Does Fitzgerald’s Have The Right Stuff?

01 Welcome to Fitzgerald's Irish Pub!

You have to give some credit to the owners of Fitzgerald’s Irish Pub — they’re certainly not lacking any confidence.

It’s one thing to open an Irish Pub in the small world of Franklin Street only weeks after a likewise restaurant (Kildare’s) closed its doors; it’s another to open that Irish Pub in the very same building.

The move stops just short of saying, “They couldn’t do it? Well, watch us succeed.”

It’s a confidence that fits right in to the scene of Chapel Hill eateries — a scene that’s notoriously difficult to break into. The town is well known for doing things its way; not only culturally, but with business too. Chapel Hill has its own vibe, its own rules, and as an area still dominated by its illustrious university, its own ebbs and flows to the busy season.

In other words, success is hard to predict on Franklin Street. It takes a certain attitude, a certain atmosphere — one that this young writer will not claim to fully understand. But we all know it’s there.

Confidence, attitude — these are uncommon terms to most foodie articles, but they say everything you need to know about a business. I’ve known within 30 seconds of every restaurant I’ve ever stepped foot in whether it was going to be a good experience. With a bad restaurant, the management is shy — suspicious when you tell them you have a few questions. They’re worried. But a great restaurant? The manager’s face lights up when you start asking around. The chef can’t wait to come talk to you, to tell you where he gets his local produce or maybe how he cuts all his meats in-house.

Their confidence (or lack of) says it all.

In that regard, Fitzgerald’s checks out. The managers pounced on me the moment they realized I was interested in what was going behind the scenes. They talked about their scratch-kitchen, their meticulously crafted fry batter (heavy on the dry, light on the wet), and how they truly live up to the “gastropub” reputation.

Gastropubs came about in the early 90s throughout Ireland and the United Kingdom as an alternative to pubs with subpar food options. And much like their cousins across the pond, Fitzgerald’s does a fantastic job of toeing the line between high-tech sports bar and cozy eatery.

There are Irish staples like Shepherd’s Pie and Corned Beef & Cabbage. And as the self-proclaimed “Home of the $5 Dollar Car Bomb” naturally there are bar classics such as made-from-scratch mozzarella sticks and hand-breaded calamari.

Like any fresh spot in Chapel Hill, Fitzgerald’s breaks out a few surprises. The Sesame Crusted Tuna is as close to sushi as the Irish are ever going to get (it is fantastic), and there’s an entire section of the menu devoted to a variety of mix-and-match mini sliders.

But as with any true “pub” experience, you simply have to go try it yourself. Just remember that the atmosphere is almost as important as the food. And, yes, there is Guinness on tap.

Fitzgerald’s Opens, Owner Seeks Separate Identity From Kildare’s

CHAPEL HILL – Fitzgerald’s Irish Pub is the newest restaurant to open on Franklin Street—the grand opening was Friday night.

“We want to attract the people that live here 365 days a year because we want to build on that local community. We want to be here in 20-30 years. That was our goal in opening up for the summertime,” said owner and operator James Jackson.

Jackson says he wants the community to know the pub is not just for college kids.

Fitzgerald’s is an independent company based out of Charlotte—where their sister restaurant is located. Jackson and friend Kevin Marcuse own the company together with other partners.

Their beer and liquor reps told them about the Chapel Hill location—the partners were looking to expand and acted quickly when the property opened up. With in a couple of weeks, Jackson says they made it official.

Their predecessor in the space, Kildare’s Irish Pub, saw a tumultuous ending to its run at the 206 West Franklin St. location.

After a change in managing partners and rent payment problems, Kildare’s closed unexpectedly just before St. Patrick’s Day.

“We’ve been fighting that image already so that’s made it tough,” Jackson said. “We know it was an Irish pub, we know Kildare’s was a big chain. We’re different in that we are an Irish-American sports pub.”

Jackson says the newly-added six TVs, which together make a bigger screen, cater towards the sports fan. They will also host private events like rehearsal dinners, holiday parties, and business dinners.

Its new neighbor is 140 West, the mixed-use building which opened in April— the project added 140 condominiums and 26,000 sq. ft. of retail space. It also added 337 parking spaces – 161 of which are public spaces controlled by the town.

“The area is very attractive. It’s right in the middle of everything,” Jackson said. “Anybody who knows anything about Chapel Hill knows it’s the place to be. We love all the restaurants and bars, and how close it all is. Customers can bounce around and walk back and forth.”

Jackson says they didn’t make any structural changes to the space but did re-do the floors, re-painted, added a new DJ booth with a new audio and visual system, and brought in new furniture.

Business partners hope to expand the pub to Durham, Raleigh and Wilmington in the future.