Abner Browns barbershop, on Rathgar Road, Dublin, is considered one of the most interesting places to visit in all of Ireland. The old-school barbershop charm plays a role in its insane popularity, but what really sets it apart from any other barbershop in the world is the fact that it doubles as a live music bar.
Abner Browns has been in business for 17 years, but its incredible transformation occurred three years ago, when owner Dave Judge decided to work in the barbershop full-time, after losing a lot of money he had invested in property during the financial crash of 2007-2008. While redecorating the place, he bought an old leather couch for about €30, and after setting it next to some guitars and music posters that served as decorations, he told his wife that it would be cool to get someone to play on it. A few days later, Canadian singer/songwriter Blair Packhem walked into Abner Browns for a haircut and Judge asked him if he would play a few songs on his new couch. Patrons loved the idea, and as news of the spontaneous gig spread around the city, Tim Fernley, a friend of Judge’s and member in a number of local bands, asked if he could play in the barbershop. And it just snowballed from there.
“It became so crazy that people stopped coming in on Saturdays for haircuts because they thought we we’re so busy, when in reality people where coming to listen to the music, so I thought we should do it at night time instead. So we did it,” Judge said in an interview with the College Tribune. He and his staff came up with some ideas to make the place more inviting for patrons, installing special lighting, and filling the sinks with ice to keep beers and whisky nice and cool. Eventually, they even found sponsors to provide the booze. It took a while to set up the barbershop into a night bar, but Dave says they’ve since got the process down to an art, and can convert the place into a music venue in just 15 minutes.
In just three years, Abner Browns went from a simple Dublin barbershop, to the hottest live music venue in the city and an icon in the Irish music scene, and it was all by accident. Dave Dave Judge says that even though hundreds of international bands have performed at his small shop, he has never had to ask any of them to do it. They all contacted him about it, and he now gets about five emails a day from musicians wanting to play at Abner.
“It just exploded on the Irish music scene, I can’t believe what’s happening. I have gone from being a barber into… well, they keep telling me I am one of the main promoters around town now,” Dave says.
Even the Dublin Town Council has acknowledged his influence in the local music scene. A couple of years ago they asked him if he was interested in putting on a small free musical event for a boat rally on the canal. That one-time gig turned into the Canalaphonic Music Festival, the largest free music festival in Dublin.
Photos: Abner Browns/Facebook