Ciara takes charge: A new era for the Doss House & Frank Mac’s as Ciara Doran takes sole ownership of both bars

Interview by Elijah Attard. Chef and host of the Roots Hospitality podcast. @roots_hospitality

Photography by Steven Woodburn

Ciara’s connection with appreciating architecture and its historical significance have become an important foundation in her hospitality ethos. It’s not just sharing a drink, it’s sharing a moment in time. Dining at Doss House and Frank Mac’s is like stepping through a portal and having a drink in another part of the world. If you haven’t heard of a Snug before, or the relationship between a Parlour and someone’s family home, then hopefully you will by the time you walk out. That’s the value of a drink to Ciara.

Preserving culture and history are two things I’m noticing are important in what you do. Especially reviving heritage-listed buildings. I’m wondering, when you look at these really classic and original parts of Sydney, does it have some nostalgia for you as someone from Ireland?

Absolutely! In Ireland, it’s so important for us to keep and retain parts of the architecture. Whether it’s the big or small towns, the stories associated with those buildings are passed down along with who built them and why.


When I moved to Australia and discovered The Rocks I had this inclination to want to do the same. This is a place that has been preserved since the 1800s and is such a cool glimpse into Australia’s past. Funnily enough, I’ve noticed the Rocks are a popular part for most Irish people too. Like me, I guess it reminds them of home too. I’m really honoured to be in a position where I can preserve and share these gorgeous spaces with Doss House and Frank Mac’s.

The Doss House

What’s unique about Irish hospitality and how have you incorporated that into Doss House and Frank Mac’s?

I might be biased, but Ireland is renowned for its hospitality. One of the few things people take away from the beautiful country is the people. People are the hospitality after all. I know people like to joke about Irish drinking culture, but the reason people associate them with drinking is because the bars and pubs were seen as the community hub for the Irish. Anything worth celebrating, they were there. Any reason to see each other and celebrate is what the Irish are about. They are also very welcoming in that sense too. Tourists travel and feel that which is the key feeling I wanted to bring into Doss House and Frank Mac’s.

“I’ve noticed the Rocks are a popular part for most Irish people too. Like me, I guess it reminds them of home too. I’m really honoured to be in a position where I can preserve and share these gorgeous spaces with Doss House and Frank Mac’s.”

Sounds like they have been welcomed into their own home!

Well, in the rural parts of Ireland, some of the shops and bars would actually be attached to their house. Often the couple would take turns in looking after the store, for example, the woman during the day would tend to it selling milk and eggs while at night the man would use the space to sell a couple of beers and so on. For the bars, there would also be a room out the back called the Parlour – which we have named a room at Frank Mac’s after – because if there was an important person or VIP they could hang in that room. It was only the people’s living room, but it made them feel important.

I read that there used to be another room where just the women could go out back to drink. Is that true?

True! This was called the Snug. Going up to the 1930s-50s, women weren’t allowed to drink in bars. The tavern owners decided to build a cabin (I call it a confession box) for women to sit and drink in because it was seen as bad for women to drink in public. Fitted with blurred glass and a hatch for the bartenders to pass the drinks through also.

Now there are around 20 Snugs around Ireland, and whenever people needed to have a private meeting about land sales or whatnot, they could use that as a quiet space for important discussions.

We have a room called the Snug at Frank Mac’s too, but we use it for private functions and gatherings if people would like. I want to bring the Snug back!

Frank Mac’s

When you’re designing a new venue, how do you preserve or choose to highlight different parts of history through your venues?

When we found Doss House, it was a downstairs storage basement. Really hidden and kept away, but since reopening, it now feels very hideaway. For people that have finished work and want to have a drink and feel away from their job, it definitely feels great.
What’s incredible is that the sandstone has been largely kept the same. So, when people are walking down the stairs in the venue you can see the markings from the convicts who built the walls.

What’s the significance of the markings on the sandstone?

The convicts would have to mark on the sandstone to show their day’s work, so their supervisor could come past and see the evidence of who built what and how much they did. I thought that was a cool story that reflects a little bit of Australian history, so we left it.

With the vision of Heritage House as a company, can we expect to see more beautifully preserved bars coming in the future?

Definitely. There are so many beautiful hidden gems in and around the Rocks that would be too hard to ignore. Let’s see!

Most ‘in the shit’ moment as a Bartender?

We have had some insane nights here. But I’ve got one from the early days.

This was the opening few nights of the Doss House around the 13th or 14th of March 2018. I remember it was a hot weekend and the Rocks were also doing a massive Saint Patrick’s Day on the same weekend as our opening. For us, we had originally opened for a soft launch and well – that didn’t necessarily go as planned. Almost instantly, we were flooded with people trying to heckle us for drinks because the queues were so long. It was unbelievable. The rush was so consistent that I think we even just forgot our practices and processes just trying to make the people happy. My staff kept coming to me asking for a 5-minute break and by the end of it, we were all in shock. I know I had to take a little breather at the end questioning if this was even a good idea to begin with.

Just imagine, The Rocks was a place usually run by big venues that can host hundreds if not thousands of people, so for a bar that can at capacity hold 120 people, you can imagine how pummeled we got.

Those nights really humble you. But believe me, we have been ready for every Saint Patrick’s Day ever since!