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Co-owners of The Well, Dan MacDonnell and Gavin Meade, with Michael Ryan (middle) owner of Dublin Pizza Company.
Interviews

The Story Behind The Well, With Owner Dan MacDonnell

Dee Laffan chats to Dan MacDonnell, co-owner of The Well about how the massive venue came about and his passion for events, food and creating community.

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While only open a short amount of time, The Well on St Stephen's Green is already one of Dublin's hot spots, but with lots more to be unveiled yet, it appears the venue will have even more of a draw to it yet. 

Dublin city centre is certainly not lacking bars and restaurants as the cityscape has never seen such a variety of businesses to whet your appetite and wet one’s whistle! However, one venue that opened earlier this year has really settled into its new home very quickly and already established itself as a firm favourite and there is lots more to it than meets the eye. 

The Well on St Stephen’s Green opened at the end of July in the old home of Dandelion nightclub, which had been closed for many years. The space is enormous and many wondered how a bar would settle into such a space, but when you visit the venue you will soon discover there is so much more happening inside the doors than you realise, and as co-owner Dan MacDonnell told us, there is plenty of more to come.

“My main business is Neon Agency, an events and activation company. We had used the Dandelion space for events with Neon and I saw the potential,” explained Dan. “Myself and Gavin (Meade, the other owner) have known each other since we were 12-13 years old. Gavin is our main production person in Neon and leads the delivery of events. He also led the build on The Well.”

Inside The Well

The Well is described as a multifunctional late-night café-bar, restaurant, coffee shop and event space. Split into two distinct areas, a café-bar, coffee shop and restaurant upstairs and an event space at basement level. The café-bar serves an extensive range of coffee, beers, wines, spirits and a bespoke cocktail menu, and on the food side of things, award-winning food comes from their on-site kitchen operated by Dublin Pizza Company. The Well also provides the perfect location for a co-working space by positioning itself as ‘the local’ for the digital generation and social club for social media natives.

“I won’t lie, this was a tough one to get together, we didn’t have big financial backers. AIB came in and helped us towards the end and Molsen then came in and helped us too. They believed in us first off the bat and their attitude was that they thought we were crazy but they loved it!” 

The aesthetics have been curated to create a premium version of an industrial-style bar. It’s interior features furniture made from recycled and refurbished materials which keeps in line with the venue’s pledge to use materials that are sustainable and have been produced ethically.

“Jenny Doyle from the Hen House, an interior architect, took our idea to a buildable format. My brother, Barney, was the builder on it and he made it into a place. It’s been great to see it come together.”

“I actually come from a food family. My family own Old MacDonnell’s Farm food products, namely yoghurt, soft cheese from cows and goats milk and hummus. So I grew up with the business of food. I was either going to open a bar or an events business. I figured I could do the events business first and then do the bar afterwards. Neon Agency was born and as that’s got traction now and we’ve done loads of stuff through that, it was time to open the bar.” 

These Hands coffee shop offers a quality take away coffee counter, bites and sweet treats. The coffee shop will provide a range of healthy options such as some of Dan’s family’s food products, the Old MacDonnell’s Farm yoghurts, salads and soft cheeses. The coffee shop will be open daily from 7am to 7pm.

“When we were trying to choose a coffee partner, we wanted to pick a unique partner with a unique product. Sustainability was key for us too. With all of these decisions to be made, you rely on your staff, and Jacob Long our General Manager, knew of Imbibe Coffee, which is roasted in Dolphins Barn, Dublin 8 by Gary Grant. The coffee is amazing and truly unique, plus their ethos is exactly what we wanted to align with. For example, the coffee comes in vacuum-packed steel buckets, so there is no packaging waste.”

Creating a community

“My idea was to create a space for a community, for the new Dublin generation. To create this bar/community space as one centre facility. There are three pillars to the business – a bar, food and event space. It’s more of a European style bar than traditional Irish. 

We’re focused on business lunchtime trade. We wanted to offer customers a place that they don’t have that Irish guilt of having to buy a coffee to sit in the bar and work on your laptop, know what I mean?” He laughs.

“And the beauty of it is, we have the space to do that. We want them to become part of our community, and if they’re in there three times a week, then they might build it with us. It’s a usable space for everyone. Everyone is welcome to drop in. 

The community includes our team too. This whole thing is about employing people and we have 68 staff between Neon and this and I have a goal to get to 100. That’s not including contractors on top of that. The ricochet effect of that is big. If we win, everyone wins. It’s a nice vibe and I like it. It’s the way I was brought up, build something and create a community around you.”

It’s just as well

“The Well is a name that we came up with and it has to do with the old wishing well in St Stephen’s Green. It was a place where people would come to meet and that’s exactly what we wanted our place to be. It just worked out that when we were approaching companies to come onboard that Molsen and Franciscan Well were the ones that ended up working with. Funny how these things work out!”

Another company that they’ve ended up working with has also worked out extremely well is the partnership with Michael Ryan, the founder of Dublin Pizza Company, to create DPC @ The Well. This was the first sit-down restaurant for DPC and while they serve up everyone’s favourite wood-fired pizzas, they also have an extended menu featuring some extra pizzas along with complimentary salads and Italian-style small plates providing premium quality food from lunchtime until late.

More to come

With the opening of the basement, the venue will be able to provide a 1000+ capacity event space, which is probably one of the biggest in a bar in the city centre. It will include a late bar and bespoke performance space, which is available for corporate hire and independent events during the week and hosting new and innovative music promotions from the venue on the weekend.

“Our primary focus when we opened was the ground floor and building that out. Downstairs is at an advanced stage now. It is an events space, but also the capacity to be so much more with lots of individual bookable spaces within it. Think about a lot of acoustics, fireside chats and a small stage where we can do random stuff, with the likes of Off the Ball Live and gaming nights. We’ll be working with selective promoters to being in individual names rather than the big names, from musicians and smaller acts to quickie pop-ups and random flea markets. Lots to come!"