Sioux City’s first authentic Irish pub, a project three years in the making, is a centerpiece of a multimillion-dollar redevelopment spearheaded by Bertrand that aims to transform a formerly seedy area into a vibrant commercial and entertainment district.
His development company, Alleycat Holdings, purchased a series of run-down buildings in the 400 and 500 blocks of Pearl. The renovation work is being done by RJ Tides, a general contractor whose owners include Bertrand’s brother, Russ.
Much of the renovated space has been leased to tenants that include a coffee shop, art studio and professional offices.
McCarthy & Bailey’s, the first of the new businesses to open, is housed in a 1917 structure at 423 Pearl St. that was completely gutted. “It’s basically a brand new building at this point,” Bertrand said.
Bertrand’s partner in the Irish pub is his high school pal, Dr. Greg McCarthy, a Sioux City podiatrist. The pub also is named for Bertand’s wife, Tammy, whose maiden name is Bailey.
“We kidded around, but I always promised I’d build her an Irish pub,” he said.
Both sides of Tammy’s family are Irish. Bertrand’s grandmother was an O’Reilly whose family roots trace back to Ireland. “I’m French and I’m Irish, so I love to drink and I love to make love,” he quipped.
Bertrand points to market research that shows that nearly all newly opened Irish pubs stay in business for at least 25 years if they “stay true to the Irish theme.” To learn all the dos and don’ts, he traveled to seven of the top U.S. Irish pubs.
McCarthy & Bailey’s exterior looks like a establishment you might see in a big city like Boston, Chicago or Philadelphia. The black 1-inch-wide planks were double painted and sealed, creating an appearance of aged wood. The lettering and shamrock logo on the front of the building resemble beaten-up brass.
“After the plastic came down, the feedback I got from the community as they drove by was, ‘Wow, that is something that is totally unique to Sioux City,'” Bertrand said.
He expects the pub to become a destination attraction, with out-of-town customers accounting for an estimated 25 to 30 percent of the traffic.
Theme steeped in tradition
The decor of the interior recalls the lore of the first Irish pubs. In the Middle Ages, after troops set fire to churches in rebellious Irish villages, townsfolk would keep meeting in the burned-out hulls of the stone churches, which were usually adjoined by blacksmith’s shops and other places of commerce. They became warm, welcoming places where people would socialize, exchange stories, drink and sing.
“The theme here is, when you walk in, you see three or four burned-out buildings,” Bertrand said while giving a Journal reporter and photographer a tour of the pub last week. The design gives the appearance that portions of the stone walls have peeled away from the intense heat of a fire.
A church-themed area features a 1930s-era pulpit and 1890s-era bishop’s chair from Ireland. Bertrand said he envisions newly married couples stopping by the pub between their ceremony and reception to receive an Irish blessing.
The pulpit will also serve as a podium for guest speakers. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a Republican candidate for president, is scheduled to be the first, on June 14, said Bertrand, who is also a GOP state senator from Sioux City.
Other decor evokes images of a grocery store and a blacksmith’s shop. In the latter area, Bertrand swung open a large barn door to reveal a 55-inch flat-screen monitor.
In the front of the pub is a raised platform that usually will hold high-top chairs and tables. They can be removed to create a stage for live music acts.
Although the pub can seat 150 to 200 people, the layout creates the feel of a more intimate setting, Bertrand said. Along one wall are small booths, known in Irish circles as “snugs,” that hold one to three couples.
“The cool part is, you’re kind of incognito. You can see everybody, but they might not be able to see you,” Bertrand said.
On the main floor are tables made of 3-inch solid Russian pine. Fireplaces and hanging oil lamps add to the ambiance.
Displayed in the “Irish darts room” is an old sign from Swede’s Lounge, which operated for decades in the same location at the northwest corner of Fifth and Pearl streets. The bar Swede’s used in the 1950s and 1960s was cut into 10-inch-deep sections and installed around the wall of the darts room, for use as a drink rail.
Traditional food and drink
Bertrand emphasizes McCarthy & Bailey’s is a pub, not a restaurant. The menu will offer such Irish classics as bangers ‘n’ mash and shepherd’s pie, as well as some American fare such as pub burgers and steaks. Nearly all the food will be made from scratch with fresh ingredients under the direction of an East Coast-trained culinary chef, Nick Gunn, whose wife, Sarah, is a native of Ida Grove, Iowa.
The kitchen will serve not only the pub but also a wine bar two doors down that Bertrand and his wife plan to open in mid-August. The storefront in between the two is also being remodeled to host large groups and parties. The pub expects to begin accepting such reservations in August, he said.
No Irish pub would be complete without a wide assortment of beer and spirits. McCarthy & Bailey’s will have a dozen beers on tap and 35 brands of bottled beer.
The bar installed a new state-of-the-art “frozen” tapping system.
“It’s the coldest beer you can get without freezing it,” Bertrand said.
The proprietors insisted on affordable food and drink.
“My goal is, you leave here thinking, ‘That was a great experience, but it was priced right,'” Bertrand said.