The pulling power of Irish bars abroad makes them one of the most valuable brand franchises in the world, writes Simon Rowe
It may not rival the pharmaceutical or IT sector in terms of export volumes but the Irish pub brand still has massive pulling power all over the world.
From Siberia to Abu Dhabi and from India to Mongolia, authentic Irish bars - designed, handcrafted and shipped from factories in Ireland to be installed by Irish craftsmen in far-flung locations all over the world - are enjoying a resurgence.
Two decades after Irish pub exports began in earnest, business is booming again and the international market remains relatively untapped, say business insiders.
The Irish pub export concept was launched around the time of Italia '90, when bar owners worldwide - especially in the US - wanted a rub of the green as World Cup fever gripped the nation and expats sought out decent Irish-themed hostelries.
Irish design firms were quick to jump on the paddywagon, rolling out a range of identikit Oirish pubs.
These 'authentic' Irish pubs are designed and built in factories in Ireland - complete with wood panelling, bar tops, floorboards, whiskey mirrors and bric-a-brac - and shipped around the world in freight containers followed by teams of Irish craftsmen who complete the fit-out on-site.
Mel McNally, the pioneer of the concept, has been designing and building Irish pubs for export since the 1990s. He has designed hundreds over the years through his firm, Irish Pub Company. Like many others, he came close to calling time on the business when the crash hit and his firm was left nursing a massive financial hangover. But McNally has since restructured the firm and witnessed a global resurgence.
"It's coming back around in Europe, which was a surprise to everybody," he says. "If done well, the return on investment is second to none." Brand Ireland still has massive pulling power around the world, especially when it comes to pubs, he says.
"The Irish brand is still huge. Irishness still travels. Despite some sceptics in the 1990s and the 2000s, Irish pub exports are still there."
The Irish pub concept is, arguably, the most attractive franchise in the world. It offers all the benefits of a brand with global recognition without the downside of royalties and fees. And patrons of Irish bars stay longer and spend more.
"There are few places we haven't been," he says.
McNally's company has enjoyed similar international success. With offices in Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Atlanta in the US, the Irish Pub Company is keeping the green flag flying. Two decades on from McNally's first foray into the Irish pub export market, the idea has spawned many incarnations and imitations in the unlikeliest of places.
Now wherever ex-pats gather there is likely to be an Irish-themed watering hole, whether it's Bernie's Irish Pub in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, O'Reilly's in Bangkok, O'Malley's in Shanghai; Finnegan's in Baku, Azerbaijan, and the daddy of them all - the Grand Khaan Irish Pub in Ulan Bator, Mongolia.
It looks like the market for Irish bars abroad isn't even close to saturation point.
By David McWilliams - Economist
Years ago, I found myself in Kiev's Irish pub, Kitty O'Shea's, facing a bit of a dilemma. I was working for a French bank and was charged with explaining what was going on in Russia and Ukraine.
Having met the IMF, World Bank and EU delegations, along with consultants and other bottom-feeders, it struck me that these rarefied bureaucrats hadn't a rashers what was going on in the place. They were typical economists: removed, distant and naive. You wouldn't give them a post office account to open back home.
One of the barmen in Kitty's was a different kettle of fish – a typical Irishman with a roguish sense of humour. We got talking about Irish pubs in Eastern and Central Europe. He knew the market, the demographics, who had money in Kiev and the ratio of expats to locals. He explained how to get import licences and how to weed out crooked 'drifter' Irish barmen.
He knew how to defer tax payments, how to spot a good site and a decent landlord. He knew where to source furniture locally, how to deal with local tradesmen, who to pay first, and how to 'incentivise' officials.
He outlined his marketing strategy and which local movers and shakers to target as regulars. He advised about avoiding the mafia. He emphasised the importance of the brand and the significance of local aspirations. This barman was a mine of information.
He offered advice on pricing strategies. He had figured out how to borrow in pounds, hedge his local currency risk and stay on good terms with the bank – quite an achievement. That evening, he outlined the basics of running a cash business in a foreign country.
After a few pints, it struck me that the opening of an Irish pub in a developing city could tell you more about what was going on in the economy than a glossy economic report. The opening of an Irish pub tells you who is investing where, why and at what price more accurately than statistics about inflation, budget deficits or trade deficits. With that in mind, the Irish Pub Index was born.
