In 1990, a pair of 23-year-olds from Northern Ireland arrived in New Orleans with backpacks and plans to keep moving. They were out to see the world.
Instead, Stephen and Pauline Patterson ditched their travel itinerary and set down roots in the Crescent City. Eventually they opened a bar called Finn McCool’s in Mid-City and here, by combining the spirit of a traditional Irish pub with a classic New Orleans corner joint, they built a clubhouse for both expats and Who Dats that drew patrons from far beyond its neighbohrood.
After 14 years of filling pints, however, the couple has now passed the torch. Today, the Pattersons announced that they have sold Finn McCool’s Irish Pub to new owners – fellow Irishman Sean Kennedy and New Orleans native Anthony Macaluso.
“Our mission statement from the start was to create in Mid-City a pub that would embody what makes pubs special in Ireland but also have a New Orleans character to it,” said Pauline Patterson. “We feel that they won’t just keep the place going but will continue to build it along the lines of what we started.”
The new owners bring different backgrounds to their new business. Kennedy is a native of Galway who moved from Ireland to New Orleans in 1991. He now runs the pharmacy operation for a local care firm.
Macaluso is a partner in the Metairie-based accounting firm Heinz & Macaluso who has forayed into the local hospitality business. In 2013, he reopened Frankie & Johnny’s after the longtime Uptown seafood spot had shuttered, and he sold it in 2014.
“I never thought they would sell Finn’s, because I never imagined that they wouldn’t be there at the pub,” said Kennedy, who has been a friend of the Pattersons and a patron of their pub for many years.
“One of the things I promised them was to keep it the way they built it up,” he said. “It’s genuine, the danger would be if you try to change that.”
The Pattersons have a separate bar called Treo nearby on Tulane Avenue, which functions as a lounge and art gallery. They will continue to operate Treo and said they have no changes planned there. Chef Michael Gulotta and his partners at the restaurant MoPho operate the kitchens of both Finn McCool’s (as Rum & the Lash) and Treo (as Tana), and no changes are planned for either kitchen.
Local character, international following
Finn McCool’s is known for its St. Patrick’s Day celebration, which has grown into block-party status, and it’s known for showing soccer, rugby and other international sports no matter the time differential back in the host country. Clusters of expats routinely gather here with flags and banners for games airing at daybreak or in the wee hours.
The pub is also known for the Pattersons themselves, who were forever organizing events for their patrons and fundraisers for community causes.
The Pattersons explained that with each of their 50th birthdays coming this year, they began assessing their hopes for the future and decided to start a new chapter.
“We have put our lives into Finn’s,” said Stephen Patterson. “The friends we’ve made there are just brilliant, and now we can spend more time with them.”
They will still be present at the pub, however. The couple has signed on to consult with the new owners through the transition, and they intend to remain active in some of the signature charity events that Finn McCool’s has annually hosted. For instance, the pub holds a head-shaving event for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which this year raised more than $150,000 for the childhood cancer research organization.
When the Pattersons first moved to New Orleans, violence was rampant and job opportunities were low in their hometown near Belfast. They worked in local bars and in construction until 2002 when they and their business partners at the time were able to open their own bar, converting what had been a shabby neighborhood joint called Joe’s 19th Hole into Finn McCool’s Irish Pub.
Three years later the levee failures after Hurricane Katrina wrecked the pub. A rebuilding effort got underway that fall, however, and Finn McCool’s was able to reopen on St. Patrick’s Day in 2006 while much of the surrounding Mid-City neighborhood still sat in tatters.
The bar’s rebirth and its related soccer team was the subject of the 2009 book “Finn McCool’s Football Club,” by New Orleans author (and Northern Ireland expat) Stephen Rea.
Last year, Finn McCool’s made the list of the top 10 Irish bars in the world outside of Ireland, as judged by the Dublin-based newspaper the Irish Times.
Finn McCool’s Irish Pub
3701 Banks St., 504-486-9080
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.