“Even when it rained, people were loving it…” Why Mixed Salad at McGruders will live long in the memory

There have been plenty of daytime soirees in Dublin’s clubbing history, but few linger in the memory better than Mixed Salad at McGruders on Thomas Street, which grew from a private Sunday sesh into a multi-storey jamboree for more than 600 party people over the space of a couple of years.

The brainchild of the late Al Keegan, who sadly passed away last week, Mixed Salad’s relationship with McGruders actually ended on this day (3 April) 12 years ago, as the pub’s management decided to take the infamous bank holiday parties in a ‘new direction’, as a Boards.ie post from the time put it.

“I can’t say I’m not disappointed that this decision has been made in a time that sees the venue busier than ever,” the post read. “It’s just a shame we won’t be around to watch it flourish.”

McGruders would close its doors less than two years later, a victim of the economic downturn – and to this day, the business lies idle.

But for a few glorious years, it was one of the hottest spots in town – the perfect blend of venue (the legendary beer garden), music (Dublin’s best homegrown talent) and atmosphere.

“When we first started out with the parties, I purposely set out for just a party for my mates,” Keegan told YNTV a few years back (check the YouTube link below for the full video). 

“I didn’t do any posters for it on purpose, because I didn’t want to sell it out to the general public. But within three or four weeks of doing the parties, we had 300 people in the garden.”

The name Mixed Salad, he explained, came from longtime sparring partner Al Kennington. 

“When we were starting the garden parties, I explained to Al ‘we’re doing this party, it’s going to be awesome, just a couple of heads. We’ll have it outdoors, it will be brilliant, we just need a name for it, you know, a summery kind of buzz’. 

“We were sitting in Stephen’s Green, chatting and having a laugh, and he came up with Mixed Salad. It was perfect, it was summery and it played on DJs mixing records, it played on the summer, it played on everything.” 

Prior to Mixed Salad, McGruders had been used for a summer’s worth of electronica-themed barbecue events, under the Ice9 banner, but it was under Keegan and co that the venue came into its own – particularly for the first St Patrick’s Day party, which opened up the whole venue for the first time.

“Because McGruders had so many rooms, we decided to open up the whole place,” Keegan explained. “We took on a whole lot of other DJs, we had visuals, we jazzed the place up a bit.

It was just a pub on Thomas Street, so we had to make it something that resembled a club. […] It wasn’t just a pub when we were finished with it.”

The decision was even taken to play chart music and 80s hits in the main bar area, to appeal to those interested in more than just 4/4 beats. 

“We injected elements into the party for people that were into more than just house or techno.”

The DJs and artists that graced the stage at one of Mixed Salad’s many events was a who’s who of Dublin’s finest: people like Matador, Philth, Deadbots, Calvin James, Simon F, Nic James, Arveene, Barry Redsetta, Sourcecode, Eddie Brennan, and of course Keegan himself, often taking over the ones and twos for the final set of the night.

“It was never considered to bring in DJs from anywhere else. There’s enough talent in Dublin to play for 20 hours – this was ten hours, and it was about giving all the collectives a shot. […] Because it was Sunday daytime, we could get everybody down. That was the beauty of it.”

Of course, Mixed Salad’s appeal was always likely to draw attention from unwanted sources, and in the interview Keegan recalled a particularly troublesome local, whose intervention led to the party being moved strictly inside for several events. 

“The biggest hassle was in the first year or maybe two years when we were just in the garden,” he explained.  “I wouldn’t call her an auld one, because she was mid-30s. She just hated the music; she lived locally.

I think she was the biggest hassle we ever had, calling the Gards and all sorts of stuff. So we had to finish with the garden in the end, because of her.”

The last Mixed Salad at McGruders took place on Sunday March 16, 2008, with a whopping 25 DJs across three different rooms. Needless to say, the venue was full to bursting by teatime… a giant leap for what was once a modest Sunday session.

Such was the legacy of Mixed Salad, that it was only fitting that despite the coronavirus lockdown, Al Keegan’s face was projected onto the side of the now-abandoned McGruders last weekend.

It was a fitting tribute to an enigmatic individual who could even turn an ‘old man’s pub’ in Dublin’s Liberties into the centre of the musical universe. As he put it himself, “I had some of the best days of my life in that garden. Everybody would stay in on Saturday nights to keep themselves ready to go to McGruders on the Sunday.

There was nothing in Dublin like that, it was like something from Ibiza. It was outdoors, people were cool, the music was right, everybody was just buzzing off it.”

RIP Al Keegan, and thanks for some epic memories. 🙂

[Kudos to Andy Noonan for the YouTube upload. All pictures taken from the Acii Disco Flickr page]

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