Irish Pub Coming to Court Square

Brent Finnegan -- March 26th, 2010

Colm McCormack and and his business partner, William Benson, had to watch St. Patrick’s Day come and go without celebrating it in their own Irish pub in Harrisonburg. “We just couldn’t find the right building,” McCormack explains. “It was heartbreaking, but we did have to let St. Patrick’s Day slip. But it’s coming again next year.”

Just two months ago, Old Dominion Coffee Company closed their doors. Today, the interior of that space on the corner of Market and Main is barely recognizable, as it’s in the process of being converted into an Irish pub.

McCormack, a native of Dublin, has been living in Harrisonburg for about 18 months, but said he says he didn’t quite feel at home. “I wasn’t settling as well in the area as I should have. I knew something was missing.”

Benson says they intend to to have some live music beginning this fall. “The whole bluegrass culture in this area is driven from traditional Irish music. And we know there’s a lot of really qualified, good musicians that can put together great traditional music.”

The proprietors hope to open the doors of The Malt and Barley Irish Pub sometime in May, or shortly thereafter.

(Thanks, David)

4/5 UPDATE: The pub is no longer moving into that space. Colm tells me:

The company representing the landlords and the company representing the Irish Pub were unable reach agreement on lease related issues that surfaced late in the project thereby leading to a termination of negotiations between the two companies. The company representing the Irish Pub will now spend some weeks seeking an alternative site and reassess matters in the coming weeks.

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51 Responses to “Irish Pub Coming to Court Square”

  1. mikekeane says:

    About time! I’ve been saying hburg needs a pub for years! Told you pasty.

  2. cook says:

    Which candidate for the 26th will pledge to fight to repeal the 45% food to “mixed beverage” ratio so that the pub can be a pub?

  3. Dany Fleming says:

    I hope they plan on dying Black’s Run green as part of their St. Patty’s day festivities.

  4. David Miller says:

    Cook, second that request for repealing 45 55

  5. Bazrik says:

    Oh, this is just so cool.

    …and excellent recognition of the bluegrass/Celtic connection! Pertains to our area…

    Bring on the Guinness!

  6. Drew Richard says:

    Awesome! Looks like they’re not gonna make it in time for JMU graduation, but if that’d be guaranteed business. Although, I don’t think a true Irish pub will have any problem doing business downtown.

  7. Annie says:

    Yes! This is going to be awesome! I wonder if Colm knows that main street used to be referred to as Irish Alley!

  8. Barnabas says:

    There is one area in which I hope it is not authentically Irish and that is the food, with the exception of breakfast. Irish breakfasts are amazing. However, all the traditional pub grub that I ever ate was barely food. That being said, there are lots of pubs that have switched from a traditional menu and have amazing menus.
    I’ve got a bahdran and would be down for an open jamb one night a week.

  9. mtnsailor says:

    Good job of original reporting with both words & video.

  10. Annie, I asked Colm the same thing — he said he had heard/read about it. Appropriate that it’s located on Main.

    Thanks, mtnsailor.

  11. cook says:

    Used to be a Pub – I think on Water Street – named O’Donnell’s. Is “Malt & Barley” set in stone?

  12. Duffy says:

    Erin go Bragh! I like the idea of dying Black’s Run green. Mght make us the “Second city” in that respect. There are tons of very talented celtic musicians up and down the valley and in C’ville and I’m sure they’d love to play such a venue.

  13. Brooke says:

    My husband is over the moon about this! I hope they’ll have live music, including the traditional pub sing-a-long songs. My husband’s favorite haunt in Old Town Alexandria was Murphy’s. He was one of the only Asian guys who was there frequently, and so when he brought me to Murphy’s after having been away from the area, for years, the bouncer still recognized him from his ID. LOL

    I would also support repealing the 45% food/drink ratio.

  14. Emmy says:

    Seems like a really good spot for that sort of thing. Best of luck to them!

  15. Bill says:

    I would strongly support repeal of the 45 55 ratio. While we are at it, why not consider making the legal drinking age 19 on premises?

  16. citydweller says:

    I’m all for this pub, but I really don’t feel we need to encourage excessive drinking (potentially leading to drunk driving) by repealing the 45/55 ratio. If this pub was not required to sell food, or very much of it-the only reason people would go there would be to drink and although some would drink responsibly, it is likely many would over-indulge.

