Bennigans Bar

We caught up with Jazz pianist John Leighton to talk about Bennigans where he is the resident Jazz supremo as well as being the boss

Leaseholder John Leighton describes Bennigans as a “traditional pub with a friendly atmosphere which has a focus on high quality live music from both local and international musicians.” And you can see why. Bennigans is bursting at the seams with live music every week.


Attracting some big names such as Duke Special and Nigel Mooney, who is widely regarded as Ireland’s leading jazz singer and guitarist and who had recently performed to a full house in the Royal Albert Hall, Bennigans attracts bands and musicians of all genres and has become Derry’s go to pub for live music.


Since taking over the lease from Joe Neilis in November 2014, John has put his own stamp on the pub with an emphasis on high quality music throughout the week, and as John say’s, “I’m not in this for the profits, but for my love of music.”

And there is no better man than John to take Bennigans on this musical journey as he is an accomplished Jazz musician in his own right. He released his debut album in 2011 titled ‘Dramatic Life’ which drew praise throughout Ireland including a review in The Irish Times describing him as a “fine pianist/composer whose music has distinction and individuality.”


An intimate little venue, I can see the draw for musicians and bands to play Bennigans, alongside the friendly atmosphere, so friendly that no doormen are needed. “We’re a responsible bar” says John, “we take care of customers... we haven’t had the need for any doormen.”


Spanning all genres, Jazz, Folk, Classical, Rock, there really is something for everyone in Bennigans throughout the week. Every Tuesday’s ‘Bennigans Introducing’ brings to the forefront three local musicians or bands who each perform for 30 minutes. On Friday, its ‘Tapas Friday’ in the evening, authentic Spanish tapas served with each drink. Then from 10pm, more local acts take to the stage.


Saturdays at Bennigans comprises of local Jazz legend Gay McIntyre in the evening, followed by more live music from musicians based not only in Northern Ireland, but further afield such as Bukahara who recently headlined Bennigans having travelled all the way from Germany.


Bennigans Jazz Club supported by the Dery Jazz Society takes over Sunday with the best Jazz musicians from all over Ireland as well as International talents with complimentary tapas served at the interval.


John has big plans for Bennigans during the Jazz Festival this year and music lovers will be in for a treat. “We’re planning on having three live gig’s a day during the festival”, John tells me “we’re also planning to have an open jam session in the evening with all the musicians invited to come and hang out.”


The Jazz festival have also recently confirmed that Bennigans will be one of three core “Jazz Hubs” at this years festival. A great recognition for the bar overflowing with music.

Photo by Iñaki Basterretxea.

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