Why Not Mix Business with Pleasure?

Matt Marshall has brought heart and soul into Dongcheng’s only Irish pub, through music, food and a sense of homeliness. Murray’s represents a fortress for friendships, fun-fueled evenings and hearty food.

Murray’s Irish Pub first opened in 2012 as a result of the cooperation between partners Mark, Alain and Jenny, who still visit the bar sometimes. The following year Matt joined the venture with his team of staff from Guangzhou, and along with the help of a couple of old school Dongguaners, they were able to make the pub what it is today. During his first year he actually commuted from his then home in Guangzhou, where his partner Joan was living and working. After a year he moved to Dongguan. “I missed Guangzhou initially, as I had all my friends back there, but after a while I started to realize what Dongguan had to offer,” Matt explained.

Having worked for the last ten years in the food and beverage industry, as well as having family connections to the industry, Matt seems to have this kind of culture embedded in him. Although interestingly, he never thought he would end up owning a bar. Significantly, he acknowledges that the transition between managing a business to owning a business taught him a lot of important things.

Expat life in Dongguan has indeed progressed over the years, with an incline of Western restaurants and bars opening up over time. A venue known as “Dickens” used to be sat where Murray’s is now. It was warming to discover Matt’s genuine optimism regarding healthy competition from other businesses.

His laidback approach with customers is something to be celebrated, as he often joins them in casual conversations or in a joint effort to enjoy the infamous “Car Bombs.”

If you have headed over to the pub recently, you will have spotted that no longer is there the iconic green signage above the windows, but instead, a bold new display in black, as a result of the pub being sponsored by Guinness. As you step inside, the corner to your left features a cozy Guinness shrine and some brand-new lighting, adding a lease of life to the setting. Similarly, the pub is now open for lunch and there are new rules regarding smoking to keep customers happy. Smokers can only smoke indoors after 10 pm.

Matt’s advice to aspiring bar owners or anyone in the industry is, “Start small and get into the business slowly. I think the key is to find what you’re good at and put that into the business.” It’s clear to me that his heart has gone into his business, via his interaction with customers, his willing to ensure a fun environment, and especially, his love for music. Not only that, but his laidback approach with customers is something to be celebrated, as he often joins them in casual conversations or in a joint effort to enjoy the infamous “Car Bombs,” made up of a shot of Irish cream and whiskey dropped into a glass of stout.

After reminiscing about the time that Matt and I united in playing Coldplay’s Yellow—hilariously I might add—he talked about how the open mic night of Murray’s brought a new element to the music scene among Dongguan bars, especially after the crackdown had an impact. With a twinkle in his eye, Matt described his first night at Murray’s, during which he sat outside with his guitar and played, doing what he does best. He made that a regular thing until a group of jammers joined and that was the inception of an official open mic night.

With Saint Patrick’s Day being the highlight of March, it was apt to talk about how this is without a doubt the biggest party of the year for Murray’s, and how every year sees people dressed up in the color green, sharing jokes and laughter and coming together for an evening full of shenanigans. Matt commented, “Of course we recognize our responsibility that we have with Murray’s being the only Irish pub here in Dongcheng, this year’s party is going to be one of the best ever.”

The pub’s demographic hasn’t changed too much over the years according to Matt. “Essentially the customers come here because they appreciate the atmosphere, both foreigners and Chinese,” he added.

It was interesting to hear Matt express the biggest challenge of his role: “Being an expat community, we build relationships with customers and friends and the line between the two is very fine, so it can be difficult to say goodbye when they leave Dongguan. It can take a lot of energy to rebuild connections. On the other hand, it’s great that there are always new people to meet.”

Excitingly, Matt revealed his ideas for the menu upgrade with fusion experiments and specialties, something that will be introduced later this year. He also mentioned that 2019 will encompass a sole focus on what the pub does best, so watch this space.