Starting Saturday April 22nd 2017 Conor O’Neill’s, the Irish pub off 13th and Pearl in downtown Boulder, will no longer be at that location and instead move to BOULDER HEAVEN.
I’ve been going to the original location ever since I first moved to the area in 2003. There were several reasons…
- In the middle of the dining area they had a big Christmas-lighted tree trunk that went all the way to the ceiling. There was a table built around it so you could enjoy traditional Irish food and drink with a weird tree right in front of you. It raised many questions like is this tree really real? If it is how did they get this in here? Or did they just build the restaurant around it? Personally, I felt like the tree was more real than I was most times.
- They had the second best chicken wings in Boulder. The first best was The Boulder Café, which has been in BOULDER HEAVEN since June 2015, but perhaps only because it was part of their half off everything all night happy hour. Flavor-wise it was a toss up. The Café’s had a buffalo hotsauce, but Conor’s had a really sweet Guinness-based BBQ sauce. They put almost like too much on it, and it got all over your hands and overwhelmed any wetnap response. Days later you would sniff your finger nails and go “mmm, Conor’s.”
- I had a spot there. It was at the bar right between the glass cabinet with James Joyce’s bust inside and the beer tap with the W.B. Yeats quote “And chase the frothy bubbles while the world is full of troubles.” As long as I’d come on one of the off nights the stool would always be there. I’d sit there, writing in my notebook, looking to my sides, and being like “yeah, those guys knew…” And the Irish literary legends would let me be part of The Trinity of Awesome at least while I was there.
- We read James Joyce’s Ulysses for my Modernism class at Naropa, so for the last day we all went to Conor’s to celebrate. Even Professor Reed Bye was there. The setting was dim and antique and Bloomlike enough that it felt like we were within some secret long lost chapter of the book.
- They had a $3 car bomb special on Sundays. The prices were good all around there. During grad school my old friend and roommate Zach would come into my room and go “car bombs!” and how could you resist? The richness of the Guinness, the feeling when the shotglass slides down and hits your lips, and the sweetness of the Baily’s that follows. Then hitting the empty glass against the bar and going “Ahh…” After a couple we’d have a helluva conversation about Buddhism, poetry, and girls. Zach’s in BOULDER HEAVEN too now, and I can almost hear him yelling “car bombs!” from there right now.
- Every Sunday night they also had Irish folk music. A bunch of local amateurs would gather around a table with their acoustic stringed instruments and spontaneously play songs from far away and long ago. Sunday night was also the same night I’d be burnt out in the cab after working all weekend. There’d always be a moment sitting at the cabstand when I’d say “fuck it, I’m going to Conor’s.” Then I’d stop in and get a Jameson-Coke (Jack anywhere else), sink my elbows into the bar and get swept away to a simpler time in place with Celts running thru green fields instead of teenagers puking in yellow taxis. It would be enough for me to go “alright, I can go back out there now.”
- Tuesday nights they had an open mic. I didn’t go to it much, cuz it was music not poetry, but you’d always hear the local musician’s talk about it with respect. I remember one time I did go in and this one guy played a spot on version of Sufjan Steven’s “Casimir Pulaski Day” from the Illinois album, which is a song about someone dying during an obscure state holiday. I don’t know who the guy was and never saw him again, but that night he stopped time and gave me the chills.
- You’d randomly see people you knew there on any night. Like one time I saw Rob Treaphort there. He’s this dreadlocked DJ I know from our mutual hippie circles. I think we dug each other’s art, but we’d rarely exchanged words. Anyway, Conor’s had a deal where you’d get a free beer when you got the special of the day. Chicken wings were the thing that day, but I didn’t really want the beer, so I looked over at him a couple seats down and said “hey, Treaphort, you want this?” – “Sure, thanks,” he said and then we shared a good nod.
- Strangers would talk to you there on any given night. One time a strange guy started talking to me cuz I was wearing a polo shirt. “What are you? Some kinda tennis player?” he laughed. “Yes,” I lied to him. I’d just read one of David Foster Wallace’s essays on tennis and had so much information in my head at the moment I was able to convince him I actually was a tennis player. I can’t remember almost any of it now, something about getting the angles right and adjusting for the central Illinois winds, but it was enough. Even when he grabbed my scrawny arm I just told him, “understanding the geometry is more important than the muscles.” And he nodded and said, “huh.”
Now I can’t do anything of these things at this location anymore, because Conor’s will no longer be there. Because of higher rent, new downtown competition, and perhaps the changing tastes of all the New to Boulder people, they couldn’t keep the business going there.
Shana and I came in one last time on Monday night. Their longtime white shirt black tie bartender Eli told us they’d were auctioning off all their decor. I asked about the Joyce bust, but it was already gone. “Oh no,” I said, “it’s vanished forever!”
“Not forever,” he said and that’s when he told us they’re just going to BOULDER HEAVEN, the mysterious nearby location where so many of our old favorite Boulder things have moved, like Penny Lane, Burnt Toast, The Boulder Café and many more. A place, they say, where the traffic is light, and there are open fields of grass, and no one’s in any hurry. And where rumor has it the landlords never raise rents and people don’t really even care that much about money at all, and any one who wants to can afford to live there, and everyone treats each other like angels.
“I keep hearing about BOULDER HEAVEN,” I said, “But I don’t actually know where it is.”
“Ya know,” he said “I don’t either.”
“I’ve tried to GPS it before,” Shana said, “but nothing seems to come up.”
“Yeah,” he said, “I tried googling it and same thing happened.”
“It is real tho, right?” I said.
We all paused.
“Sure,” the bartender said, “it’s probably real close by. Right under our noses.”
“Alright,” we breathed a sigh of relief.
Then we got our last drinks there and went out looking for BOULDER HEAVEN first thing after we left.