The theory is that wherever you see an Irish pub it reveals economic vibrancy, particularly in developing economies where official statistics tell you nothing. So the more Irish pubs per head of population, the easier it must be to do business. The easier it is to do business, the richer the city is likely to be. Therefore, if you want to get a snapshot of how a place is doing economically, forget the IMF, the World Bank, the large consultancies, and check out the bars.
Ultimately, the more Irish bars a place has, the richer it should be and the smaller the risk of a financial or political crisis. That at least was the tipsy 'theory' I formed in Kitty O'Shea's.
Next morning, Guinness in Dublin provided me with the information on Irish bars around Europe, and the Irish Pub Index of Economic Development began to emerge. Amazingly, in practice, it was even more accurate than in theory. The foreign cities with the most Irish bars per head were indeed the richest in Europe.
Luxembourg had the most Irish bars per head, and it was also the richest city in Europe. The cities with the most Irish bars in descending order matched almost exactly the richest cities and financially safest in the European income league. Even more valuable, the Irish Pub Index is predictive.
The Pub Index reveals fascinating on-the-ground insights into who is spending, what brands are rocking, where investment is being made and what parts of the town are up-and-coming. In short, it tells us in advance what economic statistics will only pick up in hindsight. Over the past few years, the Irish Pub Index has proved to be a much more accurate indicator of GDP five quarters ahead of time, than any complicated IMF, World Bank or Central Bank econometric model.
I update it every quarter. Look at the chart for the latest from January 2014 and notice which cities are screaming crisis according to the Irish Pub Index. They are Kiev followed by Istanbul, the two emerging market cities that have seen financial, civil and economic upheaval in the past few months!Read More
It’s almost impossible not to compare Paddy Barry’s to a certain Little City Irish pub. Formerly Finnegan’s Pride, the new restaurant from Falls Church native Brendan Barry opened its doors just up Route 7 in Tysons and has the same feel, atmosphere and a very similar menu to that of Ireland’s Four Provinces here.
The biggest difference between the Tysons and Falls Church pubs is the location. While the Four P’s enjoys a prime spot at the corners of West Broad and South Washington streets, Paddy Barry’s is rather difficult to find, tucked away on the ground floor of a Leesburg Pike office building in the heart of bustling Tysons. With scant visible parking spaces, it’s easy to overlook the place but with validated parking in an adjacent garage, it’s more accessible than it appears.
The menu – smaller than its Falls Church counterpart – consolidates lunch and dinner into one lineup and sticks mostly to traditional Irish fare, but there’s enough generic options available to satisfy in case corned beef and cabbage isn’t your thing.
Appetizers run the gamut from the ordinary – fried calamari, chicken wings and salads – to more authentic dishes like Irish potato pancakes called boxty served with chicken or corned beef and a whiskey and leek cream sauce. The plate of tiny hash brown-style potatoes is tasty and a solid start to the meal, but skip the chicken and order the corned beef. More standouts are a wheel of baked brie in Guinness batter served with mixed berry jam and a potato and leek soup that’s heavier on the leeks than the Four P’s version and jazzed up with cheddar and bacon.
Main courses consist of all the Irish fare you’d expect to find including a hearty portion of shepherd’s pie, fish and chips, bangers and mash and, yes, corned beef and cabbage but a spicy chicken curry dish dressed up with basil and mangoes adds an unexpected dose of flavor and color into that lineup. All-day Irish breakfast is also here complete with eggs, potato pancakes, grilled tomato, rashers, bangers, black and white pudding and Irish brown bread.
For those who like to eat with their hands, there’s a solid selection of sandwiches like chicken and Irish bacon, a smoked salmon BLT, steak and cheese, a reuben and, for the carb conscious, turkey lettuce wraps. Disappointingly though, the plain Jane Silver Line burger misses a chance at being something more than just a regular old cheeseburger.
Despite how it looks from the outside, Paddy Barry’s is deceptively spacious. While still cozy, its high ceilings, ample dining room seating and full bar provide for a welcoming feel – even if it’s just yards away from jam-packed Route 7.
During the week, the Tysons joint serves lunch and dinner and on the weekends there’s brunch from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. This Sunday, a special three-course Easter menu will also be available with leg of lamb, smoked ham, grilled salmon and more.Read More
Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, Fado Irish Pub opened its newest location in Midtown on Saturday. And Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who was Grand Marshall of the annual Atlanta St. Patrick’s Day Parade, stopped in to watch the Six Nations Rugby match between Ireland and Wales.
