Raleigh Irish pub Tir Na Nog
closes for the final time on November 22, it will be the restaurant’s employees' turn to shoulder up to the bar. For the next three weeks, and aside from a few special events, it will be business as usual at the downtown staple, which announced during a staff meeting this afternoon it would close after nearly two decades. But on that last night, Pagano is welcoming back all of his employees of the last 18 years. He’s even bringing in outside bartenders so his own staff won’t need to work.
“I’ve always emphasized ‘pub family, pub family, pub family’ here,” says Pagano. “We’re going to end our time as a family on the guest side of the bar.”
Pagano, 38, moved to North Carolina to buy Tir Na Nog 11 years ago. He now has a four-year-old daughter and a 20-month-old son. His decision to sell mostly hinges on his hope to spend more time with both of them as they grew older and to be home for dinner each night.
“It’s time to look at what’s best for me versus what’s best for my family,” Pagano explains. “It takes a lot of attention to continue a business like this and a lot of specialized skill sets and a lot of time. I am at a good time in my life to move on.”
Van and Vanvisa Nolintha, the brother-and-sister pair who own the Laotian restaurant Bida Manda next door
, plan to fill the Tir Na Nog space with Plenty, a brewery serving room (the actual brewery will be located nearby) with a focus on food pairings and communal gathering. The fare will be Chinese dim sum, and the space's concept will additionally feature flowers and a library. Pagano and Nolintha began discussing the move only in July. Pagano will still own the building at 218 South Blount St.
“He thought I was messing with him at first,” says Pagano, who sounds pleased by the prospects. “He got excited, and we continued the conversation from there.”
Pagano maintains that the move has nothing to do with finances and that the pub’s profits have increased annually, in large part, he thinks, because of downtown Raleigh’s general growth. But Tir Na Nog’s role in that growth shouldn’t be discounted. Its long-running Local Beer Local Band serie
s provided a welcoming stage for the city’s rock bands when other area clubs (including the then-closed Kings) didn’t, and its support of Irish and American folk music and bluegrass has been steadfast. Tir Na Nog has always been a host venue for the Hopscotch Music Festival and World of Bluegrass, and its run club is among the most popular in the city.
“I felt like the space belonged to the community. We do every kind of event you can possibly mention—Irish music, breakdancing, rock bands,” Pagano says. “We really have reached deep into the community to put on events that are meaningful to a lot of different demographics. It’s a lot of responsibility, and that’s an honor.”
That was ultimately one of the reasons Pagano decided not to hand the business to someone else or simply switch formats. He felt a responsibility to the pub’s legacy and decided its good, long run was over. Tir Na Nog will close its doors, he hopes, in time for its employees to grab new jobs before the holiday rush really begins. He’s even vowed to accompany current employees to interviews if need be to help them land gigs.
“Everything we do impacts everyone we work with in a good sense and a bad sense. I continue to live by those words and by that motto, ‘pub family,” he says. “We support each other.”
We’ll have a full interview with Van Nolintha about Plenty tomorrow. Emma Laperruque contributed to this story.
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