A larger-than-life figure in Prague’s entertainment sector, Frank Haughton’s three decades in the Czech Republic have gone from success to success, introducing Irish pubs to the capital and becoming a partner in one of the city’s top nightclubs: DUPLEX.
A former banker and stockbroker in Ireland, Haughton first came to Prague in 1992 to help a friend launch what is now Radio Kiss.
“While I was here,” he said, speaking to Prague Morning, “I observed the huge interest in beer and pub life and thought, okay these people already understand the concept of an Irish pub”, and moved ahead with plans for what would become the James Joyce.
Haughton has “always wanted [his pubs] to be authentic”, he said. So much so, that he bought the interior of a Belfast church, which had been bombed in the Northern Ireland Civil Conflict, and shipped it to Prague to create the James Joyce and ensure the place had the right feel.
“We bought the church pews, we bought the floorboards, we bought the front of the organ gallery, which became the front of the bar, and we shipped it all out here,” he said.
To serve authentic food and drink at the pub, Haughton would take 34-hour drives back to Ireland every six weeks, bringing back products he couldn’t find locally.
“I would have up to 800 kilos of Irish bacon, sausages and Irish black and white pudding in the car”, he said. “I was smuggling,” he conceded, “there was no permit to bring meat from Ireland into the Czech Republic.”
“It was challenging. My heartbeat always went up as I would reach the border.”
“But I always made the point of having the real stuff,” he said. “I used to bring Irish cheddar cheese, Irish potato crisps and even Irish chocolate in the beginning. I would bring anything that I thought people might want.”
Originally imagining an Irish pub would attract attention from the large German, beer-loving, community in Prague at the time, Haughton quickly found that it was instead English-speaking foreigners who quickly took to the place.
“People were looking for a place they could speak English,” he said, adding that foreign businessmen became the core of the pub’s visitors.
“James Joyce became known as the place to go if you wanted to start a business. If you went and chatted around, you were likely to meet somebody who would be able to give you some useful information.”
The pub business was also not something Haughton had planned to stay in. “I thought maybe I’ll build this up for two years myself, and then move on to do something else,” he said.
It was the people he met every day working at the pub that convinced him to stay, though. “In all of my banking life,” he said, “I was mainly dealing with customers over the telephone, so I really enjoyed the people I met face to face.”
“It gave me great satisfaction to see people having a good time and to see a good atmosphere in the pub. I found that gave me real gratification, real satisfaction.”
Since those early days, Haughton went on to own six Irish pubs in Prague, before he sold them all to a group of buyers in 2015.
After a period of brief retirement, though, he said he “started to feel itchy” without businesses to run. “I just couldn’t sit at home so I was going out during the day and pretending I was busy.”
“But I knew I was lying to my wife and myself,” he joked.
Haughton decided to reenter the Irish pub fray, opening McCarthy’s with Conchur de Barra in 2017 before deciding to go in with de Barra and Sean Curran to buy DUPLEX, the exclusive Wenceslas Square location, which was recently ranked among the top 100 nightclubs worldwide by DJ Mag.
Calling it “the best atmospheric club in Prague,” he said that “it’s gone from strength to strength,” adding: “It still excites us, it still provides a huge challenge.”
“There are very few clubs worldwide that have the rooftop view that we have. Music is one factor and ambience is another, but everything [at Duplex] combines to people having a great time,” he said.
At 75, Haughton is no longer “a nightlife person”, he said, meaning the day-to-day running of the club is performed by the younger de Barra and Curran as well as by “our fantastic general manager Peter Fisher and his team”.
Haughton’s latest venture is a Staré Město Mexican bar called Tek’ila Tek’ila. “A Mexican Latino bar has certain parallels with an Irish bar,” he said. “It’s all about fun. It’s all about communication. It’s all about the staff.”
“We don’t really want to be a restaurant,” he added. “We want to have very good food, but we want the fun factor, the dance, the music, the Latino vibe,” to be maintained.
“We want to keep a certain authenticity on the Mexican side. We want people to come here on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night and eat, have a good time, and then go downstairs and dance.”
Cocktails are one of Tek’ila Tek’ila’s specialities. “I’m not a cocktail person normally,” he said, “but every time I come here, I have a classic Margarita and it is fantastic.”
“Our classic South American cocktails are really, really good,” he added.
Haughton does not rule out opening more Mexican bars in Prague. “Never say never,” he said. “The first two months here have been very encouraging, we like the vibe that’s been created.”
“Maybe there’s room for Tek’ila Tek’ila two or three or four, maybe not. We’ll see,” he said.
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