ST. PETERSBURG — When it comes to developing a traditional Irish pub, there are a few hallmarks to consider. The atmosphere’s important, as is the hospitality. You can’t forget about the food or drinks, either.
Mary Margaret’s Olde Irish Tavern will embrace those and other stamps of authenticity, taking inspiration from Irish bar culture in Ireland and Boston alike, when it starts serving downtown St. Petersburg at 29 Third St. N.
Aiming to launch on Localtopia weekend in the space most recently home to Sea Dog Pub and before that Beantown Pub South, Mary Margaret’s is “a love letter to the old country,” according to partner Pete Boland.
The bar will offer true Irish pub fare for lunch and dinner and into the wee hours of the night — think shepherd’s pie that calls for ground lamb, not beef, or classic Irish stew and Irish breakfast. More American-style favorites like Reuben sandwiches and Guinness burgers are planned, too.
In addition, vegan items will land a spot on the menu, including bangers and mash made with Beyond Meat.
“I know a few vegan Irish musicians, and I wanted to make sure they could eat when they come hang out with us,” Boland said.
Proper pours of Guinness, a whiskey flight program and warm cocktails such as Irish coffees are set to accompany the food.
Boland opened the Galley with co-owner Ian Taylor in 2016. Their nautical-themed downtown St. Pete tavern expanded last year with the Ship’s Hold, a private party room next door. But for Boland, whose hospitality career includes stints at the Irish joints Courigan’s on Beach Drive and MacDinton’s in South Tampa, Mary Margaret’s hits particularly close to home.
“It’s been a dream of mine to open an Irish pub. My dad is a full-blown Irishman, I’m proud Irish. I even worked at a Bennigan’s at one point,” Boland said. “I’ve always been in love with Irish pub culture.”
Mary Margaret’s is named for Boland’s late grandmother Mary Margaret Prescott. He said she was “a tough little lady of Irish, French and German descent” who operated Claire’s Beauty Salon on the Third Street block with her late husband Rex in the 1970s. Naming the pub after her seemed like a no-brainer, and her portrait, along with more old Boland family photos, will adorn the walls.
Boland has teamed up with Taylor and Roger Zeghibe, who rebranded Beantown Pub South as Sea Dog Pub and still owns Boston’s original Beantown Pub, to bring Mary Margaret’s to life. The other partners are Chris DiNeno, owner of commercial real estate brokerage Main Street & Main, local restaurateur Jack Caramello and Aaron Van Dora, longtime bar manager of the nearby Gratzzi Italian Grille.
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“These guys are great. They’re local, they’re from here, they know the business. I’ve been in the business for over 30 years myself. This is gonna be as traditional as it gets,” Zeghibe said.
Seeking inspiration for the pub, they’ve traveled to Boston and Ireland. Zeghibe led the partners on a tour of several Boston Irish bars, including Mr. Dooley’s, where they’re pictured above. What the team experienced in the old country will come through in everything from the beverage program to some of the grub.
They’re in the process of revamping the Mary Margaret’s space, adding elements like wooden ceiling beams that’ll cross-hatch a bit to resemble a thatched roof and one big partition area that’ll provide an intimate place to sip or snack. The bar features a custom-built rolling ladder for fetching top-shelf spirits, and its backsplash consists of the old Irish pennies used before euros. Soon, the faux fireplace, brick chimney and all, will be complete.
With about 50 seats inside and out, Mary Margaret’s is going for a warm, welcoming setting. Live Irish music will complement the ambience every Saturday and Sunday.
“We really want to do this thing right and make this love letter to Ireland. We felt this was missing in St. Pete,” Boland said. “All due respect to our friends at Courigan’s and our friends at MacDinton’s, we believe we can do a little different type of Irish hospitality over here and create a warm gathering place for the community.”