“Irish pubs, in addition to being the social centers, now include savory food, local beers and excellent cocktails. We’re excited to bring a 2015 vintage pub to Midtown residents, neighbors and workers alike,” according to Fado founder Kieran McGill, who opened the original Buckhead location in 1996.
The growing pub concept now has 15 locations around the U.S. Here’s how the Midtown location is described on the Fado website:
Our pub in Midtown is an expression of 21st Century Ireland and the changes happening today to Dublin’s pub culture. It’s a modern pub that combines the best of the old with the new: Irish timelessness, a global perspective and homage to local ‘heroes’.
You see historical Ireland in the deep woods, the Whiskey Room, the great Irish beer brands and Irish specialty paint and pictures. The clean craftsmanship and design reflect the global influences of New York and mainland Europe on Dublin’s pub and restaurant scene.Read More
While at least 94% of the people who go out on St. Paddy’s Day claim some Irish blood, we, at Thrillist, were shocked by the lack of a fine compendium of great Irish pubs in this country. Many of the frankly bare-bones lists we did find included chains, nouveau gastropubs, and other offensive picks. Incensed, we had no choice but to set loose our two most Irish Catholic editors on a quest to find the top pubs all over the country. As always, let them know what they missed in the comments. Go raibh maith agat:
Emmit's (Chicago, IL)
Technically opened in 1996 by a couple of firemen, the building itself has a much more extensive history involving secret underground gangster escape tunnels and an ill-fated robbery attempt in the '80s when it was called O'Sullivan's (a couple of shotgun wielding dudes didn't get the memo that it was a cop bar -- it didn't work out for them). The modern incarnation is a touch more subdued, but Jameson on tap and plenty of pints of Guinness at the ready make sure things remain interesting.
Cork and Kerry (Chicago, IL)
With "South Side Irish" being its own ethnic designation in Chicago, it naturally follows that there would be plenty of fine Irish bars there. The building has some history as a speakeasy (though this may be true of all Chicago buildings), and, in true Irish survivor fashion, it rebounded from a 1999 fire that nearly put it out of commission for good, allowing South Siders continued access to their massive bedecked beer garden.
John D. McGurk's (St. Louis, MO)
Started as a one-room pub in 1978, McGurk's has grown into 20,000sqft of all-out Emerald Isleness, with a series of interconnected dining rooms and bars echoing with live Irish music nightly (as in, people come from Ireland to play here) as patrons mow through corned beef & cabbage, bangers & mash, and Baileys cheesecake (American fatness innovations FTW!). Oh, and if that wasn't enough room, they also have 15,000sqft of outdoor garden with a freaking waterfall. And three more bars, naturally.
Huntsville, Alabama That old piano is long gone. As is the hazy (and charming) Irish Republican Army bunker vibe, live Irish music on Thursdays, dogs-allowed-inside policy and salt-of-the-earth carousing that made Finnegan's Pub a Huntsville must-do for 36 years. When Finnegan's shuttered in July 2013, that chapter of this somewhat residential-appearing building, located in front of the Regal Hollywood 18 movie theater on South Memorial Parkway, ended. The page turned again a couple weeks ago. Original Public House finally opened in the former Finnegan's space months after an original grand opening date of June 13 was announced this spring.
Whether it's due to that extra time or not, when we visited Original Public House on a recent Thursday evening the food was uncommonly together for a recently opened, locally owned restaurant. With deftly curated ingredients and smart menu concepts that are part Irish traditional, part contemporary southern. Make no mistake Original Public House is a restaurant with a bar. Not a bar that also serves food. That said, there's a handsome wooden, U-shaped bar in place, and during our visit the bar stools were respectively populated. The open interior is dimly lit without being dark and new-nice but still soulful. Lots of masculine wood-tones, some Irish-centric artwork and although there's a lot of seating fit into a moderately-sized dining room the effect is cozy and not cramped. The crowd varied from young professionals to silver-haired couples to a couple dudes in heavy metal T-shirts to families with kids. Lots of families with kids. In fact, at one point it sounded like we were in Chuck E. Cheese's. (Kids meals are $5, with a choice of fried fish, banger and grilled cheese in addition to the requisite cheeseburger.)Read More