As 19-year-old students at St. Thomas University, Mike Mulrooney and Kevin O’Connor sat in Plums Bar and Grill on Snelling Avenue in St. Paul, they wondered what it would take to open an Irish pub.
Twenty-three years later, they’re making their old dreams come alive as owners of the recently-opened Blarney Irish Pub on 14th Street in Dinkytown.
“It’s like that Robert Frost poem,” Mulrooney said. “I think I took a path that wasn’t even there, and there was a lot of poison ivy down it, too.”
Blarney opened its doors to the public on Aug. 6, after taking over the space last February, replacing Dubs Pub and CD Warehouse.
The reconstruction lasted until just days before opening, and owners are still honing some minor details.
Mulrooney and O’Connor, who is an executive at Honeywell, used their own savings to rent the space and rebuild the bar.
To create Blarney, they knocked down a wall that separated the previous tenants and installed a fireplace. The Dubs portion of the bar is recognizable, and vastly improved, many patrons said.
The interior that formerly housed CD Warehouse is now a series of booths under a frame of unfinished wood. They sidle up to a back bar that, though in need of some glasswork, is “classy,” as patrons suggested.
“Every student who has come in here so far has said ‘Wow, this place looks great,’ ” server Kirsten Matuzak said.
Mulrooney, 42, said time was also an element not entirely on the owner’s side. Most of the construction and interior was done without a general contractor, he said. Though it took longer than expected, he said they saved a lot of money.
“Authentic” Irish pubs in the Twin Cities can cost more than a million dollars to outfit, Mulrooney said.
“This isn’t an authentic Irish pub,” Mulrooney said. “But you go to Ireland and there are pubs that look like a farmer built them – that’s what this is like.”
The owners wanted to create a place where students can have a great time at night. Mulrooney said they also envisioned a place where the community can have a meal in a clean and comfortable atmosphere.
Dave Heldt, day manager at the pub, said he was surprised at how smoothly things had been going since they opened.
“But it’s a good thing we got going before the kids came back,” Heldt said. “Otherwise, I think we would have been in deep trouble.”
Staff and management agreed that the Aug. 6 opening weekend gave them the opportunity to work out kinks in the system before they are slammed by returning students.
“We’re still figuring out the closing procedure; working on some computer bugs, like entrees that aren’t in the system,” Heldt said.
A copper-plated bar top and leather couches are among some features, but Matuzak said her favorite thing is the jukebox that downloads songs from the Internet.
Mulrooney said he isn’t the type to rest on his heels, even if Blarney should prove to be as successful as he and O’Connor hope it will be.
“Things are going great so far,” he said. “Once we see how we end up we can think about the future. Right now, we’re working on right now.”