OTwo Interviews: Meg Bergin, founder of The Girls Room

Image Credit: Matheus Luz da Costa, @luzdacostaphoto on Instagram

Isabella Ambrosio sits down with the founder of Dublin’s first women-only nightclub, discussing how the club came to be.

Meg Bergin works behind the scenes. She does everything for The Girls Room, Dublin’s first women-only nightclub. She organises all of the promotional photoshoots and video shoots, books the event spaces, vendors and DJs, and runs the social media accounts: you name it, Bergin does it. Why does she do it? To create a safe, empowered, space for women and non-binary people in Ireland.

Meg and I participated in a game of phone tag for about two weeks. It seems as if every time she was calling me, my phone would stop ringing the second it hit my hand. When we finally connect, she greets me with a great smile. We make small talk, discussing how the last few weeks have been. She’s animated when she speaks. 

“It’s like Anonymous or something,” she mentions, having a giggle. I agree, feeling as if that’s the most accurate description one of my guests has given me. We laugh a little bit more, and with a smile, I ask my first question,

“So, tell us about who you are, what you do with The Girls Room.”

“My name is Meg [Bergin] and I’m the CEO and founder of The Girls Room, which is a nightclub event for women and non-binary people in Dublin. I initially launched this event because I felt there was a need for a safe space slash outlet for women and non-binary folks to have a fun night, free of anxiety and in a safer environment. On top of that, I thought it would be a great opportunity to unite people from different backgrounds who maybe don’t meet on a regular basis, and to really cultivate a community rather than just a nightclub event. It’s so much deeper than that, even now, like. It’s really become what I hoped it would be, if that makes sense. Yeah, so I organise the events and I have a small team of people. We have a graphic designer and I hire different photographers to help with promo shoots, and at the events and stuff like that. And something that was really important to me when starting was to create other opportunities for women and nonbinary people in this space because they don’t get as many opportunities, because it’s quite a male-dominated industry. Whether it’s events, nightlife or creative scene in general - it’s quite male dominated. So, the DJs, the photographers, videographers - anybody who’s involved in the project is either a woman or a nonbinary person. It’s really cool to be able to create opportunities like that.”

“It’s something I experience as well, as someone who does press and journalism, a very large percent of publicists are male, and a lot of actual artists themselves are males, and it’s not a bad thing, but it’s nice to see someone making an effort to include women and to give them a platform in a creative place. You talked about uniting people of different backgrounds, how do you go about doing that?”

“To be honest, I think there’s multiple things like… when it comes to our promo, I like for it to be very inclusive. I have people from all different backgrounds and all different sexual orientations, and even different aesthetics and stuff. At the first event, I didn’t know how it was going to be received, and I really didn’t know what to expect, and who would show up. And it was such a diverse group of people, and to see everyone connecting and mingling and having fun together was beautiful. Not that it shouldn’t be the standard, because it’s not, and I think we’re all quite divided for a lot of reasons in society. So being able to create this space, is it’s just a melting pot of everyone and anyone. And they’re all having the opportunity to have a dance with each other, have a chat with each other, and make new friends and stuff. I think when it comes to promotion, having a diverse cast of models and also including different people from different backgrounds, like I said, whoever is involved in the project, whether they’re doing photography or a DJ. It's again reassuring people that it’s an inclusive space, and bias doesn’t live here. I want people to be able to come as they are and be accepted as they are and to feel empowered in that, you know? And even when it comes to the music, I guess, that’s another element, it’s quite a diverse mix of music. So, we have a bit of pop, we’ve got Hip Hop and R&B, and then we’ve got like afrobeats, a couple of Y2K throwbacks, so its a mix. There’s something for everyone. And while that can be hard to achieve, we try our best.”

“You ultimately wanted to create a safe space, but you obviously wanted there to be a sense of fun. You mentioned online having some women-owned Irish sellers at your upcoming event.”

“We’re only actually doing it now for the first time, but before that, there’s different elements to The Girls Room nights. Obviously it's a regular club night with DJs and music, but we also have a flowerwall for people to get professional photos of them and their friends, and then they’re sent out to everyone afterwards. And we have affirmation cards at every event.” 

