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Ousted from Carrollwood, O'Brien's Irish Pub getting settled in Northdale

NORTHDALE

After a 20-year run, O'Brien's Irish Pub was forced out of its Carrollwood location five months ago.

The pub owners were told that a movie theater arriving next door in the strip center needed the extra parking spots. But the theater, slated for a spring opening, still hasn't materialized.

Meanwhile, a new bar is under construction in the old O'Brien's space, owned by the same people as the proposed movie theater.

Pub owner and namesake Bernie O'Brien said he feels betrayed. The property owner, he says, stopped answering his calls. Loyal customers, meanwhile, are also outraged.

Still, the place that some call a neighborhood institution is moving on, hoping to put down roots just a few miles away.

• • •

O'Brien and then-wife Teresa Brennan were vacationing in Tampa Bay when they realized that Florida, not New York, was the perfect location for their business venture.

They opened O'Brien's Irish Pub in the Main Street Shopping Center on Jan. 23, 1991. It grew into a Carrollwood landmark known for live music on weekends and a willingness to host events for local community groups. High-profile sportsmen dropped in to knock back a cold one with O'Brien, who is a former chairman of the Outback Bowl.

Fast-forward to last November. Theater owner Howard Edelman announces plans to renovate the Main Street 6 complex, which closed in 2000. The new theater, which he called Cinema Paradiso Bistro, would accommodate upscale dining and drinking along with moviegoing.

O'Brien was surprised when RMC Property Group told him the pub's lease, which ended March 25, wouldn't be renewed.

"We thought they were joking," O'Brien said. "Then, when we realized it was a fact, it was devastating."

He and Brennan, who divorced but remained business partners, struggled to find a new location. One day developer Steve Dibbs stopped by the pub and offered space at a complex he owns in Northdale, already home to a T.G.I. Friday's and other businesses.

They saw potential among the glass walls and padded floors at the former karate studio, but it took months to cut through the red tape and receive the county's permission to convert the space to a restaurant about 50 percent larger than the old one.

Construction began in June. Workers have built the sprawling bar, a stage and tables from dark-stained oak. An artist is finishing an Irish-themed mural on a wall.

The only items that remain from the original Carrollwood location are the green stained-glass O'Brien's logo behind the bar and a sign that will hang above the front door.

The pub should open in the next few weeks, but no official date has been set. O'Brien and Brennan are still waiting on some final permits before cleaning up the space and training their staff.

They plan to rehire all of the 22 employees laid off when the Carrollwood restaurant closed. Not a day goes by when a customer doesn't call, inquire on Facebook or stop by the new location to ask when O'Brien's will reopen, O'Brien said.

"I'm over the past, I'm really excited about the future," he said.

Meanwhile, Cinema Paradiso Bistro has fallen off schedule. Signs on the theater marquee still say "opening spring 2011." In March, Edelman — who also owns Channelside Cinemas 10, which filed for bankruptcy this month — said he was planning a May opening, but he didn't file a "notice of commencement" indicating when the construction would begin until June 29.

On Tuesday, a company hired to fix water damage to the building interior was the only visible activity at the old Main Street theater.

And signs at the former O'Brien's location promote a new bar called Dale 1891, after American aviator Dale Mabry and the year of his birth.

Neither Edelman nor RMC chief executive Mitchell Rice returned calls to answer questions about Cinema Paradiso Bistro or Dale 1891.

But old O'Brien's fans are still talking. Pub regular Pete Magnani created a petition that about 400 people have signed, vowing not to support any businesses that contributed to O'Brien's ouster.

"It just didn't seem right to me the way they were getting booted out of there," he said.

Magnani said he will frequent O'Brien's again once it reopens, even though he now lives miles away in New Tampa. Being around people he knows is worth the drive, he said.

He also stands by his pledge to boycott any businesses in the Main Street Shopping Center that caused his beloved pub to move. That includes the movie theater and the restaurant.

"They're the only reason that O'Brien's had to move out of the old place," he said. "We all kind of loved the old place, and we're sad to see it go."

Tia Mitchell can be reached at tmitchell@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3405.

.If you go

O'Brien's Irish Pub

Scheduled to open in September at 15435 N Dale Mabry Highway.

Go to obrienspubstampa.com or call (813) 961-4092.

Ousted from Carrollwood, O'Brien's Irish Pub getting settled in Northdale 08/18/11 [Last modified: Thursday, August 18, 2011 5:30am]
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