Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Hideout is an 'At Your Service' project

When Francis Brennan came to Kilcullen last Wednesday, complete with film crew, Jonathan Keogh’s secret about the Hideout was out, writes Brian Byrne. The famous RTE ‘At Your Service’ duo are advising on the redevelopment of the pub Jonathan bought last November.

He freely admits that he didn't expect to buy the Hideout when he attended the auction, anticipating that it would probably go for more than the limit he had set himself. "Maybe it was because so much money would have to be spent on it, but it sold more cheaply than it would have if it was ready to open with just a little work," he says. "I didn't have a plan when the hammer dropped."

Discussing it with a colleague in his steel fabricating business, the suggestion of calling in the Brennan brothers came up. "I wouldn't have thought of it myself, but from the publicity value alone it was a great idea."

On a December Friday afternoon at 2pm, Jonathan sent an email to the programme, outlining the project and suggesting that the history of the pub would make it an interesting episode. He added in links to a couple of articles on the Diary about its past. "By 3.30pm that same day they were back, and wanted to interview me in the place the following morning, as a preliminary to processing the application."

As Jonathan didn't yet have the keys to the property, he was facilitated by the auctioneer John O'Reilly in gaining access for the interview. In the middle of the following week, he received word that the project was 'on board'. "I was again surprised, because they had told me it normally takes around a month for the decision."

He kept all that under wraps until last week, when the arrival of Francis Brennan for his first look at the place created quite a stir around town.

In the meantime, Jonathan has been doing his research on what direction to develop the pub. He has consulted pub design specialists, and toured various parts of the country to see different styles of premises. "We've now decided," he says, but is coy about what the style will be, saying 'we need to maintain an air of anticipation'.

That will continue to feed the rumour mill which has been very active ever since it became known that he had bought the place. But there will be a ‘public’ bar, and a lounge, and food. "We have yet to decide what kind of food we'll provide, but that will be in place before we open, which I expect to be around September."

Why would a successful businessman in a quite different sphere be interested in reviving a pub, however iconic it may once have been? Well, partly because Jonathan is a local, and his grandfather Bill would have been a customer there in the old days, alongside such characters as the late Ken Urquhart and many others of a couple of generations ago when the pub was in its heyday and owned by the Byrne family.

"Partly too because I needed a project that I could sink my teeth into," he says. "I've been looking around for something for about three years, but I never thought it would be this. I've travelled a lot, and wherever I was, if I met someone else from Ireland and it came out that I was from Kilcullen, the inevitable question was 'do you know The Hideout?'. So it still has that global level of recognition."

Jonathan has no experience of the pub business, so he has appointed as his bar manager Martin Lambe, whose first job was in the Hideout and who has worked in the pub and security businesses for many years since. Jonathan is clear that he's not trying to recreate the original Hideout, but is anxious to reflect within it a long heritage. This includes the Byrne family, as the premises was bought by James J Byrne Snr in 1925, and the Flanagans who had it before then and called it 'The Motor Bar’, marking the increasing importance of the motor car in Irish life.

"I think that might have been what established the direction of where the pub went subsequently. It was on the main road between Dublin and the south and would always have been an important stopping point."

It was certainly that for people who used the early bus services, which always stopped at what became Byrnes Hotel and, from 1950, The Hideout under the ownership of Jim Byrne Jr. Those who were bus passengers, and later had their own cars for the journey, would stop as force of habit as well as it being advisable on the much more difficult roads to travel than pertain today.

Times have changed, and the Hideout has been through a number of owners since it was sold by the late Des Byrne towards the end of the 1990s. The pub business has changed too, and it will be interesting to see what Jonathan does with a pub that has been a licensed premises since the late 1800s.

One thing is sure. There'll be a very interesting TV show from the whole project ... and the ‘wrap’ party should be a really good one.