After Devastating 2009 Fire, RÍ RÁ Irish Pub Restored
Posted on 3 Mar 2010 by Hunter Wilson
Ri-Ra, the quintessential Irish pub here that closed after a devastating fire on May 23 of last year, has reopened after an extensive restoration, just in time for a proper St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Rí Rá (208 N. Tryon Street, www.rira.com, 704−333−5554) is open 11:30 AM – 2:00 AM daily, serving lunch and dinner, with Irish-style brunch specials on Saturday and Sunday.
“It’s been a long, arduous, but ultimately rewarding process restoring the pub to its original authenticity,” stated David Kelly, co-founder and –owner of Rí Rá. “My partner Ciaran Sheehan and his master Irish craftsmen have meticulously refurbished every piece of our antique furnishings, while making some timely updates to an establishment now in its second decade. Our customers will find the same genuine Irish pub atmosphere and service, in addition to enhanced menu and entertainment offerings.”
The 7500-square-foot Rí Rá debuted in March 1997 and quickly became a stalwart on the dining and nightlife scene for locals as well as visitors. The pub’s name means uproar or hubbub, taken from the phrase “Rí Rá agus Ruaile Buaile,” which roughly translates as devilment, good fun, or any social activity that improves with fine food and drink. Adding to the pub’s authentic milieu are numerous natives of Ireland among the staff.
Original fixtures reclaimed from layers of soot include the Victorian bar, built in the early 1800s for the officer’s mess in the Phoenix Park Barracks in Dublin, removed in 1920 and stored in a Dublin garage for over 70 years before becoming the centerpiece of the original Rí Rá. It survives with other antiquities such as a restored Guinness mirror; exquisite etched glass panels dating to the early 1800s; a collection of Dublin Corporation Ledgers from 1800–1840 available for pub patrons’ perusal; and a statue of St. Patrick, origins unknown but aged well over 100 years, which presides over the bar.
To replace components of the pub that couldn’t be saved, Sheehan again sourced vintage pieces from Ireland and sailed them across the Atlantic to find a home in just the right spot in the revitalized establishment. A stunning example is the foyer’s hardwood parquet floor, salvaged from Belfast’s Harland and Wolff shipyard where the Titanic was built.
Rí Rá manager Spencer Brantley handles bookings for private parties; the two-story facility can accommodate groups up to 200 people. Updated lighting, sound, and electronic components put the spotlight on Rí Rs ongoing entertainment options such as the perennially popular Pub Quiz trivia contests, live Irish music, and sports programming, as well as special events such as oyster festivals. Rᒭ Rá will participate in Charlotte’s St. Patrick’s Day parade on Saturday, March 13, helming a float, dispensing coupons, and featuring live music in the pub from 12 noon into late night.
The sparkling renovated kitchen is the crafting place of an enhanced menu from Chef Tom LaFauci that features traditional Irish fare as well as regional favorites, many with a contemporary twist and all with a focus on quality and authenticity. Fresh seafood and locally-sourced seasonal ingredients pair with signature items such as house-brined corned beef, custom-ground burgers, daily baked Irish soda bread, and award-winning Beef ‘N Guinness Stew.
Other traditional pub dishes include Fish & Chips, featuring beer-battered fresh haddock and the kitchen’s hand-cut traditional Irish potato chips; hearty Shepherd’s Pie; Steak & Chips, a 12 oz. NY strip with Cognac butter and malt vinegar mayo dipping sauce; Emigrant’s Corned Beef & Cabbage; and the Traditional Irish Breakfast served at lunch and dinner—a proper fry-up of eggs, Irish sausages, rashers (bacon), black & white puddings, grilled tomato, and pan-roasted mushrooms. These join contemporary bistro items on the menu such as Steamed Mussels in whiskey garlic butter, white wine, fresh herbs, and crostini; and Broiled Haddock with a savory lemon crumb topping over Parmesan roast potatoes and baby spinach in pan sauce.
Lunch standouts include pan-seared Irish Potato Cakes served with balsamic reduction and savory sour cream and touted in one review as “ethereal cylinders of light potato and cheese, crisp on the outside and fluffy within.” Rí Rs signature sandwich, the Publicanᒒs Reuben, boasts thin-sliced, house-brined beef brisket, crisp sauerkraut, melted Swiss cheese, and Marie Rose sauce on grilled rye. The pub’s ½ lb., house-ground burger selections include the Guinness BBQ Burger with the pub’s famous tangy Guinness BBQ sauce, melted Cheddar, and crispy onion rings; and the Paddy Melt topped with grilled Irish rasher, melted Cheddar, and caramelized onions on grilled rye with a side of Marie Rose sauce.
Dessert here carries on the theme with options like the Guinness Sundae, vanilla ice cream over a warm Black & Tan brownie topped with Guinness chocolate sauce, toasted walnuts, and whipped cream.
Saturday and Sunday brunch adds specialties to the lunch menu such as the Irish Benedict, featuring twin pan-fried potato cakes, Irish rashers, poached eggs, hollandaise, home fries, and grilled tomato.
Rí Rs full bar features a wide array of imported and hand-crafted beers and a variety of spirits and wine selections. The pub also serves Bewleyᒒs Teas of Ireland and classic bistro French press coffee.
The pub’s popular Sandwich Bar on Hearst Plaza has reopened as well, offering freshly prepared, ready-to-eat sandwiches and salads along with a build-it-yourself salad bar Monday through Friday from 11 AM to 3 PM.
Rí Rs owners and long-time team members have been heartened by the support and interest of the pubᒒs many fans who have followed the restoration process with great anticipation of the reopening. “People have fond memories of Rí Rá,” explained Sheehan, “and in the current time of turmoil and change, people are looking for familiar reliables—authenticity, community, and quality. We’re proud and thrilled to once again offer those to our patrons.”
About the Owners
Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, David Kelly and Ciaran Sheehan have been close friends since they were 14 years old. The two lads took an early interest in pubs when they’d meet at Toner’s Pub on Merrion Row before going to rugby matches. They immigrated separately to America. Kelly and Sheehan have stuck to their original goal and made each Rí Rá pub unique.
Prior to co-founding Rí Rá, Sheehan worked as a project manager for architectural firms in Holland, Belgium, the U.S., and Ireland, where he specialized in the renovation of historic homes and castles and even contributed to residences for U2 band members. Sheehan was offered a position with a firm in Florida that served clients such as Universal Studios, Church Street Station, and Pointe Orlando.
Kelly’s marketing background guided him through 11 years with Guinness, where he received the International Gold Advertising Award for the “I Believe” campaign and redefined Guinness advertising with “Anticipation.”
Sheehan currently resides in Raleigh, NC, while Kelly calls Waterford, Ireland, home.