Talking Irish pubs and St. Paddy’s with local publican Brian McMullan

Brian McMullan’s west-side watering hole isn’t the only local Irish pub he put his stamp of approval on. The publican was also involved with the design of the Valley’s J.C. Wooloughan’s and Nine Fine Irishmen.
Photo: L.E. Baskow

The Irish pub business is in Brian McMullan’s blood. The local publican’s west-side watering hole has roots in the Emerald Isle, where his grandfather first operated a pub in Glenarm in 1908.

And while the beer flows today as locals and tourists alike down emerald-hued brews in honor of Ireland’s patron saint, we tapped the local publican to talk St. Patrick’s Day, McMullan’s and what really makes an authentically Irish bar.

Your first endeavor in Las Vegas was building the Resort at Summerlin (now J.W. Marriott and Rampart Casino), which included one of the Valley’s veteran Irish pubs, J.C. Wooloughan’s.

J.C. Wooloughan is an actual person. John Christopher Wooloughan, he’s still a very good friend of mine.

Was the Irish pub planned from the start? Was it just a coincidence that an Irishman was on staff?

Not coincidental. On purpose, really. (laughs)

Did you then take the knowledge you gained to open your own pub?

I left that property on December the 31st, 1999. … The company that helped me build the J.C. Wooloughan’s [that] was out of Dublin, the Irish Pub Company … they asked me to help them build Irish pubs in the United States. So I did that for a while, and we went and we designed Nine Fine Irishmen.

There was a delay, so I decided to find a place and build myself a pub based on our family’s history. And that’s what I did. Mine opened in November 2002 and Nine Fine Irishmen opened, I believe, in June 2003. I have nothing to do with Nine Fine Irishmen now; I just have my pub.

That’s an interesting situation, working for a company to build what would be a competitor.

Both of the people I was working for at Nine Fine or MGM/Mirage Resorts, realized that Nine Fine Irishmen was really a tourist’s pub, whereas mine is a local’s pub. Ninety-five percent of my people that come in are locals, and maybe five percent are tourists, whereas it’s probably the reverse [at Nine Fine Irishmen]. … So neither of us, I doubt, see ourselves as competitors. We’re in the Irish pub business together.

What makes an Irish pub authentic? What are the necessary elements?

People want the comforts and the feel of an Irish pub. We try to be real. And people say “Oh, it’s fake. You can only get an Irish pub in Ireland.” … We go to other pubs, old pubs, old homes and we salvage whatever we can and we ship [it] out, but it’s a technique and it takes a long time to do it. ... It’s a feeling. If you want to get into the business seriously, you have to build it properly, ‘cause people can’t be fooled. … They’ve got to feel it and they’ve got to feel comfortable with it. … And then the customers make your pub; your clientele makes your pub. It becomes theirs more than mine. People regard it as their pub, they don’t think of it as my pub. That’s the feeling that you want to get.

Are Irish employees essential to creating that feeling? Is most of your staff Irish?

We don’t go and import Irish, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Rí Rá has almost a complete Irish staff, I believe, which is very successful for them. But we have half a dozen people that were born in Ireland, but they were living here previously. And we hire them from time to time, but we don’t go out of our way to do that. But it’s certainly an added benefit that they should be working for us. … I have great employees. I have 35 people, and a lot of them have been with me from the beginning or five, six years that they’ve been with us. We don’t tend to lose our staff. If we lose a member of staff they leave town, they get married … We don’t lose too many people, which is wonderful. And I think that is a part of the reason for our relative success.

How authentic is McMullan’s? What did you bring over from Ireland?

I went over to Ireland personally [and] brought a lot of stuff from the family, and most of my tables and chairs and stools are from Ireland. I have a currach, which is a fishing sort of boat from the west of Ireland. My two back bars are from Ireland. All the bric-à-brac is from Ireland, all the photos—well, 98 percent of the photos are family. … Most of the stuff is from Ireland. You put it in a huge container, a 40-foot container, and you bring it over. I have a church pew in there. We have all the flags of Ireland there. If you walk around with me in the pub I will point out everything to you. All the architecture or lighting is from Ireland. I mean, there are so many things I would forget what they all are. I brought them over 12 years ago. And the same is with Nine Fine Irishmen. … At Wooloughan’s, we brought all that over. … So yeah, we are passionate about our pubs. It’s just about passion and I certainly love doing what I do.

Is there usually a significant number of Irish patrons at McMullan’s?

We do get a lot of expatriate Irish. We’ve got a lot of Europeans, a lot from the United Kingdom. Of course, with Cirque du Soleil being here, you have a lot of Europeans [here] who are used to the pub atmosphere. But predominantly it’s Americans. Americans not necessarily of Irish descent, although the figures say there are 44 percent of the people who live in Las Vegas claim Irish heritage. So hey, whether it is one sixteenth or one thirty-second, half or first generation, 44 percent claim to be Irish or of Irish descent. … It’s not quite Boston, but there are certainly a lot of people in this town who have Irish connections. Even if they’ve never been to Ireland.

The Irish don’t really celebrate St. Patrick’s Day like we do over here in America, do they?

Yes, I think that’s correct. I think it’s become bigger now, but 30 years ago it certainly wasn’t. But today it’s a bit more and mainly because of America, really. ‘Cause you know, America is just another county—isn’t it?—to Ireland. (laughs) It’s become a real big thing in the United States, where it isn’t as big in Ireland. … Of course, it was always acknowledged and it was always St. Patrick’s Day, but it was never green beer and lots of shamrocks. It was, I guess, more solemn at the beginning.

From what I’ve gathered it seems more like a religious holiday. You spend it with family, enjoying a meal or a drink. Nothing too crazy.

After all, St. Patrick brought Catholicism to Ireland. You do know that, right? … No question about it, he did bring it there. And just to let you know, St. Patrick is actually Welsh, but he came to Ireland and made it his own. He used to be a sheep herder in the north of Ireland.

How would you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day before you started running the show at McMullan’s?

I never knew it was that big, to be quite fair. … Quietly, with a couple of Guinnesses, that’s how I celebrated it. … Thank goodness Americans take St. Patrick’s Day quite seriously. And the majority of people who come on St. Patrick’s Day have some Irish connection, be it generations ago. But of course, we don’t restrict St. Patrick’s Day to people with connections. (laughs) But how many people would be coming up to me to say, “You know, I’m part Irish” “I’m part Irish” “I’m part Irish.” If I hear that once I hear it a hundred times—and we’re proud of that.

McMullan’s Irish Pub 4650 W. Tropicana, 247-7000.

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