Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Dallas-Fort Worth hit by explosion of Irish pubs
With St. Patrick's Day looming, we look at the hottest bar trend in Dallas-Fort Worth.
It may be hard to track down leprechauns or a pot of gold, but you won't have any trouble in Dallas-Fort Worth finding their symbolic haunt: the Irish pub.
From Hooleys Tavern in the eastern reaches of Sachse ... to McSwiggan's Irish Pub in The Colony ... to Delaney's Irish Pub soon to open in Fort Worth's hip West 7th development, Irish pubs are the hottest trend in the Dallas-Fort Worth bar scene. Within the past year, the area has seen close to a dozen pubs open and more on the way.
The Irish pub boom isn't limited to Dallas. A spokesman for The Irish Pub Company, a Dublin firm that designs and installs them, said they've built 500+ pubs around the world since forming in 1991, and have recently witnessed a subtle resurgence, with projects underway in Miami, New Mexico, Vancouver, and Minneapolis.
According to their analysis, when an existing bar switches over to the Irish pub format, sales can triple their predecessors.
Dallas got the jump in Irish pubs on other cities, thanks to bar magnate and Genuine Irish Person Feargal McKinney, who not only owns Dubliner, Old Monk, Idle Rich, and Blackfriar Pub, but whose influence has spawned a second generation of alumni pub owners that includes Fillmore Pub in old downtown Plano, Capitol Pub on Henderson, and Holy Grail.
His presence has indirectly helped stoke Dallas' appetite for Irish things, including its wet-kiss embrace of the annual St. Patrick's Day parade on Greenville Avenue, as well as the annual Irish Festival, said to be the largest Celtic festival in southwest U.S.
Pubs in the burbs
The barrage of new pubs is in the suburbs and tends to be a dream shared by couples or friends such as Tom Cathcart and Manny Olivarez, who recently opened Hooleys Tavern with their wives.
"We were going to open a sports bar, but there's so many sports bars," Cathcart says. "There are a lot of Irish taverns too, but we did some research and discovered it's the most successful tavern concept in the world."
These pubs can be quirky and personal like Plano's Holy Grail, or furnished with imported fittings from Ireland like Lochrann's Pub in Frisco. All share: a dark, cozy sensibility, better-than-Lite beer, and a menu of purported Irish specialties such as fish & chips and beef stew -- features that appeal to a more mature crowd.
"I think an Irish pub is a good way to promote good beer," jokes McKenzie Keller, manager of Delaney's Pub in McKinney. "Our demographic is mostly 30 and up, and that's what they want. The crowd we get is more the homey family. We do a kids' menu, it's cozy, we have a calm quiet atmosphere."
With their obligatory features -- the wooden booths known as "snugs," the Guinness on tap -- Irish pubs can feel a bit theme park-ish, and that often includes a heavily formatted menu with dishes that seem only tangentially Irish. Still, the food is important enough that it bar owners are hiring Culinary Institute of America graduates such as chef Troy Kingsley, who spent two years at Lochrann's before joining on at Hooleys.
"The food is a bigger deal here than anywhere else, partly because in the suburban counties, [Texas Alcohol & Beverage Commission rules specify that] the profit has to be a 50-50 mix at the end of the day, or you can be liable for fines," Kingsley says. "But when it comes down to brass tacks, the corned beef has to be spot-on, the reuben has to be the best you can possibly make."
"The idea behind a pub is that it's a social spot," says John O'Leary, manager at McSwiggan's. "It's supposed to be an intimate setting. You’re not gonna hear Top 40 or music blaring so loud that you can't have a conversation. Dallas isn't interested anymore in bottle service and lounges and getting dolled up and spending thousands in a night. People are sick of that. They want a place like Cheers."
Sifting through the pubs
o McSwiggan’s Irish Pub. Friendly pub in The Colony is hugely popular with Bostonites. It's home to the Dallas-Fort Worth Patriot Fan Club, the Red Sox Fan Club, and the Celtics fan meetup spot.
o Holy Grail Pub. Manager Brian Rudolph gets nods from other pub owners for his savvy in establishing a comfortable, classic-pub atmosphere.
o Rugby House Pub. Far northwest Plano pub with a chef imported from the Northeast is considered to have the best grub among local pubs -- including, says one denizen, "the best fish & chips in all of Dallas-Fort Worth."
o Capitol Pub. Popular Henderson Avenue haunt comes with impeccable credentials of owner Peter Kenny, partner of Feargal McKinney.
o Lochrann’s Irish Pub. Frisco pub is the fully-realized, perfectly-executed, all-Irish-interior dream bar of former Guinness employee Dave McNabb.
o Hooleys Tavern. Partners Tom Cathcart and Manny Olivarez bring Irish pub concept and chef/CIA graduate Troy Kingsley to grateful Sachse.
o Malarkey's Tavern. North Dallas pub has handsomely mounted, Irish-made interior and broad collection of beers.
o Ringo’s Pub. Clubbier pub entry comes from the owner of Zen Addison Circle and Zen Austin Ranch.
o Delaney's Irish Pub. McKinney pub comes from Blue Tate, former owner of the Irish Rover in Frisco; second branch opening in Fort Worth in May.