SIX years ago, the doors of the former Port of Waterford building swung open and tendrils of jazz music wafted out, along with the clink of china teacups. Inside, the walls of the three rooms were adorned with faces, frames and memories of the past. This elegant pocket of cultural charm in the heart of Waterford was teeming with atmosphere and a fresh perspective on the possibilities that exist when one looks back. At the helm was Sarah Jane Cleary, the creative dreamer behind a solid business model. When Waterford begins the tentative process of reopening its doors this year, Sarah Jane will not be re-opening the doors of the Parlour Vintage Tearooms, instead, hoping that someone else will see the possibilities in the building and in the business, just as she has.
In her own words, the building provided Sarah Jane with the opportunity to surround herself with bygone eras, music and style, things that she has always both loved and appreciated.
“I wanted to create a vibration of the past, a time of both excess and simplicity with the music, the decor, the ambience, our personal style. A place where I could happily live and everyone else could join me,” she said.
Opening the Parlour was a challenge because nothing quite like it had ever existed in Waterford before, and nothing of its kind seems to even exist in Ireland now. On day one, Sarah Jane arrived with a kettle and her mother’s butchers block as a counter. In the front room, she offered makeup, hair and photography. Soon, Waterford embraced her vision and word of mouth saw new faces beginning to arrive and the tearooms took on a life of their own.
At that time, O’Connell Street did not have the atmosphere it does now, at the heart of the Cultural Quarter. However, from little seeds, great apple trees grow and soon the Parlour was alive with the culture and promise of the past.
“The Parlour is a gift and a treasure to me and I truly believe that the well I dug, many others will drink from. I learned so much about myself on this journey,” said Sarah Jane, who is now the proud Creative Spirit Ambassador of the Cultural Quarter.
Closing the Parlour is a personal choice as opposed to a decision based on the current climate, however the pandemic has been a catalyst for change within Sarah Jane. She leaves behind something almost magical for the next owner, hoping that they will breathe their own dreams into this special building.
“The Parlour is something I worked very hard to achieve. I’m a curious risk-taker and I feel now is the right time for me to take new changes, make a “Sea Change” and begin again, because life is too short. This is not a decision I have made lightly but life is passing too fast and being forced to slow down this past year has shown me that,”she said.
President Higgins’ visit
Taking those risks six years ago led to a pivotal moment in The Parlour’s history: hosting President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins. Yet, it was a moment involving the well known Jim and Megan Nolan that resonates the most with Sarah Jane on reflection.
“The Imagine Festival with Jim and Megan Nolan was remarkable. The energy and love in the room for the Nolans was extraordinary, people were hanging on to their every word and you could hear a pin drop.
“People threw themselves into the spirit of the The Parlour with abandon and I’m full of gratitude to everyone who passed the threshold for our Peaky Blinders nights, Modwords, the Harvest Festival, Spraoi, the Imagine Festival and the hundreds of gigs, choirs, dance classes, writing events and weddings which took place there,” said Sarah Jane.
The success of the events, and the business has served to prove that Waterford was craving something different. None of the antiquities will leave the Parlour, and the china, bespoke counters, furniture which was handmade by John Hanton, and endless array of postcards will all remain in place.
“Removing the furnishings would be like taking a precious stone out of a necklace. Everything in the tearooms has been on an adventure and all of this excitement and adventure is humming in the tearooms of the Parlour, a beating heart of the past. The Parlour is a pearl and it will be sold intact, ready for the new owners to just warm up the teapots.
“I feel tremendous pride and the staff deserve such a mention for their huge part in our success. Each staff member is kind, endearing, creative and brought their own unique flavour to the table,” she said.
Arguably more than any event, it was the reaction when people walked in the door that made opening the doors each day so rewarding. When people saw the gilded picture frames and heard the dulcet tones of the past, they were transported to times gone-by, and quite often there were tears.
“Nostalgia is powerful, and people embraced what the Parlour was, because to each person it was something different. I can be replaced, the magic is in the Parlour itself.
“Brian and my children Caoilfhionn, Paddy, Ria and Alfie have been an integral part of creating all the magic for me, and my parents and family will always be my biggest cheerleaders. The new owner, whoever they may be, will breathe their own form of magic into the Parlour.”
For more information on the lease, interested parties are invited to contact Sherry Fitzgerald John Rohan auctioneers.