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COLUMN

New bar owner is authentically Irish, even if his name isn't

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Not even missing letter can dampen O'Reilly's boss's enthusiasm for downtown

Thursday, March 14, 2013 - 8:10 am

Sunday is St. Patrick's Day: a holiday that can inspire even the most non-Irish among us to add an “O” to their name, just to fit in.

Keith Reilly has experienced just the opposite, but the owner of the city's newest Irish bar and restaurant is having too much fun – and is too optimistic about the future of downtown Fort Wayne – to let a little thing like a bureaucratic blunder slow him down.

“My name was 'O'Reilly,' but they changed it when I came through. It was a mistake, but I didn't want to make the effort to change it back. People have a lot worse problems that losing an 'O,' ” said Reilly, 43, who emigrated from Ireland 13 years ago and opened his first O'Reilly's Irish Bar & Restaurant in downtown Indianapolis in 2006.

Success there just made it natural to open his second location in Indiana's second-largest city, Reilly said – especially when such a prime location was available here.

“Fort Wayne is on the cusp of what has happened in Indianapolis,” said Reilly, who opened at 301 W. Jefferson Blvd. near Parkview Field two weeks ago. “Both (downtowns) are very clean and safe, and those are two major components to attracting people. Step one is to attract people downtown. Step two is getting them here.”

So far, so good: Despite little advertising, no baseball and a major snowstorm, Reilly said the response has been “phenomenal.”

It doesn't surprise the man who didn't even know where Indiana was when he arrived from Ireland but has since been won over by Hoosiers' friendliness and respect for the value of a hard-earned dollar – and has tailored his business accordingly.

”We opened in Indianapolis in the middle of the recession, and my wife said I was crazy,” said Reilly, who worked as an attorney in Ireland before deciding his passion was elsewhere. “But I noticed a need, and we're different. We're an Irish bar, but we're also a sports bar, with simple and mostly freshly made food, very comfortable and laid back.

“Indiana has such a great sports tradition, but the TVs are never too loud. We want this to be a place where people can socialize. If we provide the atmosphere, people will come. I take it personally that people should have a good time.”

O'Reilly's décor is not fancy and its menu is not extravagant, with the most-expensive entrée costing less than $15 and most other items, including several traditional Irish specialties, considerably less. But just as the Indianapolis location is adjacent to the National Basketball Association Pacers' home court, the Fort Wayne restaurant overlooks the home of the TinCaps baseball team – something Reilly expects to attract even larger crowds as the weather warms.

His enthusiasm for the location is ironic in a sense, since another sports bar might have been the Harrison's first such tenant had the project not been delayed for years because of financing problems. The three-story, $18 million Harrison building was scheduled for completion in 2009, and Indianapolis-based Scotty's Brewhouse announced early on its intention to open there. But Scotty's enthusiasm had waned long before Mayor Tom Henry announced in early 2011 that financing had at last been secured. Scotty's recently began construction of a restaurant on West Jefferson Boulevard at Getz Road.

Reilly, who committed to the Harrison more than two years ago, said the delay never worried him. And now that the building is done, he hopes other restaurants will fill its ground floor, which remains mostly empty. Parkview Field can hold thousands of spectators, he noted, but O'Reilly's seats only 150. There's plenty of business for everybody, he figures, and O'Reilly's will get its share if it treats customers properly.

That goes for employees, too. Some of Reilly's Indianapolis employees have been with him for years, and the Fort Wayne store has already done a good deed by hiring about 6 former employees of Mitchell's Sports Bar, which burned last week. O'Reilly's currently has about 30 employees but may add 10 more, said Reilly, who intends to visit Fort Wayne at least once a week to show wife Natasha and young son Griffin the Children's Zoo and other attractions.

And even though he's determined to keep O'Reilly's authentically Irish, he is making one concession this week.

They don't drink green beer in Ireland on St. Patrick's Day, he said. But you'll be able to get one at O'Reilly's.

“Sometimes you have to bend to tradition,” he said.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com, or call him at 461-8355.