Your guide to what's new at Irish bars, just in time for the big day.
It was decreed by St. Patrick himself (I think), if you're going out on St. Paddy's Day you must party in an Irish pub.
So every year I anticipate St. Patrick's Day with the same boorish groan: same green beer, same Irish pubs. Is it just me or do these bars never change? (I'm sorry, someone had to say it!)
Lo and behold: Change has come to the Twin Cities Irish bar scene. New pubs have opened. Old pubs have new looks. And a certain pub boss is busy doing something else. Follow me as I survey this changing landscape.
Old bars, new tricks in St. Paul
The Twin Cities' oldest Irish bar, O'Gara's (est. 1941), has something new for St. Paddy's Day partiers. The St. Paul pub recently nixed its longtime music venue, the Garage. Gone are live bands (except on Fridays) and in comes the Shanty.
This pub within a pub is the place for craft beers, video games, flat-screen TVs and shuffleboard. Owner Dan O'Gara said his new Irish party palace is more DJ-centric and is serving food for the first time.
"If you stay the same, you're going to fade away," said O'Gara, who took over the family business in 2003. "It's one of the more important things I learned from my dad."
So what's up with the name? When O'Gara's father, Tim, built the Garage in 1985, he was going to call it the Shanty. But the construction guys kept calling it "the garage" because the building was a former mechanics shop.
"It was kind of cool to come full circle," O'Gara said. "It felt like my dad was still a part of it, even though he's been gone for eight years."
Over at Patrick McGovern's, one of St. Paul's best patios just got better. Last week, it debuted a new retractable roof. And this is no rinky-dink roof, either.
The stone patio is now fully enclosed -- like a shimmering glass house erected with wide steel beams. Here's the cool part: The mechanized roof retracts like a mini football stadium. (Are you taking notes, Zygi?) Owner Pat Boemer thinks this expensive addition -- built by a Wisconsin company called Cabrio -- will add another six months to his outdoor business. The 20-foot-long heat lamps should keep things toasty, too.
"Doesn't matter whether it's cold or rainy," he said. "Unless it's below zero, there probably won't be a reason to shut the patio down."
Suburbs going green
If first you don't succeed, build an Irish pub. That's the motto for Dermot Cowley's new bar in Blaine. He opened JJ Murphy's this week, just in time for St. Patrick's Day. The pub owner is best known as the Irishman behind O'Donovan's in downtown Minneapolis (he also owns Jake O'Connor's in Excelsior).
Last summer, Cowley took over the old Time Out sports bar in Blaine, turning it into The Club (another sports bar). Business was slower than expected, so he closed the joint and has been busy remodeling it as JJ Murphy's.
"We're committed to bringing the Irish back to Blaine after 150 years," Cowley told me.
That's right, the first settler in Blaine was an Irishman way back in the 1860s. "It was a guy named Phillip Laddy," Cowley said. "This isn't even a story I made up!"
To give JJ's that Old World feel, Cowley outfitted the interior with salvaged pub decor he brought back from Ireland. The pub has a copper bar, a new stage and snugs (gotta have snugs).
Elsewhere in the 'burbs, the former owner of McMahon's and Paddy Wagon's has opened a pub in White Bear Lake called Jameson's. In Falcon Heights, there's the Irish-friendly Stout's Pub, which has an array of St. Paddy's Day deals (including $6 flights of Guinness, Smithwick's and Harp).
No Kieran, no problem
There can be no talk of change in the Irish bar scene without mentioning Kieran Folliard, who at this time last year was in charge of the Twin Cities' largest pub empire (the Local, Kieran's, Cooper and the Liffey).
Today, he owns not a one, having left the bars behind for the Irish whiskey business. (Maybe you've heard about his ubiquitous 2 Gingers?)
Replacing Folliard as head honcho at the pubs was his close friend and longtime business partner, Peter Killen. In truth, Killen (also an Irishman) had been running the day-to-day operations for quite some time.
"The biggest difference, I'd say, is I just miss him," Killen said. "I had lunch with Kieran every day for 13 years."
After becoming CEO, Killen spruced up the Liffey last summer with a colorful paint job, new booths and a better menu. He's expecting the St. Paul parade to pack the pub, which sits across from the Xcel Energy Center.
Other than that, the four bars really do run like clockwork, Killen said. St. Paddy's Day will be no different.
"There's been no revolt since Kieran left -- it's been business as usual," he said with a snicker. "I said to someone the other day: 'We should have kicked him out years ago!'"