“I originally started looking around for a space about four years ago,” Ireland said. “But throughout that entire time, the Plaza District wasn’t what it is now. That whole process kind of gave the Plaza District time to get ready for me, I think. It’s just wonderful along this little strip now.”
The name Saints actually refers to one of the early spots Ireland had been considering, close to St. Anthony Hospital. The location may have changed, but the moniker stuck. And considering it’s an Irish pub, it seems apt.
“The concept has been floating around in my head for years and years, but about three years ago, I took a trip through Western Europe and North Africa, and all of this,” Ireland said, gesturing to his restaurant, “is really a conglomeration of all of that.”
“All of this” is a corner spot at 1715 N.W. 16th, which he and general manager Carey Kirby have worked to restore. The result is a warm, eclectic space filled with many vintage or salvaged pieces — like animal heads lined up along the blue walls or the player piano. Exposed brick stands behind the large, cedar bar (which boasts taps from Dublin) and the original punched tin ceiling visible above the exposed, silver ductwork.
The whole feeling inside is comfortable and homey — just what they were going for.
“You get the bar feel, but there’s a home feel, too,” Kirby said. “You’ll see that in our plates. We’re going to do kind of an old-style design to our plates that’ll give you the feeling of eating at home. It’ll be a lot different than the places I’ve worked at, that turn-and-burn.”
That ability to really linger is something Ireland said he found lacking in the metro restaurant scene.
“You didn’t have the public house where everyone knew everyone else’s name as soon as you walked through the door. And that’s what I wanted to bring here,” he said. “I wanted a place where you could have a conversation, you wouldn’t be run out of the room because of the music, or it wasn’t so crowded and packed that you couldn’t actually enjoy yourself.”
Saints’ menu will feature Irish food, but with a healthy twist.
“We’re doing a pub-style, traditional Irish menu, but it’s going to be all baked,” Kirby said. “So, the fish and chips isn’t going to be beer-battered like we’re used to. We’re trying to do something healthy for this area.”
That means a baked, corn-battered fish with roasted fingerling potatoes. Kirby said the menu also will feature lots of options for vegetarians, plus many seasonal specials.
“What I’ve tried to do with the menu is take Irish food and modernize it,” Ireland said. “We’re shooting for smaller portions, so you can come in and order three smaller things — almost tapas — and that will be your meal. It’s really kind of a family dining approach to Irish food.”
Behind the bar, Ireland will stock a good beer selection — and obviously feature Irish beer — but he really wants to specialize in Irish whiskey and the classic cocktails that come out of that.
It’s just one more ingredient that he hopes will make people linger at Saints.
“I want someone to be able to come in here and spend a few hours and not realize that they’ve been in a pub for that long,” he said. “They’ll be able to have a conversation or maybe meet someone new. I want people to think of this place like a second home.”
Saints isn’t the only new spot opening in the Plaza District. Urban WineWorks, 1749 N.W. 16th, is slated to open in mid- June. It’s a step in the right direction for the developing district, according to Kristen Vails, executive director of the Plaza District Association.
“The addition of Urban WineWorks and Saints is a huge leap for the district, and a fantastic complement to our already great mix of retail and services,” Vails said.
Urban WineWorks is owned by the Stobaugh family, who own the McAlister-based Whispering Meadows winery. The new concept will be a winery — producing and bottling the Urban WineWorks label — as well as a tasting room and bar.
“What Urban WineWorks will do is actually bring in the full grape, do the crush, the press … basically the entire process, including the bottling and distribution,” said Travis Morelock, who’s managing the opening for the spot. “So, right on the Plaza you’ll have grape-to-glass and everything in between.”
What will make Urban WineWorks unique is how public it will be. Guests will be able to see the entire winemaking process, do wine tastings, including barrel tastings, as well as participate in classes. —Jenny Coon Peterson