Eco Relics, Meehan's Irish Pub, St. Augustine, architectural salvage, collectables, antiques

The Real McCoy: Meehan’s Irish Pub and Eco Relics

Meehan’s Irish Pub is no plastic paddy. A stone’s throw from Castillo de San Marcos might seem an unlikely place to find a traditional Irish pub, but Ireland traces its St. Augustine diaspora back to 1595, with the arrival of Darby Glavin, an adventurer and soldier who had helped establish the lost colony of Roanoke with Sir Walter Raleigh a decade earlier. In 1597, Father Richard Arthur from Limerick arrived in St. Augustine on a Spanish ship to serve as parish priest. If Father Arthur and Darby Glavin were alive today, they’d be sipping Bushmills at Meehan’s with Reggie and David, a couple of Ireland’s more recent arrivals now employed at the pub.

Authenticity is the name of the game for John Meehan, the pub’s proprietor and namesake. The Meehans originate from county Leitrim with records going back to the era of Father Arthur and Darby Glavin. Meehan’s sense of history is evident throughout the pub. He proudly displays an old map showing that the building dates back to at least 1885. When the building needed renovation, Meehan’s primary concern was to honor its history and tradition. “The craftsmanship of 100 years ago,” he explains, “you can’t duplicate that by going to Hobby Lobby or Walmart. You touch that stuff and it feels hollow.”

Meehan turned to Eco Relics for building materials with weight, like solid wood, wrought iron, copper and tin. Repurposing comes naturally to him. “I grew up most of my life broke,” he disclosed. “I learned to build things with what I had.” He found objects to serve as focal points and then built around them. The pub’s substantial booths are repurposed church pews, while a wrought iron chandelier serves as a pot rack. He got ideas from a visit to a lighting shop, then built similar fixtures out of scraps for pennies on the dollar.

“People walk in and say ‘Look at that! How did you do that?’ I say, ‘Oh it’s easy. You go to Eco Relics, turn left, turn right, and pick one out!’ With a little bit of elbow grease, you can get the real deal for a fraction of designer cost.”

After its most recent renovation, the building houses three separate but connected areas. Visitors walking into the Irish pub downstairs can head to the island-themed bar in the backyard, with decor inspired by Meehan’s years in the Virgin Islands. Upstairs is a New Orleans-style oyster bar with a breathtaking view of the Matanzas Bay. With three menus and one kitchen, things can get hectic. Luckily, Executive Chef Paul Bonanno is there to hold it together.

“We’re a family restaurant where no one is related,” Bonanno enlightens. A Culinary Institute of America graduate, Bonanno has worked for Anthony Bourdain and Wolfgang Puck, cooked for high rollers in Las Vegas, and given it all up to live in India. While this is the first place Bonanno has worked that serves pickles, he takes great pride in Meehan’s total scratch kitchen, where there is nothing in the freezer but liquor and some green peas.

He takes just as much pride in his staff. “We’ve got young cooks, 21, 22 years old, that are never going to culinary school. They don’t have the money,” Bonanno relates. “But I can send them to any chef I’ve worked for.”

The cuisine and atmosphere bring employees back on their days off. The gang’s affection for each other is obvious, as one can’t help but overhear the sort of good-natured ribbing that is common in commercial kitchens. The pub’s patrons quickly become part of the family, too. One afternoon is all it takes to get on a first-name basis.

In an increasingly homogenized world of chain restaurants and big box stores, authenticity is a rare commodity. It lurks hidden in plain sight, waiting for the vision of the artist, the passion of the builder, the wisdom of history. The built environment is a core component of a person’s sensory experience. Building authenticity into a business requires that elements of physical culture meet the expectations of the skeptical customer, whose perception creates reality. Plastic mouldings and off-the-shelf knickknacks just don’t have the cultural weight to speak the language of authenticity.

Eco Relics is a storehouse of authentic building materials, genuine antiques, and credible decor. Projects like Meehan’s Irish Pub exemplify the promise of eco-friendly building to preserve our architectural and cultural heritage in a manner that is both cost-effective in the short term and profitable in the long term. Incorporating salvage into your building plans will inspire a sense of permanence and dependability in all those who dwell within. The friendly staff at Eco Relics is eager to help customers find just what they are looking for in the southeast’s largest collection of architectural salvage.

Eco Relics is open 7 days a week: Mon-Fri 9-5:30, Sat 9-6, Sun 11-5.

For more information and to see the items in their online store go to www.ecorelics.com/shop.

About David Podris

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october, 2021

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