  17. Deb SF says:

    I’d visit just to listen to the conversation. Delicious accents.

  18. Drew Richard says:

    citydweller, I would hope that the true Irish pub atmosphere would help put a damper on the overdrinking thoughts. While the Irish drink a lot, they also usually drink heavy beers (such as Guiness)…so by the time you would start to get drunk, you would also be getting full and tired. A little fun fact that my brother learned when he was over there for a month is that they actually resent American beers because they’re so light. Bar fights in Ireland have actually increased because people are getting more alcohol from the new American beers without the heaviness, so they’re just getting drunk. It’s more about going to hang out and have a few drinks than to get sloshed like at most bars here. No need to start the usual 45/55 debate, but I throw my hat far on the side of repealing it. My 2 cents…

  19. linz says:

    I would so be there for live music jam sessions. Not to play, but to watch/listen with great enjoyment.

  20. brandon says:

    Yet another bar. HDR needs to rethink the direction of this downtown. Do we want only bars? I stand firmly on the ground that we need places downtown where families can dine and shop in the evenings. How many families do you see coming downtown in the evenings for dinner or to shop? Is downtown going to be a place for families or only singles that are “upscale” and “young professionals”. Is downtown really all that historic anymore? It is my belief that HDR and the city need to start pushing for retail. One Court Square can be a great place to start. There could be a variety of 15-20 small boutique retail shops in that building. Clothing, card shop, bookstore, souvenir shop, candy shoppe, coffee shop, furniture store, deli, clock shop, record store, shoe store, Cigar Co., Candle store, Hobby shop, Bulk food store and Harrisonburg’s only 5 star restaurant located on the rooftop. I firmly believe that 1 Court Square be owned by the businesses that reside there. Bars will not make downtown sustainable, at least not long term. Retail becomes less interested in a downtown that’s mostly bars. Are the days of the Mainstreet club coming back? And is that what downtown wants to attract?

    Don’t get me wrong, I do like bars. In fact, probably most of you have seen me there. I’m just begging for people to start thinking retail. I think our downtown retail merchants better think of ways to band together and buy a building (1 court square) or buildings collectively if possible. Owning a business and residing in the building you own is the sustainability that our downtown needs. The bars will come and go. Retail just cannot. If it does, then Downtown will become a ghost town again.

    This blog is probably not the right audience for those opinions but there is a comment box.

  21. All (respectful) perspectives are welcome here, Brandon.

    I don’t really think HDR has the power to say yes to this business or no to that one. It’s up to the owners of the buildings (and in some cases, the zoning board).

    I hate to say it, but I really think that what it’s going to take to bring a retail boom to downtown is national stores. As frustrating as it may be to the guys at Wonder, if an Urban Outfitters moved into the Urban Exchange building, people would come.

    What most people (myself included) mean when they say “I support downtown businesses” is “I eat/drink at downtown restaurants.”

  22. David Miller says:

    Retail downtown is a goal for HDR and MHDH and even DDA. More is better! Let’s also focus on keeping the retail we have. Buy/make your gifts Downtown! If you want more retail down here, patronize that which already exists. After the recession proves itself history I’d love to see a private investor setup something like a mini shopping center within 1 Court Square. I might even try to get in on something like that ;)

    In the meantime dining is a vital sector that I hope continues to grow. I know the image of a dining district doesn’t appeal to all but we keep getting these amazing restaurants that are completely unique to Downtown and awesome! They draw new people to downtown. I’m all for it, especially when they come in Authentic Irish Pub form, I’ll try to not get spotted leaving or at least keep my voice down while I sneak out ;)

  23. Lowell Fulk says:

    I think Brandon is on the money, pun intended, and I believe also that David Miller has written words which everyone who desires a vibrant and vital downtown should read over several times in order to embed the paradigm of why we should frequent locally owned and operated businesses.

  24. BANDIT says:

    Only Irish coffee provides all main essential food groups: alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and fat.

