'A Bit Like a Family': On St. Patrick's Day, Everybody's Irish
You don't have to be Irish to enjoy the company at O'Donnell's Pub in Southern Pines, but it does help -- particularly around the middle of March when everybody is celebrating St. Patrick's Day.
The owner of the lively spot is Patrick O'Donnell, who opened the pub for business in April 2000.
The building once housed the Southern Pines Fire Department. Constructed in 1930, the colonial revival-style commercial structure is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The interior now has the look of a cozy authentic Irish pub, with dark paneling, and worn wood flooring. Dominating the center of the establishment and spanning two rooms is a long, polished two-sided bar flanked by a pool table and a dart board. There's plenty of seating inside and outside on a terrace overlooking New Hampshire Avenue.
Patrick O'Donnell grew up in New Jersey, but came south to attend college at Appalachian State University. He met his wife, Rachel, another student at Appalachian, and she eventually drew him to the Sandhills area that was her home.
O'Donnell spent a year in Virginia after college, and for the first few years in Moore County he taught seventh- grade math at New Century Middle School, before becoming the owner of the pub. He put his experience from years of bartending while he was in college to good use, for the pub has become a popular institution in downtown Southern Pines.
Patrick says that a really solid clientele of "regulars" patronize O'Donnell's, as is the case with small family-owned pubs across the country and in Ireland
"It's a bit like a family, and some of the bartenders I have had are long-timers, having been with me at least seven or eight years," he says.
"It adds to the warmth of the place, and the customers especially like being served their favorite drink without ever having to say a word."
O'Donnell's Pub is open from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week, 364 days of the year, shutting the doors only on Christmas. Patrick books all his own entertainment. Typically there is live music every Saturday night, and occasionally on Fridays as well.
"The entertainment comes from a range of the good local talent we have in the area," he says.
"You want the group to have a real draw and that's what I look and listen for. McKenzie's Mill attracted a huge crowd last fall. Three of the original group, now based in Nashville, were from West End."
Following the McKenzie's Mill show at the Sunrise Theater, O'Donnell's Pub hosted a post-show event as a fundraiser for MacPac, the local arm of Hugs Across America. The pub has a tradition of doing fundraisers, which on occasion have necessitated getting the town's permission to close off the block of New Hampshire Avenue fronting the building.
One of the more successful fundraisers involves the Empty Stocking Fund at holiday time.
Starting in November and continuing through the first couple of weeks of December, O'Donnell's has a "guest bartender" every Wednesday night.
Guest bartenders, selected from among the regular patrons, sometimes choose a theme or a costume to add to the enthusiasm. All the bartenders' tips are pooled over the course of the four to six weeks to allow O'Donnell's to sponsor as many as 10 families around the holidays through the Empty Stocking Fund.
O'Donnell's has also raised funds for an "Elizabethon" with the proceeds going to provide college scholarships in honor of the late Southern Pines artist, Elizabeth Barron.
A recent ban on smoking inside O'Donnell's Pub originally met with a mixed reaction, according to Patrick O'Donnell.
"It was a scary transition," he says. "I had been thinking about it for some time. Not being a smoker myself, I was getting the equivalent of a couple of packs a day in secondhand smoke. Although at first there was disagreement with the policy by some of the regulars, a number of them told me that they go outside to smoke at home or at work. And I know that the new ruling didn't hurt business over the holidays -- it may have even helped."
The smoke-free air helps the members of the Southern Pines Rugby Club, which was started by a core group at O'Donnell's several years ago. Patrick O'Donnell credits Todd Zeh, a local chiropractor, with coming up with the idea. The origins of the rough and tumble sport of rugby go back to the Middle Ages in England and Ireland, and it is a form of football "without pads and time-outs" with ordinarily 15 players on each side.
Ashley Leis, an Australian, is the coach of the Southern Pines team.
"We talked a lot of guys into join us who had never played the sport before," O'Donnell says. "We have a spring and fall season, and as a rule have five or six games. We practice behind the Campbell House and play our home games on the soccer field at Sandhills Community College."
The Southern Pines Rugby Club also does a lot of traveling. Some of the teams that they play regularly are from Fort Bragg, Charleston, and the Duke University graduate school. They have traveled to Savannah for regional matches as well as to Greenville, S.C. At the home games, the Southern Pines club always tries to encourage the regular patrons from the pub to come out and cheer them on.
But before the spring season for rugby opens, the patrons at O'Donnell's Pub will be celebrating St. Patrick's Day.
"That's the time when everybody's Irish," O'Donnell says. "Although we don't usually serve food, there will be plenty of corned beef and cabbage; we will open early and stay late. We'll play Irish music and do what we do best -- have a good time!"
Contact Pinehurst writer Mary Elle Hunter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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