As soon as Pete Pagano announced two weeks ago that he was closing downtown Raleigh’s Tir na nOg on Nov. 22, the customers started taking home the pint glasses.
These weren’t glasses emblazoned with the pub’s logo. These were random Guinness, Harp, Smithwick’s and Lonerider glasses. “They wanted to take something,” Pagano said. “It was just some sort of connection.”
That need is understandable given Pagano’s pub has become what many people consider to be Moore Square’s living room for the past 18 years. Pagano has owned the bar since 2004.
“It’s hard to think about now, there wasn’t really anything downtown then,” said Sarah Powers, executive director of downtown Raleigh’s Visual Art Exchange, which used to have offices near Moore Square.
Much of that credit belongs to the welcoming Pagano and his cheerful general manager, Annie Britton-Nice. “Pete would just let things happen there,” Powers said. “Pete would set the stage, and Annie was the energy behind it.”
Pagano will lease the 8,000-square-foot restaurant to his neighbor, Vansana Nolintha, co-owner of Bida Manda. Nolintha plans to open Plenty, a brewery, dim sum restaurant, florist shop and bookstore next year. Pagano decided to close Tir na nOg so he can spend more time with his wife – whom he met when she worked as a bartender – and their two children under the age of four.
In the past couple of weeks, Pagano has enjoyed hearing customers share their memories: the married couple who met while playing darts and the son who enjoyed a last pint of Guinness with his father there. Then there are the rehearsal dinners, weddings, birthday parties and wakes.
“I really enjoyed providing a space that everybody could appreciate,” Pagano said.
Britton-Nice, who worked at Tir na nOg for the past decade, said, “It was more than a pub. It was built on Irish hospitality. It was more like a community center.”
The downtown Raleigh bar was a gathering spot for the local Irish community, where its musicians played every Sunday afternoon, its children regularly performed traditional Irish dances and its members took tin whistle lessons.
“It’s a great pub,” said Niall Hanley, owner of the Hibernian Irish Pubs in Raleigh. “It’s been a stalwart of traditional Irish music and traditional Irish culture in the community with the help of Annie Nice.”
Karen Johnson, who owns the Trionoide Academy of Irish Dance, said her students got comfortable performing in competitions by regularly dancing on the pub’s stage in front of friendly audiences. It was such a comfortable setting that her then 9-year-old son once took the stage to sing “Danny Boy” after the Raleigh Christmas parade. “It’s really sad to see it go,” Johnson said.
Beyond the Irish community, the pub opened its doors to local bands, a monthly beer and hymns event, a popular weekly running club, trivia nights and even regular breakdancing competitions.
“Any given night, you didn’t know what you were going to see. But you knew it was going to be fun,” said Chris Tamplin, a bartender and creator of the pub’s weekly Local Band Local Beer.
Without the pub, its regular attractions are moving to other venues around town. Local Band Local Beer is moving to the Pour House Music Hall two doors down. The nOg Run Club is moving to Raleigh Beer Garden on Glenwood Avenue. The Irish musician sessions are moving to the Hibernian, as well as Britton-Nice, who took a job with Hanley.
The regulars still have a chance to take home a souvenir. Pagano opens the doors at 8 a.m. Thursday to let the public buy the tables, chairs, mirrors and Irish knick-knacks.
Tir na nOg’s last night in business is Sunday. If you want to buy a souvenir, owner Pete Pagano will be opening the doors at 8 a.m. Thursday for people to buy tables, chairs, bar stools and more.
The pub is at 218 S. Blount St., Raleigh. Info: 919-833-7795, tnnirishpub.com