Everybody wants to be Irish, they just won’t admit it — unless it’s March 17. The Irish can outchug Germans, outshoot Mexicans and outparty American frat boys — all with a smile on their face on the way to church. Their accents are cool, their homeland is beautiful and their pubs are plentiful. So plentiful, in fact, that they have spilled over to our shores, run by off-the-boat transplants or long-ago descendents of the Emerald Island. The latter is the case at O’Connell’s Irish Pub.
O’Connell’s is run by Mike and Tijuana O’Connell and their son, Dave. The pub has stood its ground next to a bingo hall in Highview for nearly eight years — opening its charms and spirits to the neighborhood folks and those thirsty after a few bouts with a bingo board. O’Connell’s is just the place to warm your mittens on a cold, rainy winter night.
Compared to some more well known Irish pubs in Louisville, like O’Shea’s or Molly Malone’s, O’Connell’s doesn’t flaunt its Irishness. You won’t find a hint of mahogany, short stools or intimate booths. Instead, you’ll find a place where regulars swarm after the 5 p.m. workday, where you can shoot a game of pool and sip on a Guinness while you cheer on your local sports team. It may not resemble an Irish pub, but it is the quintessential essence of an Irish pub.
Basically, then, anyone can be Irish for a few hours at O’Connell’s — a T-shirt hanging behind the bar reads: “From 0 to Irish in 6 beers!” — even model/actress Kathy Ireland. So what if she was born in warm and sunny Santa Barbara, Calif.? That doesn’t matter to Mike O’Connell, who made her essentially O’Connell’s mascot. Cardboard stand-ups, posters, an autographed photo and even an autographed swimsuit of the Sports Illustrated cover model hang all around the open, warehouse-like main room scattered with tables, couches and beer memorabilia. To say Mike has a crush on Kathy would only overstate the obvious.
Mike’s wife Tijuana and bartender Colleen Smith roll their eyes and chuckle whenever someone asks about the Shrine o’ Kathy. “It just cracks me up,” says Colleen, who has served up spirits at O’Connell’s for more than four years. “My name means ‘girl’ in Gaelic. I asked Mike if this was why he hired me. I’m more Irish than Kathy Ireland!”
Son Dave tends to side more with his dad on the Kathy issue. He takes every opportunity to show off each piece of KI booty to anyone who expresses even the least bit of interest. Dave also helps out behind the bar from time to time and deals with day-to-day maintenance and upkeep with his dad. Dave even installed wireless Internet for the pub; a computer perches at the end of the bar for anyone interested in checking fantasy football scores (or, perhaps, surfing for Kathy Ireland pics?). Dave even started a 401(k) plan for his parents … sort of.
When you enter O’Connell’s, the first thing you might notice is the random dollar bills protruding from the ceiling. A favorite pasttime for the regulars, or a show of true talent, this tradition of throwing bills at the acoustic tiled ceiling and hoping they stick began a few years ago. Dave demonstrated his technique — and I can tell you that it’s all in the folding. “It’s my dad’s retirement plan,” says Dave, “although every now and then they fall, and someone gets lucky.” “I’m hoping that if there’s an earthquake, I’m working,” adds Colleen. Dave says there’s a $50 bill, as well as a German $20, somewhere among the flocks of Washingtons.
Gulping down Guinness, Smithwick’s and Harp; wasting the early evening away with friends and strangers alike; getting lucky by catching falling money; and hanging out with a hanging Kathy Ireland — can O’Connell’s get much more Irish? Don’t wait till St. Patrick’s Day to wear your green. Forget your German, African, Croatian, Welsh, Italian, English or Moldavian heritage for an evening and dance a jig at O’Connell’s. You’ll be welcomed, but they just may look at ya funny.