From an American’s point of view, O’Connor’s Public House, his Federal Road spot for good food, drink and entertainment has a certain genuine quality that’s not often available in the usual stateside Irish bar.
When you walk into the wood-finished, 1,800-square-foot eatery with the ceilings so high they could be called cathedral, a mental juxtaposition immediately presents itself.
It immediately strikes you how accustomed we have become to places that label themselves Irish just because their name begins with O’ and they serve Guinness but are really just dime store knockoffs decorated with loud cartoon leprechaun cutouts and a bunch of flimsy paper shamrocks.
That’s about as Irish as a bowl of Lucky Charms. O’Connor’s Public House is Irish like a bowl of beef stew with carrots.
There’s really none of that grade-school paraphernalia at O’Connor’s. A plethora of adornments line shelves and decorate the walls, but there’s nothing that looks like it was bought at the discount store.
“We’re not in for that plastic Patty stuff, all that rigmarole,” explained Mr. O’Connor. “We like the authentic look, not the cheap look.”
He knows authentic. Though born in 1968 in Boston, Mr. O’Connor is a bona fide Irishman. With his family, he moved back to the motherland as a child, and he didn’t come back until 1995.
So he would rather that his pub offer the true Emerald Isle atmosphere, with colors (not bright green) and items and materials and food as true as the thick Irish brogue reflected in his accent and pronunciation. When he says the word “authentic,” it comes out “au-TEN-tic.”
There’s a hefty number of antique items, things like old sewing machines and mugs overhead. There’s a bathtub that looms overhead, too, right above the front entrance, and there’s another bathtub centerpiece in a new dining area expansion that is expected to open soon.
Among the beers on draft are Smithwick’s, Magner’s Irish Cider and, naturally, Guinness.
But wait, Mr. O’Connor said this is not an Irish pub, not in the most traditional sense.
“We’re a New York bar, or a Connecticut bar with an Irish twist,” he commented.
For backup on that, see the menu: The All-American Burger; Dublin Bay Fish and Chips; Philly Cheese Steak; Ireland’s Own Shepherd’s Pie; Buffalo Chicken Sandwich; Bangers and Mash. There’s Chili Cheese Nachos on the appetizer side of the ledger, and Irish Nachos sometimes hit the specials menu (that’s potato chips covered in Shepherd’s Pie and cheese. It’s not nachos but it is tasty.)
When Mr. O’Connor first called it a New York bar, that may have been an understandable slip of the tongue; he has good reason for briefly losing track. For a man who essentially grew up in the business (his family owns a pub in Blarney), and a man who has split the years of his life almost equally between the United States and Ireland, this is the third of four O’Connor’s Public House establishments he operates. And it’s the only one on this side of the state line.
The first was in nearby Brewster, N.Y. It opened only about five years ago, and the next one opened a short time later in Mt. Kisco. Then came the Brookfield location, about two-and-a-half years ago. Before he barely even took a breath, Mr. O’Connor opened a fourth spot down in White Plains.
If you do the math, that’s four pubs in five years in a fickle industry during a down economy. While it has been a struggle lately for some restaurateurs to keep a single location open, Mr. O’Connor is expanding at a remarkable clip.
He describes them all as similar, but with their own fingerprints. They seemingly attract different crowds, but they all have had the drop ceilings removed and the floors redone—those are two key initial changes at each site. And they all have decorative bathtubs, a signature item for sure—and a core group of valuable employees.
“You just have to find a good staff,” he explained. “You get two or three good people around you and you should be fine.”
Like Jackie Cestone and James Purdy, the daytime and nighttime managers, respectively, for the Brookfield location.
Ms. Cestone has known Mr. O’Connor for about 15 years; they used to work together at a bar in Brewster. She’s been managing O’Connor’s in Brookfield for a year and a half.
She, too, is intrigued by the authenticity of the décor. But the continued success hinges on more than Irish trinkets and a massive mural of life-size Irish and American images.
“I like a neighborhood bar. I think it’s the way it’s run,” said Ms. Cestone, noting the intrinsic value in a clientele that doesn’t turn over with the seasons. “And we have a great idea, happy hour all day, and in this economy you figure out what people want.”
This means drink specials from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day but Sunday. Sunday nights see dinner specials, and kids eat for free. The weekend nights are reserved for music, with a DJ each Friday and a live musician each Saturday.
And then there’s St. Patrick’s Day. “It’s one of our best days,” stated Mr. O’Connor.
He probably wouldn’t have to try, but he does. Expect Irish bagpipers to come in and out a couple times, expect homemade Irish soda bread, but don’t expect green beer.