Someone enters the room on her side and she scolds them. I make a face, trying not to laugh, but she laughs before me, “It’ll have a little affirmation of the day, you’ll pick a card, and there’s usually a few to pick from, a nice little uplifting thing. And then I always decorate the bathrooms as well, so it looks really pretty and people can take cute selfies with each other or whatever. We also set up a group chat beforehand. Because sometimes, people want to go to the event but they have to go alone, their friends aren’t around or maybe they don’t want to go, so we set up a group chat. And people from all over Dublin, even from different counties, come together and have pre-drinks and go to the event together. And they all end up making friendships, they have a safety buddy to travel home with… so, there’s just layers and levels to me trying to safeguard. And if you’re gonna say you’re a safe space, it’s so easy to say that and then not actually have anything in place to protect people and to show genuine care for the people that are there. But for me, that’s my number one priority. We also have a zero tolerance policy. So, I got in touch with Safe Gigs when I was launching The Girls Room, and I was asking them for some advice. They’re brilliant, they’re great at creating safe gigs and events for everyone, all over Ireland. They had this framework of doing a zero tolerance policy for harassment and discrimination. So, I took that on board and then created one for The Girls Room. It’s always put on our social media before each event and circulated in all of our press and stuff, so people know that this is not a space where you can come and be judgmental, or be abusive, or be discriminatory - it’s clear there. And it’s one strike, and you’re out. Like that’s it. So people know, that if you’re coming with an open mind and to be kind to people, and accept people as they are. Because obviously we’re a space for women and nonbinary folks, and when I say women, I’m including trans women in that. Because trans women are women. And some people definitely still have biases and discomfort around people who are outside the gender binary, and that upsets me, because it's like guys, it’s not the deep,” she laughs, “It’s really not that deep. But you have to remind people then that if this is a space you’re going to come to and make others feel uncomfortable [with your bias], then this is not the space for you, you know what I mean? And to me, the community that come to The Girls Room make it what it is. They make it so special because they bring such love, such good energy, and such good openness to each other. It really is a beautiful environment to be in.”

“When you talk about the safety policy, do you have bouncers, specifically allocated staff who look after everything? How would you manage complaints?”

“When I put up the zero tolerance policy, I also put it on a highlight on our Instagram, [with] an email for people to report anything, or if they have any issues, any concerns, any reports, they can email us directly, or they can DM us on Instagram. On the night, the venue usually have their own security slash bouncers, but I always make sure that we have at least one woman on the door as well, so it's quite balanced. They’re always briefed before the events on the policy and what this event is, so they know how to act accordingly and to respect people. They know what the craic is. I would like to start implementing safety buddies, we did have them at one event, I had some volunteers helping me out, but I would like to implement that each time going forward. So if anything does happen on the night, they can go directly to these safety buddies and have a chat with them, and if I need to be pulled into the conversation, I can, so that way we make sure that things are reported and feel like they have someone to talk to. So, that’s something I’m kind of looking at at the moment.”

“That’s fantastic. Because some people may feel like, ‘Yeah, I can talk about this stuff, but not necessarily anything will be done.’ So, it’s nice to see that you’re actively putting things and measures in place to ensure that people’s complaints are taken seriously.”

“It annoys me even… like, I’ve had my own experiences even, at clubs, on nights out, and a lot of my friends have, and you report it to someone, but nothing is done about it. Like, the person who has actually made you really uncomfortable is still in the club, I don’t get it.”

“The group chat is also a brilliant idea. I think a lot of people have some sort of anxiety about going out, after COVID, whether it’s intentional or not, and if you’re going out on your own. It’s a great way to connect beforehand.”

“They get each other's Instagrams, or they’ll arrange pre-drinks. But, they’re usually talking on the chat in the run up to the event,” she sighs before leaning out of view of the camera and picking up an adorable Labradoodle, “Sorry, my dog is crying for attention here.”

“Oh my god, I have no problem with that, thank you… this is… oh my god,” the dog is looking directly into the camera and it's a nice break from the somewhat sad conversation we’re having. While The Girls Room is a fantastic idea, there’s always that thought that lingers in the back of our minds as we talk about it, that if only. I make sure to greet the dog.

“It gives people the opportunity to connect beforehand and make them a bit more comfortable, and they know who they’re going to be meeting up with. At the last one, there was about 25 people at the pre-drinks, and then they all went to the event together. It was like a big entourage of people.” She has a wide smile on her face, recalling the group.

The dog is perfectly content with getting their head scratched, watching me as I ask questions.

