Dublin’s The Pod nightclub, which opened its doors on 13 April 1993, brought a degree of professionalism to the Irish capital’s club scene – where other venues like Sides DC or McGonagles helped set the template, the Harcourt Street venue, opened by the then 26-year-old John Reynolds, sought to raise the bar, and compete with the best in Europe.
While it had its detractors over the years – not least due to the strict door policy, overseen by front-of-house man Denis O’Kelly – The Pod was among the venues that helped to establish Dublin as a night-time mecca for foreign tourists, which it has retained to this day, pandemic notwithstanding.
Longford native Reynolds, the nephew of the then-Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, had already established his name in London clubland – working for First Leisure Corporation, he managed the London Empire in Leicester Square before going on to manage Ministry of Sound. He also ran a number of parties at the Limelight Club in London, as well as the celebrated Kinky Gerlinky in the Equinox; which earned him mentions in trendy publications such as The Face and I-D.
A trip to Dublin in February 1992, during which he spent a night out with friends, would sow the seeds for what would eventually become The Pod, as he and his compatriots were refused entry from a number of nocturnal haunts.
“We were refused because we weren’t regulars, which was fair enough,” he told the Sunday Tribune in April 1994. “But we had Jeremy Healy with us, the DJ who plays at Jean Paul Gaultier’s fashion shows, and he was told that his type wasn’t welcome here – he was dressed in about two grand’s worth of designer leather gear from Destroy.
“Afterwards, when we were walking down Grafton Street, we said ‘Jesus, this city is wide open for a fashionable club!'”
With a £150,000 loan, Reynolds opened The Pod in two vaults under the derelict Harcourt Street Station and set to work establishing it as a go-to venue. With few locations of its stature, The Pod quickly made its way into the headlines, with its owner the toast of an emerging band of youthful entrepreneurs.
As The Irish Times gushed in November 1993, “The Pod has been irredeemably fashionable since first opening its doors last April. The Barcelona-inspired decor (designed by Scotland’s Ron McCullough), the location beneath the arches of Harcourt Street Station and the management of John Reynolds (nephew of the Taoiseach, although Albert Reynolds is hardly a byword for fashionability) have all helped enhance the club’s reputation, as has its exclusivity.
“Among those who have succeeded in crossing the threshold are U2, who held their post-Dublin concerts there, the ubiquitous Naomi Campbell, who even engaged in an outbreak of karaoke – perhaps by way of preparation for the album she is planning to record; and Dina Carroll and Oleta Adams, who both gave private concerts on the premises.”
A couple of years back, club designer Ron McCullough, told 909originals about the whirlwind process by which he got involved in the project, spurred on by Reynolds infectious energy.
“He came and picked me up at the airport. As was John’s style, there was nothing like ‘the moment’, so we went straight to Harcourt Street, where the club was going to be. Over the course of a 20 minute car ride, he told me his vision – that it was this old train station and so forth – and then we arrived at this building with ramshackle fencing around it, and a little door that led to one of the chambers that used to be underneath the train station.
“Because I was a club operator and a designer, I looked at it from two perspectives: one, could I make something out of this, does it have potential? And two, do I believe that this person I’m dealing with can bring their vision to life? By the time that evening was over – we had gone to so many places and everywhere we went, John was treated like a celebrity – I was convinced.”
For Reynolds, who was a near-ever present at the club in its formative years – “I’m usually here at 10 in the morning and I leave at four or five the following morning,” he told the Tribune – The Pod also presented an opportunity to prove his detractors wrong – ‘Dublin wasn’t ready for a venue like this’, he was told. Au contraire.
“When The Pod opened, the cynics said that if you don’t have a carpet in the place, then it won’t work, and they branded the music we were playing as rave,” he told the Evening Herald in April 1994. “That’s because they are so ignorant. […] I think we proved the cynics wrong, through sheer hard work and team effort.
“I always felt there was an opening for a club of The Pod’s style and music policy. We are a club for young, fashionable people. We have been pigeonholed, though. Sure, the club is very image-related, but that’s because there was no-one else doing that. And every club in Dublin taps into a different market. They all have their own policy.”
As to whether The Pod’s door policy was too strict, Reynolds refuted such suggestions. “It’s nonsense to say we are elitist,” he told the Herald. “Dennis, our front-of-house manager, could tell you stories about the guys who flash platinum gold cards, or show their BMW keys to get in. We don’t want louts who think that money does everything in here.”
Reynolds would follow up The Pod’s success with the opening of the adjacent Chocolate Bar a year later, and complete the holy trinity in December 1996 with the opening of the Redbox, in the former train station building. He passed away in October 2018, at the age of just 53. RIP.
[Pictures by Peter Houlihan]