Craic house | George Smith on nine years of The Irish Volunteer

By Jim Boyce | The Irish Volunteer, one of our fair city’s finest locals, will celebrate its ninth birthday this Saturday. While there is uncertainty about the bar’s future, you can expect the usual shenanigans, drink deals and corn toss action during the party—poster here. I asked main shareholder George Smith about how the bar got started, its most famous guests, the launch of next-door sibling Hockey Bar, and more.

Boyce: What inspired you guys to open an Irish bar in Lido nine years ago?

Originally it was Graham Forbes and myself and shortly after that Gar Nunan. We all agreed that wherever people travel they seek out an Irish pub because they are usually fun and welcoming places.

We took over the lease and refurbished and opened in 15 days! I knew Jimmy Hoon who managed Hard Rock Cafe and we bought the original stools from there that he replaced before the Olympics. We still have them. We also bought secondhand tables and chairs from a variety of places.

We didn’t want to be paying rent while we were not bringing in any money. And we didn’t.

Boyce: The Irish Volunteer created a community in Lido that extends to the partners. Could you tell us about your setup?

Smith: It was always our intent to make this a community with a welcoming culture so that anyone instantly felt part of it. I always had the idea that one form of promotion was “relationship marketing.” The key was to use certain relationships to help drive business and build the community.

We have several share-holders with strong relationships in the hockey, international school and business communities. They have played a key role in our success.

You guys took over that deli next door a few years later and opened Hockey Bar. How did that come about?

​The space next door had opened and closed three or four times. Our landlord asked us if we would consider taking the space as a favor to him. We discussed it with people like Curtis Dracz and Tom McCabe, who are currently partners. We about how unique it would be to have a hockey bar and fully engage the hockey community. It has become a clubhouse for not only for our hockey friends, but also for football, cricket and softball teams.​

The IV has served everything from pizza to poutine to Thai food. What’s on the menu now and what is your top pick for a first-time visitor?

​Our menu has expanded a lot and includes burgers, chili, Irish stew and wings. My top pick has to be our Canadian Pizza or any of our other wonderful pizzas.​

You guys have also been involved in off-site activities, like the annual Pond Hockey Tournament. What else have you been up to over the years?

We have always set up the IV / Hockey Bar at Pond Hockey, Hockey Night in Beijing and hockey league championship events. We have also done events at international schools. We are just as proud that we have sponsored many charity events at the Irish Volunteer and have donated items for events not held here.

I think the biggest and best additional events have been our weekly pub quizzes hosted by Rob Korfage who is one of our managing partners and a teacher at WAB. We also have wonderful events like our annual Christmas Carol event, Canadian and American Thanksgiving meals, and parties for major sporting events.

One of my favorite parts of IV is the Wall of Fame. Who are some noteworthy visitors over the years?

We have had some wonderful people. My top ones would be Dr Jane Goodall; Mathew Morrison, star of the TV series Glee; Martin Polansky, who was captain of several space shuttle missions and wrote that “IV pizza is out of this world!”; Steve Jameson, rugby player for Ireland and Leinster, who was a daily visitor; Mike McGee, a five-time NBA champion with the LA Lakers, who is also a regular; and Johnny Oduya, when he was with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Our other celebrity is Stephanie Nesbitt, married to our partner Curtis Dracz, who won a bronze medal in synchronized swimming at the Olympics in Greece!

Note: The Irish Volunteer’s ninth birthday party is Saturday, with happy hours from 2 PM to 9 PM and, weather permitting, some corn toss games. See you there!

Check out 京B Daily for weather, air quality, news and other updates. Plus sibling blogs Grape Wall of China, World Baijiu Day and World Marselan Day.

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