A co-founder of the New York Irish bar the Dead Rabbit is rolling out the concept to other US cities after parting company with the fellow Belfast man he set up the venue with.
Jack McGarry and Sean Muldoon, both from the north of the city, established the award-winning pub in the Big Apple’s financial district in 2013.
Nine years on, Jack told the Belfast Telegraph he wanted to bring the Dead Rabbit to other cities, starting with New Orleans and Austin, Texas.
While Sean will remain a partner in the Dead Rabbit, he is setting up a new bar, the Hazel and Apple, in South Carolina.
While there has been no falling out between the pair, Jack said they realised they wanted different things from the business after the pandemic.
They also lost money on a failed venture — a Cuban bar in Lower Manhattan called Blacktail which shut down in January 2020 after three years.
Jack said having to shut Blacktail had been painful, but the business had failed to take off.
While Sean wants to experiment with creative ideas, including Hazel and Apple — inspired by the WB Yeats poem The Song of Wandering Aengus — Jack said he wanted to extend the concept of the Irish pub.
He explained that the Dead Rabbit, which was named the world’s best bar in 2015 and 2016, had been conceived as a contemporary Irish pub — a concept he wants to extend across the US.
“What I want to spread now is contemporary Ireland. America’s understanding of a pub is very different to Ireland’s,” he said.
“You go into an Irish pub in the US and there’s a picture of James Joyce or Yeats. It’s not celebrating the rich culture that there is now, but that’s what I want to do with Dead Rabbit.”
He will work with the Belfast-based agency Crown Creative to come up with ideas on aspects of modern Ireland to be reflected in the venue.
“There’s so much creativity coming out of Ireland right now, and that’s what I want to shine a light on in the vehicle of an Irish pub,” Jack told this newspaper. “It should be a mirror for what is happening in Ireland, and that’s what I want to bring to America.
“There’s a wonderful opportunity for us to be the flag bearer for the entirety of the country.”
He said the business would invest $4m in the opening of the Dead Rabbit in New Orleans in spring next year, with Austin to follow later in the year.
The business will then target “major metropolitan areas in different states”. “There are a lot of opportunities because, unfortunately, with businesses closing down in the pandemic, there’s a lot of great spaces that have come onto the market,” Jack explained.
“All the places you would anticipate, we’re looking at those and evaluating, but we haven’t made a set decision for after New Orleans and Austin. It’s all exciting and challenging.”
The expansion will be funded by partners and investors.
“By the end of the third year, we would like five additional locations, then we’ll start the next stage of fundraising to expand even more aggressively than that,” Jack said.
“There is a wonderful opportunity for us to really do a great job and open up an extremely competitive pub in every market we operate in. Pubs across America aren’t run well and don’t represent contemporary Ireland, so there is a great opportunity.”
He said market partners would operate the new pubs in the US, though their opening would be closely supervised.
As for opening in his home city, he added: “I wouldn’t say no to opening in Belfast, but it’s not in the immediate plan.
“Coming to two decades in the industry, I’ve learnt not to make any hard and fast decisions, but [we won’t be moving to Belfast] in the next three years unless something monumental is presented to us.”