Florrie McGreal’s Irish pub in Takapuna is the “local’s local – the epitome of a true neighbourhood bar”, says owner (and local hospitality identity) Kevin Schwass.
Florrie McGreal’s was first introduced to Shore locals in 1993, at the Poenamo Motor Inn. “As the name was personal to me,” says Kevin, “I took it with me when I left in 1996 to open R’toto Pub & Café.” In 2001, Kevin saw the opportunity for a reincarnation of Florrie’s between the Blankenberge Belgian Beer Café and what was then known as the Copper Room.
According to Kevin, the enduring the appeal of a traditional Irish pub is “the craic” - an Irish term for news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation. “It’s a place where people from all socio-demographics and ages can mix and mingle. It’s an environment where everyone is accepted.
“Irish bars,” he adds, “have longevity because there is no pretence. It’s not a fad or flavour of the moment. People know each other, and out of towners are genuinely welcomed providing they have a sense of humour and the ability to engage. Florrie’s an honest bar that appeals to honest people.”
Florrie’s is as authentic an Irish pub as you can get – at least outside Ireland. Unlike many Irish pubs, the décor wasn’t imported from Ireland nor made up from a kitset. It has been painstakingly created to ensure its integrity as an Irish bar. Kevin has personally collected most of the photographs and memorabilia that adorn the walls. For those who understand and appreciate Irish bars, Florrie’s typifies what is unique about a good friendly watering-hole; to use an expression from the 1980s sit-com ‘Cheers’, “it’s a bar where everyone knows your name”.
Florrie’s has seen plenty of change along her stretch of Hurstmere Road, much of it engineered by Kevin himself. The cavernous R’toto Pub & Café and the associated Rangitoto Brewing Company became R’toto and the Blankenberge Belgian Beer Café. R’toto was then replaced by Macs Brew Bar. And not so long ago the Belgian Beer Café was reinvented as Master and Apprentice.
Ironically, Kevin says, looking back, “the only one that probably didn’t reach its potential was the Rangitoto Brewing Co. With the current upsurge of craft beer and craft beer bars, I was probably 20 years before my time.”
Meanwhile Florrie’s has endured, a place to meet, natter and catch up with other locals. Manager Colm McNeill-O’Keeffe has been there since the beginning in Takapuna. Formerly a salmon fisherman in Cork, since arriving in New Zealand 16 years ago he’s worked in in some of the better known Irish bars around Auckland and opened Florrie McGreal’s with Kevin nearly a decade ago.
In true pub style, Florrie’s offers a wide range of tap beer, including the signature Guinness and Murphy’s stout. Ironically, the biggest tap beer seller is Heineken.
The food, while not Florrie’s main focus, also plays a significant part in her ongoing success. The nightly food specials certainly attract patrons. The most popular is the Monday $10 Pie & Mash special with a choice of Beef and Guinness, Shepherd’s, or Creamy Chicken and Mushroom pies. The $15 Roast of the Day on a Sunday also goes down well. If the food isn’t affordable and good, says Kevin, the image of Florrie’s as a neighbourhood bar becomes dented.
Nor is live entertainment a main focus. But patrons enjoy traditional live Irish music on Tuesday and Sunday nights from around 7pm, provided by groups of musicians who “just love to play Irish music. It’s great scene watching talented people playing violins, harps, accordions and bodhrans, banging out good old Irish music. Along with the décor, it really does provide Irish authenticity.”
Also part of the appeal at Florrie’s is the staff: just as Colm has been there since the beginning, so too, do other staff members stay. “All of them are super friendly and up for a good chat. They really are the fabric in the tapestry of a successful local.”