Wild Geese: David Kelly, Rí Rá Irish Pubs, US
Publican bringing it all back home
David Kelly in his new venture, The Taphouse, in Ranelagh. photograph: dave meehan
Wanderlust runs in the family of David Kelly, a Dublin-born former Guinness marketing executive who co-owns a chain of more than 10 Irish pubs in the United States. His grandmother emigrated from Dublin to Hartford, Connecticut, where she got a job working for the local mayor and became a US citizen.
So far, so unremarkable, except Kelly’s grandmother emigrated from Ireland, alone, at the age of 75 in 1990. When she crossed the Atlantic, she was already a widow and her grandson was working in Dublin.
She died three years ago at the age of 99.
“She said she moved because she just couldn’t take the Irish weather any more. You look at people like that and you realise that there is so much to do in life,” Kelly said.
He followed his grandmother across the Atlantic in 1995, when his wife – they were just married – got a job at Yale university, also in Connecticut. He continued to work for Guinness in the US, before starting a group of Irish-themed bar-restaurants with a childhood friend from home.
Kelly, who also became a US citizen, is an unusual emigrant in that he has returned to Ireland to open a business here, while still maintaining his business in the US. He is now ostensibly based in Waterford, but makes a monthly trip to the US to work with his Rí Rá pub group. A heck of a commute.
This week, Kelly and his Rí Rá partners opened a new pub and restaurant in Ranelagh in Dublin called the Taphouse Bar & Kitchen, in the landmark premises previously known as Russell’s. They bought it earlier this year from a receiver for €1.8 million.
“It’s not a bargain, but it gives us a chance of a return on our investment,” he said.
Bringing it all back home, Kelly has added some decidedly American touches to the new venture. It has the appearance of a homely, bookish sort of Irish pub, but its service style will be to a US standard.
There is also a US feel to some of the finer details of its offering, such as the takeaway draught beer containers called Growlers, and assorted funky liquors such as bacon-infused gin.
“We wanted to add something new to the area. I think pub customers now have an appetite for something different,” he said.
Back to Rí Rá, which has 11 outlets, mostly in secondary US cities such as Charlotte, North Carolina and Portland, Maine. It also has an outlet in MGM’s Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas, which it opened two years ago. Next month, it will open another outlet in Georgetown, Washington DC.