New location, same “genuine Irish hospitality.” Yes, O’Neill’s Pub & Restaurant is back in business.
The popular South Norwalk Irish pub opened last weekend at its new location at 93 North Main St., a few blocks north of its former spot in SoNo. The new location is 50 percent larger, has parking in the back for 50 cars, and has outdoor dining areas in both the front and rear of the restaurant.
“The two things we’re most excited about is the parking and outdoor dining,” Oliver O’Neill, one of the owning partners, said. “The city was fantastic to work with in terms of getting the permits and other things we needed. They’re excited about it, too.”
Another advantage of the new location, he added, is that the owners of the restaurant own the building. They purchased the property in 2004. Ownership of the property, O’Neill said, shelters them from the frequent rises in rental rates in South Norwalk.
“Now we’re the owners,” he said. “We feel as if we have more control of our destiny. We have a permanent stake in Norwalk.”
Oliver O’Neill owns the pub along with his brother, Michael, and longtime friend Donnie Leahy. Another O’Neill brother, Tony, is a contractor and helped with construction of the new building. The O’Neills and Leahy are from County Tipperary in Ireland.
The building is also home to Celentano’s Deli, office space on the second floor, and apartment units on the second and third floors.
“O’Neill’s is one of the great restaurant successes in Norwalk,” Brian Griffin, vice president of the Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce, said. “They have just opened in their new location, and the building and space are terrific. It’s a place where everyone will feel comfortable and enjoy. The food is excellent, the service is special, and Ollie and Michael O’Neill are two of the nicest guys in Norwalk — and astute businessmen to boot. We are so happy for them.”
O’Neill’s was a recipient of the Chamber’s 2008 Small Business Awards.
The restaurant still smells of fresh varnish and is decorated in typical Irish pub fashion. Rows of beer taps dominate the bar and Guinness artwork is plentiful.
“I like everything about it, really,” Leahy said. “The way it is laid out is more compatible for the patrons with the bar area and dining areas. The dining areas are quieter and the bar area has the TVs and can be a little louder.”
Tad Diesel, the city’s director of Marketing and Business Development, said the new pub is authentically Irish and SoNo.
“It’s just a beautiful design. It has the hospitality and vitality that you would expect from an Irish pub in the SoNo scene,” Diesel said. “Their confidence in Norwalk, and SoNo in particular, is reassuring and should give everyone a sense of confidence.”
The owners put the wheels in motion more than two years ago by starting the planning process. Construction commenced in July 2007 and the new O’Neill’s opened its doors last Friday.
“We’re relieved, happy, excited. You name it,” Oliver O’Neill said.
There was a five-week gap between the closing of the old location and the opening of the new one. Oliver O’Neill admitted it felt like a long layover, but the pub retained its staff and survived the closure, even though they missed the crowd-drawing SoNo Arts Festival by one week.
“It was very hectic, but the whole process was a learning experience,” Oliver O’Neill said. “Now we’re exactly where we want to be with the development going on up the street (District 95/7 SoNo). When that happens we’ll be right in the middle of things again. Some people say we’re the “Gateway to South Norwalk. We can be a landmark here.”
The O’Neill’s came to the United States from Ireland in 1995 and, after bartending for a few years, opened O’Neill’s Pub & Restaurant 10 years ago. Leahy came to the states in 1999.
“It was a great 10 years,” Oliver O’Neill said of the former location. “It gave us a taste of the area and community. We were able to build a lot of clientele through the years. We definitely have no regrets.
“But now,” he added, “we’re concentrating here on good food, good beer, creating a good atmosphere and genuine Irish hospitality.”
O’Neill’s is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. It features bands on Friday and Saturday nights. To reach O’Neill’s call (203) 838-0222.