The value of the smoking area as a cultural and social space is often overlooked – Orla Mahon explores its hidden value.
In the realm of Irish nightlife, there remains one continuous phenomenon that puzzles me – people paying entry fees into clubs only to spend the entire night in a seemingly mundane space: the smoking area. What is it that draws people away from the dance floor, choosing instead to squash onto a bench in a poorly heated beer garden? And what does this say about our nightlife sector in general?
At first glance, the smoking area seems like it serves only one purpose: catering solely to smokers. Yet I find that the appeal of the smoking area, despite its namesake, isn’t just within the freedom it gives you to smoke. We can see this in pubs without a designated smoking area – the seat or two out front don’t spark the same attraction that could entice you to stay there all night. These makeshift, doorway smoking zones function more as a utility and not as a destination in themselves. With a specified smoking area inside a pub, there’s an allure that it presents outside of the obvious, nicotine-related reasons. It’s not merely about the act of smoking, but about the atmosphere. The smoking area facilitates the connectivity and reinforces the feeling of security one would feel while at a pub, and it also has the advantage of allowing conversations without having to yell over mediocre club tunes. You feel relatively secure in its enclosed environment, still somewhat under the protection of the venue, yet you also can escape the less desirable aspects of crowded bars (stinky, sweaty, sticky, to name a few). The smoking area represents a place of refuge in Dublin’s current nightlife landscape – with a lack of social spaces at night, it’s no wonder that people are drawn to the one place where you can converse with your friends (and actually hear them!) in a safe, enclosed environment.
With a specified smoking area inside a pub, there’s an allure that it presents outside of the obvious, nicotine-related reasons. It’s not merely about the act of smoking, but about the atmosphere.
The smoking area presents a unique alternative space for a more relaxed social landscape on a night out. It functions as a place of refuge. In its unassuming setting, it addresses the need for more versatile environments and venues at night. Dublin’s current nightlife landscape is characterised by a shortage of social spaces where you don’t feel pressured to spend ridiculous money – the smoking area fills this gap. There is a need for more spaces in the Dublin nightlife landscape that provide this need – outdoor, low-pressure areas that prioritise communication and connection instead of consumption. Despite their necessity, we’re actually seeing the loss of such spaces. We can see this through the planned closure of the large smoking area that is shared by Fibber Magees, The Living Room, and Murray's, which is instead going to be replaced by (you guessed it!) a hotel.
Whew will we finally see Dublin nightlife cater more to those who participate in it, instead of being swallowed up into the cesspit of commercialisation that is currently consuming the city?
Only time will tell.