    Oh, he occasionally takes an alcoholiday.–Wilde

  25. brandon says:

    Brent, I agree with your thought on HDR. I made an unfair rant on them not intentionally. My apologies to HDR. I do love the variety of places downtown to drink. That’s where the misconception comes into play though. We mistake bars and what a family restaurant should be. We simply do not have family restaurants downtown unless you call Jesses one. We do have the Diner. We need family friendly restaurants if we want family shopping downtown. If we aren’t going in that direction downtown will not succeed. Downtown cannot be just a hip trend. Trends do not stay. We need businesses built on rock. Locally owned and operated anchor businesses. I DO NOT WANT TO SEE A STARBUCKS downtown. I want to see a place like Old Dominion Coffee. They were a staple. If Starbucks comes downtown, or any other major franchise, I’m no longer interested in downtown. That I can say confidently. Small family owned retailers need to join together and find a way to be sustainable and have ownership in downtown buildings. The time is now. We must not wait. (Obama). The retailers should make an uprising like the bars did and make downtown a shopping destination. Buy downtown or leave town should be the slogan.

  26. Adam says:

    I will be there for the grand opening. I’m glad somebody finally realized there was a vast need for a true Irish Pub in Harrisonburg. Thank you!

  27. Emmy says:

    I don’t even drink, but I think our alcohol laws are pretty ridiculous. Serving food doesn’t keep people from getting drunk. Let them have a real bar!

    I’m not sure what you are looking for in the way of family friendly Brandon, could you clarify? I think allowing bars to be bars and restaurants to be restaurants (that might serve alcohol) would probably help. I took my two young sons to Cally’s for dinner tonight. We were sitting next to a table with an infant, and a group of tables with several children a few years younger than mine. Generally all downtown restaurant feel family friendly to me earlier in the evening, but this was around 7:00 so I was pleased to see so many kids.

  28. David Miller says:

    Personally I’d love to see an Evers Downtown. Perhaps Union Station will head in that direction.

  29. Annie Layne says:

    Downtown/all of H’burg needs:

    1. a really good high-end childrens clothing and toy boutique. A place that can host kiddie parties and dress the wee ones. There are a lot of young families around…

    2. a quick and afforable made to order breakfast and lunch to go deli type place- like a Mr. J’s but walking distance to all the downtown busineses.

    3. Cute shoes. Sole Source has the east end of town, but bring in something that has fancy more than the Earth Shoe/Clarks brands.

    4. Music and Media. I was very sad to see plan 9 go. There needs to be an independant new/used music and movie place that hosts bands for instores…A town that hosts MACRock should have a home base to sell records after the shows and something to host local talent and give the chains a run for their money. (College town? Anyone?)

    5. A buy/sell/trade clothing and furniture place… there are so many people that move in and out of town that need that kind of stuff for short term that I am sure someone could make a profit on gently used items:
    is a place with a great business model for this type of venture.

    Our downtown has huge potential. It is also our job to keep local business afloat. I would much rather shop at Yellow Button, touch Of The Earth and Downtown Books than the abomination of Harrisonburg Crossing or the depressing mess that calls itself a mall.

    As far as this Irish Pub goes.. meh. Having lived in a building adjecent to the new space, well, set your traps, boys. The bugs, mice and pidgeons need a meal too…

  30. Scott says:

    I live and work in the downtown area. I like that I can embark on a short walk to main street pondering whether I would like to have a burger, sushi, some tasty home cooked Nepalese food, or all the Ethiopian food I can put down in one sitting (among other choices). And all for under $10 for lunch. I can’t afford to eat out all the time – I guess variety is the spice of life for us “young professionals”. But we’re not the only ones keeping the whole operation going.

    I appreciate that our local establishments are much more than just “bars” or watering holes. Many are run by some really kind people who have an understandably devoted interest in welcoming all members of our community.

    As for retail, those commenting before me have said it best; the only way retail will grow downtown is if our community supports what is already there.

  31. Sharona says:

    I would LOVE to be there for the Grand Opening…. Everybody loves an Irish pub – the main activity in an Irish pub is CHATTING to all and sundry… We love that! Best of luck guys!

  32. brandon says:

    An eating establishment that serves relatively simple food at reasonable prices, and welcomes children as well as adults. Yes I’m going to say it, a restaurant that does not serve alcohol. Traditions, Village Inn, Bob Evans (franchise though), Evers, Hartville Kitchen (google it)……you get the drift….family friendly, homestyle and no alcohol. OMG how do they survive without alcohol? Because families spend money where there family can go and have a comfortable meal. Yes, believe it or not, not all families have alcohol in their homes nor drink. Some of the most wealthy people living in the burg do not drink and will not go or eat at places known for alcohol sales. So why the heck do we leave those families out?! Why is the downtown catering only to the 20 somethings. We also need places for 40’s-50’s-60 year olds. How often do you ever see a family and/or relatives with lets say 8-12 people dining in a restaurant downtown that doesn’t serve alcohol? I challenge anyone to find this. Where are you going to find this establishment that doesn’t serve alcohol? Ok there are on the East side of town, south side, north side, but not downtown (or west side :))

