Anyone who has ever visited the Globe Irish Pub on Nørregade in the city centre will have been greeted by the legendary boyish grin, wink and “Hej skat!” – regardless of gender.
And while this might not be a standard line from the Irish barman’s training manual on ‘How to make customers stick’, it seems to be working for Dublin’s Brian McKenna, who has been in charge of the Globe for 16 years as of Tuesday November 5.
Up the Liffey with a Dane
The 40-something McKenna has been in the pub game for a long time. At the age of 22, he became the youngest manager of an Irish pub south of the Liffey in Dublin – at McCormacks in Mounttown.
And it was there that he met his future business partner, Jan Kohler, a Dane in the pub-building business who was a regular at the bar and recognised talent when he saw it. He offered McKenna an opportunity further afield that he couldn’t refuse. “I was given the task of opening up a pub in Budapest and getting it running,” he explained. “I managed to do that, and it’s still successful today. In fact, it is still the only genuine Irish pub in Budapest.”
Unique venue curries favour
After a successful two-year stint in Hungary, McKenna moved to Copenhagen to find a location for a new Irish pub with his Danish business partner. Having looked at possibilities on Strøget and deciding that it was too expensive, the pair were drawn to Nørregade because of its proximity to Nørreport station and found a multi-level premises that was being used as an Indian restaurant. At first glance, it didn’t look like the typical setting for a pub. Stepping through the doors, the natural light is limited and it’s not obvious where you should go. While you can imagine the restaurant’s diners loving the intimacy and privacy of the dark corners, how would this work for a pub, and where would you put the main bar?
In the kitchen was Kohler’s solution. A visionary in his profession, Kohler could see the potential to create a unique venue from a clean slate. And the slate wasn’t the only thing that had been recently wiped clean. “When we cleaned out the place, the builders told me that they would always find some coinage behind seats, but they found nothing,” recalled McKenna. “The previous owners had literally cleaned out the place before they left.”
The music died on day one
Beyond the obvious problems, the pair discovered the building had other limitations. “We soon realised we couldn’t do live music because of the layout of the pub – there are too many pillars, nooks and crannies,” McKenna explained. However, with a bit of ingenuity, the pair were able to create a truly distinct pub comprised of three bars. The first, the ‘Tree Bar’, is so-called because it sits around the base of a 35-foot high tree, and the bar fixtures and fittings are all constructed from its wood. The second is ‘the Library’, where the floor is made from natural oak that was found washed up on a beach in County Mayo. Finally, there is the main bar area, which is constructed from old church pews and upturned bishops seats from a church. There is also a gravestone mounted on the wall.
A sporting chance at success
And so it was on a cold, wet Wednesday night on 5 November 1997 that the Globe Irish Pub officially opened its doors, with a whimper more than a bang, remembers McKenna.
“When we opened, it was the staff from Daell’s Varehus in Sankt Petri that kept us alive,” he revealed. “It wasn’t really until the 1998 Football World Cup that things really started. People asked if we were showing the Danish games – at the time we only had one small TV, but we had to adapt.”
The Globe and live sport have since those early days become synonymous. “By the time Denmark had been knocked out by Brazil, we had been classed as a sports bar,” McKenna recalled.
“At times it got too much, but the Globe isn’t the Temple Bar in Dublin and we probably don’t have the best location in Copenhagen. I’m not on the walking street and I don’t get the tourists. While I don’t want the Globe to be known just as a sports bar, on a Saturday afternoon, sport is a big crowd puller.”
Never expect the uninvited
On the quiet nights it was a different matter. “The only way I could see us being successful was not to expect for people to come, but to go out and search for them, and then, to look after each and every customer we got through our doors,” said McKenna. “In that sense, the way it’s run is similar to a pub in Dublin.” And while McKenna admits that this philosophy has been successful so far – one of his biggest successes is a pub quiz that has been running every fortnight on Thursday since 2000 – he is not willing to rest on his laurels.
Evolving with the times
Understanding what your customers want, generation by generation, is key, maintains McKenna. “We are lucky to have developed a good relationship with our punters by just being who we are, but we have to keep up with the times,” he contended. “The old-timers still drink Hof, but our younger punters want beers and ciders from around the world. We have to evolve with them.” Perhaps with the new generation in mind – McKenna has two young children of his own – the Irishman is currently focused on launching a coffee and ice-cream bar next spring in Frederiksberg. McKenna is naming it ‘Bon Bon’ after a painted elephant he bought in a charity auction that will sit outside the cafe. “It means that you don’t have to go to the zoo to see the elephants,” he explained. Which sounds like sound logic from a landlord who has proved you don’t have to go to the Emerald Isle to find one of the most unique Irish pubs on the globe.