Passing Of A Pub: A Farewell To Maguires
In the wake of last week’s tragedy at the airport, it seems banal to write about a wake for an Irish pub. But anyone passing Maguires Hill 16 on Andrews Avenue in Fort Lauderdale last week knew that something unusual was in the air. From the announcement last Monday that the well-known restaurant/bar had been sold and was closing, the parking lot and any available space nearby were jammed by people stopping by to say farewell to a local institution.
There was quite a lot written about the closing—about the surprise—despite the fact that rumors of a sale had been circulating for months. Yet nobody expected that new owners would close down a site with a 50-year history on such short notice. Also missing from news reports is the most compelling part of that history—how a location in a once somewhat seedy, off-the-beaten-trail location, which had been a redneck hangout frequented by bikers, became an iconic entertainment location with an extraordinarily broad following.
That story dates to 1989. The bar was then known as Fridays Downtown, but you wouldn’t confuse it with the trendy TGI Friday’s chain we know today. Alan Craig had a car restoration business on a nearby street, and he used to bring his workers in for happy hour. Craig was also a musician and singer. Back in Dublin, he had participated in what the Irish call “sessions,” where amateur musicians got together in pubs on weekend nights.
“One night I brought the guys in and somebody had a guitar, and I played some Irish songs,” Craig recalled Monday. “The owner said, ‘Why don’t you put together an Irish night on a Friday night?’ Nobody was in there after nine o’clock. It was a ghost town. So I did. It was an Irish night, just for fun. Nobody got paid. In a few weeks, we had 50 people there, and then the next week 75. It just kept growing. And the owner says, ‘Why don’t you buy the place and turn it into an Irish pub?’”
Craig did, using the name of a Dublin landmark, but it was not totally to the liking of his then wife Hilary Joyalle, who had worked in the restaurant business in Ireland. But she soon changed her mind as week after week the crowds increased, and they began serving lunch and dinner, making the place as much a restaurant as a bar. The musical group enlarged. Craig teamed with Mick Meehan, another Irish native, and they put together the Irish Times, which became one of the best Irish bands in Florida, often doing gigs outside the bar. The music reputation spread beyond the state, even across the sea. Some of the top names in Irish music, groups such as The Commitments, performed at the pub.
The timing was perfect. The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem had popularized traditional Irish music in the ‘60s and ‘70s, singing rebel and drinking songs largely unknown in the United States. They inspired Irish and American songwriters. When Alan Craig, with his gravely voice, sang “Fields of Athenry” it was a relatively new song by Pete St. John. Maguires’ audiences often requested the mournful ballad recalling the Irish famine era of the 1840s. It has since become a sports anthem in Ireland, sung at soccer games by the entire crowd.
Alan and Hilary went on to establish Irish bars in several other Florida towns. In 1999, they sold Maguires. The new owner owned it only briefly, selling to Jim and Martina Gregory, who owned bars in Ireland. They bought Maguires only after they were able to also acquire the real estate, including the large parking lot, which the Craigs had not owned. That ownership was central to their recent sale to a local group expected to develop high-rise buildings in the neighborhood, which is seeing extensive redevelopment. Far from the seedy days of old, it is within walking distance of the new All Aboard Florida train station, along streets lined with new apartments.
The Gregory family remodeled the place and expanded to outdoor seating. From its first days under the Craigs, it had attracted a journalism crowd. The former New Times office was just two blocks away, and the young staffers often gathered there. Over the years, courthouse types and law enforcement people—Broward Sheriff deputies, Fort Lauderdale police and even plain-clothes federal marshals—joined them. Political figures, including Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, often had lunch meetings. Musically, the entertainment became less Irish, but the food and décor remained old country. The burnished wood and walls crowded with photos from Ireland’s past made for an exceptionally cozy atmosphere, even by Irish pub standards.
The Gregorys also made it a popular sports bar. From its early days it had attracted European soccer and rugby fans, along with Gaelic football broadcasts, and the new owners enlarged its sporting footprint. Recent Sundays saw fans from the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens gathering to root for their teams. The large local Notre Dame club met for Irish football, and Louisville brought in a crowd for both football and basketball games. Those fan bases are among the many saddened by the closing.
The former owners admired the new owners’ management. Says Hilary Joyalle, who for 13 years has owned The Field Irish Pub on Griffin Road in Dania Beach: “Jim and Martina didn’t do the Irish music as much, but they kept the spirit of the place very much alive.”
Surely to goodness, they did. And Monday, the day after the official closing, the normally crowded lunchtime parking lot was empty save for a few workers completing the shutdown operations. Above the Maguires sign the Irish and American flags were stirring in the chilly wind, and a sentimental soul might think he heard the raspy voice of Alan Craig awakening ghosts of the past.
Low lie the Fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly.
Our love was on the wing, we had dreams and songs to sing
It’s so lonely ‘round the Fields of Athenry.
Photo by Bernard McCormick