    Maybe those folks wouldn’t choose downtown anyways. Maybe they think parking is a hassle. Maybe they already work downtown and just want to get away from downtown where they work. Maybe it’s just rainy that evening and it just doesn’t feel nice to be downtown. Maybe they only think of downtown when there are special events and their children can be amazed. U Made It Pottery and the Childrens museum are huge importance downtown. Do we know what the Children’s Museum does or where they are? I can tell you right now those families that bring their children often, and they do bring them often, have money to spend. They do not spend it downtown though. They did at the corner coffee shop (doubtful now for a beer). But not at a dining establishment for dinner or the shoe store that no longer exists. Yes of course there are exceptions, and I’m sure someone will point that out to me or cuss me.

    Retail downtown will never be sustainable until we are open minded on the other side of the brain. The side that wakes up and realizes that we created a district of establishments, just not the one that will sustain a healthy and vibrant downtown. Small retail shops will not stand a chance and the wealth will continue to spend it elsewhere. Or maybe downtown Staunton and Charlottesville. Oh wait a minute, they have the same problems downtown Harrisonburg is creating. Hip pubs and sophisticated establishments. Take a walk through their downtowns. How many establishments serve alcohol there? Now look around and look for retail. You won’t find it. At least not the same store 6 months later.

    Why should families come downtown? Can anyone see or admit any of what I’m saying? I think there may be a flaw. Maybe we should not be fighting to overturn the 45/55 law, but for the family tradition. For the family’s that don’t want to shop big box but don’t have any other choice. Every establishment is close together downtown. Not much room. But just like the parking problem misconception, are we going to make another misconception. The misconception that downtown only has alcohol to offer.

    We can put our heads in the sand and not think long term affects. How many people that support these downtown establishments stay in this town? Are they the families with money to spend and want to spend it, or are they a group that will move on and no longer be supporters of downtown. Why should I buy much of anything if I move every year?

    Until we get and keep families downtown retail will be a revolving door if not a locked door.

    I know my words come harsh. I’m not the best writer and so I can come across like a jerk. The truth is I’m passionate about downtown. I love our downtown. My weekend, if not at home, is downtown. I drink downtown (some would say too much). But the downtown I dream of and want to be a part of is the downtown like it was. A sustainable downtown. The days when it was truly the center of town. I don’t want the fireworks just on July 4th downtown, but I want them everyday. People are my fireworks. People of all ages. Places for all ages. Places for people to see. Places for people to do. Places for people to buy. Places where people feel safe and want to be.

    Flip through some old pictures of our downtown. Can we get there again? Do we want that again?

    We all want the same thing. We all just get there differently.

  33. Frank J Witt says:

    simple solution Brandon, have a go at it if you think it so easy.

  34. Emmy says:

    Well Brandon, I’m not sure I’m an clearer on what you want except that you want restaurants that don’t serve alcohol. I do believe there are families that don’t drink because I DO NOT drink! There is never an ounce of alcohol in my house.

    I do believe that making it easier for actual bars to exist would eliminate a lot of the drinking that does go on at other restaurants. But, I’m not sure why it is such a problem that restaurants serve alcohol. I have never taken my children into a place downtown or any chain that does and felt like they were exposed to something they shouldn’t be because the establishment sells alcohol. My kids have been to Cally’s, Dave’s, Clementine’s, Blue Nile and Jack Browns and we’ve always felt very welcome and had a great meal.

    There is no where downtown that I wouldn’t take my kids or feel unsafe. I think the main hindrance to opening retail stores is money. The types of stores that are attracted there and that most people want there can’t survive well in this economy. Hopefully that will improve and we will see more of them pop up and do well. In the mean time, all we can do is support what is there now.

  35. Deb SF says:

    Brandon, downtown already has a considerable range of restaurants; some concentrate on food but also serve alcohol, some are sort-of-bars that serve food, and some are food-only establishments. Families are an important constituent group for downtown. So are students, young professionals, senior citizens, adults with no kids, etc.

