Camelot of Irish nightlife fi­nally dis­ap­pears for­ever

Show busi­ness Jour­nal­ist of the Year Barry Egan re­calls the golden age of Lil­lie’s, which is to close next month

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Viewpoints -

BY her bright-red Porsche 944, shall we know her. Out of this four-wheeled sex ma­chine stepped Karla El­liott — then wife of Joe, tou­sle-haired rock god of Def Lep­pard fame. From the laneway off Grafton Street, she made her en­trance into Lil­lie’s. And what an en­trance.

Clad head to tippy-toe in be­witch­ing black leather, she should have played Cat­woman in Bat­man.

It was the early 1990s. I had rung Karla from the pay­phone in the lobby of the Shel­bourne ho­tel to ar­range to meet her that night in the world-fa­mous Irish night­club. She drove down from her man­sion in the Dublin Moun­tains to meet up for a night on the town.

While wait­ing in Lil­lie’s for Karla to ar­rive, I had met a fa­mous ac­tress at the bar who bought me a drink, think­ing I was Sim­ply Red’s Mick Huck­nall. I wasn’t about to tell Ju­lia Roberts I wasn’t Mick Huck­nall.

That was the thing about Lil­lie’s in that giddy, gilded era — now long gone. You didn’t know who you’d meet. Be it the star of Pretty Woman ,or Van Mor­ri­son, U2, David Bowie, Bill Clin­ton, Clan­nad, John Rocha, The Pogues, Ea­mon Dun­phy, Paul McGuin­ness, John McCol­gan, Ed­die Irvine, Con­rad Gal­lagher, Jim Sheri­dan, Bibi Baskin, Mick Jag­ger, Guggi, Michael Col­gan, Olivia Tracey, Miss Ire­lands, Miss Worlds, Patrick Ber­gin, Sinead O’Con­nor, Daniel Day-Lewis, Colin Far­rell, The Corrs, Terry Keane, Anne Doyle, Noelle Camp­bell-Sharpe, Boy­zone, Michael Flat­ley, moguls, po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, sport­ing su­per­stars, mod­els in vary­ing de­grees of su­per­ness (Naomi Camp­bell, Yas­min Le Bon and Christy Turling­ton, to­gether with our own then-emerg­ing queens of the cam­era lens, An­drea Roche, Glenda Gil­son, Amanda Byram, Yvonne Con­nolly, Vivi­enne Con­nolly, and be­fore them, Pa­tri­cia Devine and Sheila Eus­tace, et al)... any­one, re­ally. Hold­ing court. On the lash. Up for the craic. En­ter­ing through Lil­lie’s doors in its hey­day was like go­ing down the rab­bit hole in Al­ice in Won­der­land. It was al­ways go­ing to be an ex­pe­ri­ence.

It didn’t mat­ter how fa­mous they were, it was never that sur­pris­ing to see them stand­ing at the bar of the VIP lounge with some­one who might or might not have been their wife or hus­band. Lil­lie’s was an­other world, pre-po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, be­cause in the 1990s and for a time in the 2000s, the world was an en­tirely dif­fer­ent place to the uni­verse it is now.

You could some­times emerge blink­ing into the dawn on a Sun­day morn­ing hav­ing drunk your wages with some­one who was in­ter­na­tion­ally fa­mous, but who, for those three or four hours in Lil­lie’s, was just an­other megas­tar on the town in Lil­lie’s.

In the mid 1990s, I joined Michelle Rocca and her new fella, Mr Van Mor­ri­son, for din­ner at the Ra­j­doot Tan­doori be­hind the West­bury.

Van was in a good mood, chatty, talk­ing with Michelle about Yeats and po­etry. The meal over, we went to a club on Lee­son Street, then on to Lil­lie’s un­til clos­ing time — all very con­vivial. Van buys lots of cham­pagne. Peo­ple at an ad­join­ing ta­ble in­vite us to a party in Sandy­mount. We go to the party. At one point, some­one pro­duces a gui­tar with three strings on it, and Van is pre­pared to play, but a string breaks as he is tun­ing, so he puts it down and never picks it up again. At 6am, we went to Van’s suite at the Shel­bourne for more drinks. My mama never told me there’ll be nights like this.

The thing is, of course, there are rarely nights like this any more be­cause the world is dif­fer­ent now. Times were freer back then, when Lil­lie’s ap­peared to be at the cen­tre of the uni­verse, a uni­verse con­trolled by Va­lerie Roe, who de­cided who came in and who stayed in.

Michael Flat­ley had his own couch named af­ter him be­cause the leg­endary charmer would bring a string of beau­ties to the club to woo them with his ex­tra­or­di­nary ways.

Lil­lie’s is clos­ing next month, but in re­al­ity it hasn’t been Lil­lie’s for many a year — the glory faded a long time ago and noth­ing now could bring it back. But it will live on for­ever in our imag­i­na­tions, that Camelot of Irish nightlife on Grafton Street, be­cause it was more than a night­club. It was an all-too-fleet­ing mo­ment of so­cial his­tory.

Get­ting in to wit­ness this his­tory hap­pen all around you was no easy job. You felt if you got in you must be some­body. See — I told you the times were crazy back then. You just wouldn’t know who you’d be sit­ting next to on a couch in the VIP li­brary.

One night I sat next to Mick Jag­ger. I acted like I didn’t know who he was and ig­nored him. It was that ridicu­lous.

One night, Sinead O’Con­nor threw a drink over me. An­other night, a fa­mous fe­male singer biffed Shane MacGowan on the nose be­cause she felt he was ig­nor­ing her. I mopped his blood­ied hooter with some tis­sues doused in wa­ter from the ice bucket where a half-empty bot­tle of cham­pagne was rest­ing.

An­other night, Paidi O Se lost his glasses at the bar and rang me the next day to ask me not to tell any­one he was in Lil­lie’s. If he’d had his glasses, he could have read it him­self in the Her­ald — the news was al­ready out. An­other night, Roy Keane sang all the verses, word-per­fect, of a Bob Dy­lan song. An­other night, I danced with Bono. An­other night...

Like youth, it couldn’t last for­ever, and it didn’t. Even though we were too young to re­alise it at the time.

Tony Ben­nett left his heart in San Fran­cisco; I left my liver in Lil­lie’s.

‘Like youth, it couldn’t last for­ever, and it didn’t’

ON THOSE FA­MOUS COUCHES: Model Ali McDon­nell at a pho­to­call for a Lil­lie’s Valen­tine’s night event in 2008

GOOD TIMES: Top, Gil­lian Quinn and Lil­lie’s boss Va­lerie Roe; Liam O Maon­lai and Bono

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