irish brothers named Billy, Robby and Peter Norton - to the owners of a recently-opened bar right next door on Sedlárska Street, El Diablo, in late September.
Already the spectre of change is hanging over regulars at the pub, which since its opening late in 1996 has found the majority of its clientele change from predominantly ex-pat to a more than healthy share of Slovaks. However, one of the new owners of the pub, Boris Mravec, told The Slovak Spectator October 3 that patrons would have little to fear from the purchase.
"There won't be any big changes," he stressed. "Largely it won't change at all, it will be the same Irish pub as it always was, but some small improvements to the interior, such as installing air filters, renovating the toilets, will come," Mravec added.
However, drinkers remain sceptical as to whether this will hold true. "Who knows, they may well say that there won't be any changes, but we all know that can change. This was such a wonderful place, and that anyone might want to do anything different with it is beyond me," said Carl, an English ex-pat who described himself as a 'part of the furniture' in the bar.
"It may even be that the place changes so much from what it was that we will have to make appointments to come here and see anyone we want to. I used to be able to just walk in here, any time of the day, and find someone I knew to talk to," he added.
One of its regular draws, live music every few weeks, will, Mravec said, remain - something younger Slovak drinkers at the pub welcomed. "The pub was always a bit expensive for me and my friends," said Katarína Michalcová, a student. "But we would meet there sometimes, especially if there was music," she added. "It would be a shame to see the Irish bar change a lot, but it would be good if the prices were cheaper."
The success of what Slovaks endearingly called the "Earish" pub has led to speculation over not just the price fetched for the bar, but the reasons behind the sell up. The three Norton brothers were unavailable for comment before The Slovak Spectator went to print; Mravec, for his part, was unwilling to disclose the price paid for The Dubliner, but said that negotiations on the deal had gone on for weeks. The pub was widely believed to be the highest revenue bar in Bratislava and, despite a fatal shooting there last summer, customer numbers have remained high in comparison with other establishments in town.
What it meant to the community
While Bratislava's emergence as a booming service centre city has gone hand in hand with a proliferation of trendy cafés and theme pubs in the capital, the Irish pub is largely credited with leading the way in revolutionising nightlife in downtown Bratislava.
"When this place opened there was nowhere to get a drink or do anything after 10:30, except Charlie's [a nightclub and cinema complex in the centre - ed. note]," said Sean, a freckled Liverpudlian sipping a Guinness. "This place changed everything."
Mravec will be hoping that the fate of the Irish pub will not match that of the last pub the three Norton brothers sold. Molly Malone's, a staple of the ex-pat scene in the Czech capital, Prague, saw its customer numbers drop dramatically after the Nortons disposed of it in 1996. Diana, a Prague businesswoman who still now travels to Slovakia for business and always stops in the Irish pub to say hello to the brothers, warned that a repeat of the fate of Molly Malone's could be on the cards.
"I'm very surprised that the pub has been sold. I'm very surprised indeed. I remember that after they sold Molly's in Prague, I just stopped going. When there was no Billy [Norton] to greet me there, I just didn't want to go in anymore. I hope that doesn't happen again in Bratislava," she said.
Additional reporting by Matthew J. Reynolds
9. Oct 2000 at 0:00 | Vojtech Špada