    I think Earth & Tea fits your affordable price/no alcohol criteria, as does Jess’s. And a number of downtown eateries foster an atmosphere where alcohol is a pleasant but not central part of experience. Joe and I don’t drink, but we go to Daves, Beyond, the Chop House, Cally’s, Blue Nile and other spots for great meals. I wouldn’t hesitate to bring a kid into any of these places (the price of an entre would be the only limitation).

  36. Brian M says:

    Hey, Deb.

    Jess’s has always served beer, to the best of my knowledge. And unless something bizarre has occurred, it still does. Unfortunately for Brandon & Family, but there’s one less option meeting his criteria.

    I do, however, agree with all of your other comments. =o)

  37. Drew Richard says:

    The range of restaurants in Harrisonburg is enormous compared to what it used to be. I think it’s great what is going on. I don’t see what the problem is with going to a restaurant that serves alcohol. Unless you’re going after 8pm or so I don’t see what the difference would be. And while maybe in your world it is ideal to build up downtown with retail and include lots of restaurants that don’t serve alcohol, the fact is that this is not the easiest way to do it. If it was, you would see plenty of shops downtown already instead of just a few. As for things like record shops, I just don’t see those thriving in this day and age. Most music is purchased online now and I’m sure it would be hard to compete with the prices of chains especially once we have Walmart, Target, and Best Buy. There are certain shops that I could see doing well, but I don’t know that small boutiques are going to give downtown the sharp economic incline we want. There are reasons that shops fail. I’m assuming the reason we couldn’t keep that corner coffee shop is that it wasn’t making enough money. I would hate a Starbucks too, but it’s shops like that they indeed do have staying power.

    I was thinking about this a few days ago and thought it would great to see a few outlets come downtown. I know lots of JMU students that will drive all the way to Northern Virginia or Short Pump to go to outlet stores…even just a couple like J Crew would bring flocks of people in. It’s all about whether we want to go the commercialized route that would guarantee business downtown, or whether we want to struggle with local shops in the hopes that eventually they’ll do well. Like adding an Olive Garden downtown…it’s a chain restaurant that would bring in the money, but could force out other Italian restaurants in the city.

    So what is it? Do you want to see a booming downtown in 5-10 years or your children’s or grandchildren’s lifetime?

  38. I don’t mean to insult the downtown bars/restaurants, but let me be blunt: I live downtown, and a place with good beer and decent, reasonably-priced food would get a LOT of my business. I’m not that picky about food–I’m certainly no effete foodie. But I just can’t stand/won’t pay for the food at the bars downtown (with the exception of Jack Brown’s, tho the basically single-item menu there gets old).

    I’ve come to think that producing decent food must be a lot harder than it seems.

  39. Lowell Fulk says:

    There must be something wrong with me. I enjoy all of the downtown restaurants I’ve experienced.

  40. seth says:

    here, here.
    cally’s is doing a pretty major overhaul on their menu (separate lunch and dinner menus is just one prominent feature). not sure when it goes into effect but it sounds like a really positive change.

  41. David Miller says:

    Earth and Tea has their license now too

  42. Frank J Witt says:

    Winston, PLEASE feel free to try your luck in the industry…it is amazing what we think is decent others just laugh at.

  43. Emmy says:

    I guess I have pretty easy to please taste buds because I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad meal that any of the current downtown restaurants that I’ve tried. I had one of the best meals I’ve had in a while at Cally’s last Friday.

  44. Barnabas says:

    Random Thoughts:
    I’ve been told I should give Jack Browns a second chance and I likely will.
    There is only one place that I have ever completely written off after one visit. And it wasn’t downtown.
    Downtown should have a taco truck that serves NA beers at lunch time.

  45. David Miller says:

    We have El Sol, fantastic food

  46. Emmy says:

    Mmmm El Sol!

  47. This is no longer happening. See update to story.

  48. Renee says:

    Hm, interesting… I hope they can find another good downtown location! Isn’t there a storefront-space available on Water St?

  49. seth says:

    wonder what they want for rent.

    there is a taco truck down at elias garage…

  50. John says:

    Regarding Rent: If a very busy coffee shop cannot make it, then doubtfully others will at the cost of their rent. From what I was told and my understanding is that Old Dominion’s rent was increased sustainably when new owners bought the building. Also my understanding is the new owners of that building/location paid a premium for the building. Lets say about 25% too much. At least that’s what I’ve heard from other developers. The owners will need a public franchise store to get their rent price. Kudos.

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