She continues, “And it’s lovely to see that, because again, I had people saying, ‘Thank you so much for creating this space,’ and people thanking me for the group chat because they met someone they really clicked with, and connected with, and they’re still pals with now. It’s lovely to see that friendships can be formed through this. Another important thing for me when I started was to bridge the gaps between people,” she thinks about what she’s going to say for a moment, “When you’re in a regular club, there’s a sense of the ‘male gaze’ and maybe, it makes us a bit performative or a bit disconnected from each other, and I think in life we are conditioned to pit women or whatever against each other, and I don’t want this space to be competitive in any way. It’s not one of those things where it’s like a fashion show, or it’s clique-y. When you go in there, people will go with their friends and end up with the most random people. I witness it myself. They’ll just end up drifting around, and mingling with so many different people. And that’s the kind of space I want it to be. I don’t want it to be intimidating, I want people to feel like they can come along and be comfortable in who they are. Because we do have people who come in who are a bit more introverted and shy, that’s fine. You don’t have to be dancing in the middle of the circle, you can literally come and just enjoy the vibes and have a look around. Like, if thats you, we accept that.”

“Especially going out to events and nightclubs, its very common to be like ‘You’re going out, you’re going on the piss’. There’s a little less enjoyment in it, because it can feel like it needs to be taken so seriously…” The dog causes me to lose my train of thought, “I’m so sorry.” 

Bergin cackles and shakes her head with a big grin, “Don’t worry.”

“It’s nice that you’re curating to everyone. You have the small business owners, so if people wanna have a look around, they can do that. You can have a drink or two with their mates. They can be there and dance and take pictures. There’s nothing you haven’t thought of. And I think that’s a big gap in a lot of events, as well. There are so many things that get left out.”

“There’s a lack of genuine care and consideration for people. I think overall. Whether it’s incompetent security or bouncers not taking complaints seriously, or even venues and event organisers not taking feedback. After every event, I put up a feedback form. Because I want to hear people’s experience. What they liked, what they didn’t like. And there’s been a lot of improvements made because people have given feedback that has been constructive and helpful. That matters a lot to me. Obviously, you can’t please everyone, that’s life. But people who are coming to these events regularly, they can help me to see what I’m missing out, or how can I improve this experience for people. That matters a lot to me. I want it to be a unique, intimate, enjoyable experience, where people feel relaxed. That’s another thing, on a regular night out, I don’t feel relaxed.”

“You’re always looking over your shoulder, you’re always scanning to make sure that no one’s looking at you funny…”

“Yeah! And it’s not a comfortable experience. My whole thing, and I guess, with witnessing the change in behaviour in people when they’re at The Girls Room versus a regular club. I think if you don’t feel safe, you can’t fully be present in your body and you can’t fully enjoy an experience. So, that’s why I think when you look at the videos from The Girls Room, or even when you’re just there and looking around, you’re like, ‘Everyone is here. Like, everyone is really here right now.’ And people saying they don’t have anxiety when they usually have a lot of anxiety on regular nights out, or its just its nice to see it becoming exactly what I hoped it would. And it’s such a fulfilling thing to witness, coming to life, and also hearing from people about what it means to them. It’s very special.”

“How many events would you guys do a year?”

“It launched in June 2022, and we did 3 events last year. So, roughly every second month. It’s becoming more regular now. We had our first event of the year on the 6th of January, and then we’re back on the 10th of February. All of our events are ticketed, and we sell them on Eventbrite. It’s easier to manage that way. We’re sold out now. Up next is our Galentine’s Event, all about sisterhood and love in all of its forms.”

“I love a Galentine’s Event. I have a boyfriend, and I hate going out on nights out, being approached when I’m very much not there for that.”

“That’s what’s special about it. Sometimes when I tell people about The Girls Room, they go, ‘Is it- is it just for queer people?’. No, absolutely not. It’s for everyone. Some people who come have boyfriends, and feel more comfortable in an environment where they’re not being approached by men, some people have had unfortunate experiences and they don’t feel comfortable in a regular club. And some people want the option to have fun and the craic with their girls, without worrying about anybody looking or making advances or assumptions. And then you also have people who come along who are queer, who want to have fun or meet someone. Whatever, but regardless, it’s just for everyone.”

Bergin and I continue to talk about safe spaces, music influences and more. Our interview lasts for more than an hour, and by the end, it felt as if I had made a new friend through The Girls Room. And I wasn’t even there. You can follow @thegirlsroomirl on Instagram to keep up to date with they’re upcoming events. I promise you, this is something you don’t want to miss out on.