Ditching cocktails for coffee - the birth of Derry's 'alternative evening economy'

An evening coffee culture is developing in Derry, with local shops opening to 10pm or later seven nights a week
Gareth McKeown

DERRY residents are abandoning the evening tipple and embracing a new coffee culture, which is sweeping the city.

The Walled City Open Coffee initiative began earlier this month and has seen local coffee shops open to 10pm or later seven nights a week, inspiring an "alternative evening economy", according to creator Ciaran Murray.

"I'm not sure why, but Derry historically, possibly because of the Troubles, doesn't have an evening coffee culture, like Belfast. I lived in Belfast for the best part of 15 years off and on and you can go up to Botanic, Lisburn Road, any number of streets and sit and have a coffee to 10 o'clock at night," he said.

"It has been a regular complaint for years in Derry because there is nothing for tourists to do at night, there's no coffee shops open. So we simply asked the question of seven coffee shops if they would be prepared to open one night per week as a gesture and they said yes.

"So it is a shared concept for coffee culture in Derry and it's done in a way that each business only has to invest in one night a week and makes it a bit more sustainable."

Working on a rota system one independent coffee shop opens one night a week, with Warehouse No1, who already open late on Thursday, Friday and Saturday supplementing the weekend trade.

Already the concept has proved a hit with locals and tourists alike and is helping local musicians gain valuable experience.

"It's been brilliant since we launched it on August 7. We've had full venues for every single night since we've opened, packed houses.

"We've actually had a couple of venues who have had to turn people away. There's been people queueing up to get tables in coffee shops so we're at the point do we need to add more coffee shops on to it. I think it's just shown that Derry people have been wanting to have that coffee culture come to the city in the evenings."

"We've hooked up with a number of local musicians and they're coming along and they're doing little sets. Initially they offered their time for free, but as the concept has developed coffee shop owners are putting their hands in their pockets. So it's also bringing opportunities for artists locally to showcase themselves.

"We're having a real mixture of tourists, locals, mums, people maybe who don't drink. I've had a couple of messages on the Facebook page from people who have given up alcohol for various reasons and they're just delighted they have somewhere to go at night, where they can relax and read a book.

"We're being a bit cautious about expanding it too quickly, but the ultimate aim is that coffee culture in Derry gets to the point where these coffee shops can just open all week round at night and you have the same culture like you have in Belfast."

Founder Ciaran, who writes for the Pure Derry and Ulster Fry websites, created the project as part of the 'Your Derry' initiative, which he has created as a way to re-invigorate the city and promote entrepreneurial ideas.

"So this is our first initiative - Walled City Open Coffee and we've done it for nothing. It hasn't cost us any money. I've done this to show that you don't always need huge investment to make changes."

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