Only three months after opening near the River Liffey on Dublin's Northside, Pravda is something of a mecca for the city's in-crowd. Five minutes from the thriving Temple Bar quarter of Dublin, Pravda is influenced by Russia, or Eastern Europe at least, and is certainly a first for Dublin, where even newly refurbished pubs tend to be based on traditional Irish style.
Pravda is owned by Dublin-based pub group Thomas Read Holdings (TRH), established in 1990 and now operating seven bars across the city. The group's turnover will be an estimated IR£24m (£20.25m) by 1999, with profits in excess of IR£3m (£2.53m).
Pravda's early success has surprised even its owners. TRH director Hugh O'Regan says that even he and his partners are pleasantly surprised by how popular it has become. "We did intend to market Pravda," he says. "However, it has not been necessary to date, because from day one we had queues outside the door, and it has just got busier since then."
The original conception was for a bar with influences from across Eastern Europe and not just Russia. "We felt that people were just getting tired with the number of ‘Irish' pubs opening up both here and in the UK," says O'Regan. "As this was our first pub on Dublin's Northside, and by no means in a prime site, we felt the style had to be somewhat different to draw a crowd."
The enormous floor-to-ceiling murals, painted by local artists Brian and Maev McCarthy, clearly take their theme from the Russian Revolution. Russian bottled beer and several vodkas are on sale behind the bar and the food menu features both English and Russian translations of the dishes on offer.
Additional Russian products, such as more beers and Russian "Champagne", would be desirable, but O'Regan says it is difficult and expensive to source Russian drinks. He is actively seeking suppliers both in Ireland and in the UK with a view to extending the range.
On the food side, the current menu features a variety of starters and main courses such as krasniy salat (red salad), a mixture of red pulses, beetroot and semi-dried tomatoes (IR£5.50, £4.60), Pravda burger served with buckwheat blinis and sauerkraut (IR£5.95, £5) and stroganoff (IR£5.95. £5).
Average price for a starter is about £4.50, and a main course is about £5.75. Although O'Regan initially planned for a 20:80 split between food and beverages, the reality is that people are drinking at Pravda, with 92% of turnover coming from drinks. Partly for this reason, O'Regan feels the menu may have to be adapted to feature more finger food, which will suit the demands of the drinking crowd and help solve the problem of space limitation in the kitchen.
Occupying some 7,000sq ft in total, Pravda is split into three distinct areas which, O'Regan believes, means that the pub has something to offer a diverse range of clients. Just inside the entrance is a traditional bar area that is popular with the local business crowd. The busier, lower bar is targeted at a younger, more Bohemian market while the carpeted upper floor area attracts those looking for a more laid-back atmosphere where they can eat and drink.
During the evenings, DJs playing ambient music add to the atmosphere of the upper floor, which has become the most popular part of Pravda. "The upstairs of most bars is usually the most difficult to fill," says O'Regan, "but at Pravda it has become the most sought-after space because it is so comfortable. With its warm colours and interesting use of space across different floor levels, Pravda allows for a good movement of people."
Investment to get Pravda off the ground was £400,000 for the construction and fit-out costs, excluding the price of acquiring a licence, which is notoriously expensive in Dublin. As well as adapting the food menu, other ideas to develop the business include acquiring a late licence and building up the Sunday brunch market by providing Eastern European-style entertainment.
O'Regan attributes Pravda's success in most part to its location. Pravda is the first bar to open on Liffey Street and certainly the first to attract a high-spending clientele to what is still perceived by many Dubliners as an under-developed and even run-down part of the city.
With its Dublin operations up and running, TRH is looking further afield and has its sights set on London, Manchester and Belfast as potential homes for more Pravdas. However, says O'Regan: "We do plan to further develop the Russian idea before rolling it out in the UK."
While financing for the first Pravda came from within TRH, O'Regan has something else in mind for future growth. "I wouldn't discount the idea of going for a private placing and ultimately a full listing for Thomas Read Holdings," he says. "It is an unusual fact that, for a country that is so successful in exporting its pubs around the world, there are no publicly listed pub groups in Ireland."
Next week: an Irish pub in Vienna