By Pete Stidman
For many of Dorchester Avenue's publicans, it's
been a rocky decade. Due to a strong economy in
Ireland, an increasingly restrictive immigration
policy, and the falling value of the American
dollar, many of the Irish that once bar-hopped
establishments like Tara Pub, Ned Kelly's and
Nash's have opted for greener pastures in the old
Rising beer and food prices have squeezed
bar-owners from the other end, forcing many to face
the small businessman's classic decision when times
are tough. Cut costs, sell the business or invest
in big changes.
Changeover scenarios are playing out all up and
down the Avenue. Tara Pub closed and the space
became a beauty parlor. Mickey's Place in Fields
Corner fell to the wrecking ball, now the site of a
new Viet-AID devlopment. Ned Kelly's sold and was
refashioned into Dbar. Emerald Isle has closed
pending a sprinkler installation, and may not
re-open, and now Nash's Pub will shed its Irish
décor and take on a new identity as a sports
and sushi bar called Van's.
The new identity on the Ave in the past few
decades, outside of the bars, has been
overwhelmingly Vietnamese. Grocery stores, travel
agencies, and restaurants have sprung up like
wildfire. But so far, say bartenders, most
Vietnamese haven't been drinking much.
"The Vietnamese community here hasn't really
been introduced to the Asian bar yet," said new
co-owner Karen Diep from behind the bar at Nash's
last week. "We're excited, and the neighborhood
loves the idea. And there's not too many things
they are supportive of."
Diep's parents own the Vietnamese restaurant
across the street.
Peter Nash, who sold Nash's to Diep and her
husband Mateo Van, sat at the bar under a poster
for the Kerry Gaelic Football Club he used to
sponsor and talked to Diep about her renovation
plans. He said he sold the place so he could focus
on other business, and relax a bit, but slower
business played a part.
"We'd get the older crowd after work and the
young kids at night. I'd have 200 people in here on
a Sunday night," Nash said. "Most of them have gone
back to Ireland. And there's nobody coming out from
Diep will need neighborhood approval for her
plans, which include a sushi bar, several small
tables and a second floor addition to welcome more
diners. The interior, currently full of dark wood
and Irish street signs, will be transformed into
something brighter and more modern with multiple
big screen TVs and a large bank of windows on
either side of the building. It doesn't seem that
there will be any trace of Nash's pub when the
project is completed.
Another spot, the Emerald Isle in Fields Corner,
is also on the cusp of change. Members of the Mawn
family, which owns the bar, could not be reached
for comment, but according to Dan Pokaski of the
city's licensing department they were told last
week that they had 90 days to either install a
sprinkler-system and open the doors, transfer their
liquor license, or see it cancelled.
Still, the Irish pub is hardly an endangered
species in Dot. A plethora of shamrocks and
Guinness taps attest to that. A number of places
that are still owned by Irish-Americans are
thriving, and some are sprucing up their image.
Thom English the third just put a new look on
his dad's old bar on the Ave, and owners of the
Harp and Bard and even Peggy O'Neill's indicated
they may be doing some work soon. Each of those
pubs have been in the same families for
And of course, it would be remiss not to mention
the Blarney Stone, which is Irish in name still,
and has become something of a premier attraction on
the Ave in the Fields Corner area.
The true Irish brogue too can still be heard
just about anytime at the Banshee, the Centre Bar
or particularly the Twelve Ben's over on Adams
Street, even if there is a little less competition
for the bartender's attention.
"You go to Canton, at the Irish Cultural Center,
you used to get 2,500 or 3,000 for game of football
five or six years ago," said Dermot Korragan of
Belcoo, sipping Magners Cider amongst a quiet
mid-day crowd at The Centre Bar last week. "Now
you're lucky to get seven or 800 down there."
Ireland experienced exceptional economic growth
starting in 2002, according to The Economist
magazine, including the fastest rising residential
property prices among the most developed countries
in the years leading up to 2006. This spurred
construction to a degree that may have overshot
demand, and recently the Irish housing market, like
the American, has been experiencing a "correction."
Already, Irish émigrés, many of whom
are in the construction field, are talking about
the possibility of new waves of Irish immigrants
coming back to Boston, depending on how the two
economies play out over time.
"I talked to Ireland yesterday," said Mike
Galvin, owner of the Harp and Bard. "Jobs are very
scarce in Ireland now. Galway people are driving up
to Dublin just to make a paycheck. I'd say there
are going to be a lot of Irish here for the summer,
either for work or for pleasure."
Galvin's Harp and Bard, the Dbar and others have
also managed to appeal to another new crowd in
Dorchester: young professionals moving back into
"I've noticed a huge change over the last 10
years," Galvin said. "There's a lot more
professional people than blue collar. Now there's
32 different kinds of martinis, purple martinis,
chocolate martinis, we make all kinds."
The real key, though, to a long-living, healthy
pub seems to be a big family, a good set of heirs,
or at least one good son or daughter to hand the
bar over to.
Tracy and Caron O'Neill paid their father a
discounted price for his 1310 Lounge about 20 years
ago, and renamed the place after their mother,
Peggy O'Neill. A modest place, the business has
been in the family for 43 years, and Tracy O'Neill,
for one, seems to retain a real affinity for a true
"I've basically known most of these people most
of my life," she said, pointing at her clientele
from the end of the bar. "Dennis' parents used to
come in here when my dad owned the place."
Asked if the next generation is waiting in the
wings to take the place over, Tracy O'Neill said
she wasn't sure exactly.
"Could be, you never know. I have a bunch of
nieces and nephews."
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