Former bars find non-alcoholic market
By KYLE ANDREWS
The picnic tables are gone, replaced with comfortable chairs and couches. The perpetually sticky brick floor has been replaced and the brass bar removed.
But there's no mistaking the location; the legendary confines of Molly McGuire's still send shivers of deja vu through any Notre Dame junior or senior.
Bridget's may have been shut down as a South watering hole, but the little non-alcoholic sister who replaced her is doing just fine.
One year after opening, Molly McGuire's has secured its niche among area eateries.
"I like this business better," says Karen Bauer, owner of Molly McGuire's. "I have three teenagers and they all work here from time to time."
The renovations, which took nine months to complete, began three days after the fated Jan. 30, 1998 raid that shut down Bridget's.
In the days after the raid, Bauer got the idea for a coffee house after seeing a Starbucks.
She and her husband visited coffee houses all over the country to get ideas. Other owners of java hut were very willing to share their ideas and opinions, which made the whole process a lot easier.
They decided to go with a homey atmosphere — the closest South Bend can get to your grandmother's house, minus the plastic on the furniture, Bauer said.
"Notre Dame students are from all over the country. We wanted a place where the students could feel at home," she explained.
The renovation, done by the owners themselves, certainly was not easy. Aside from aesthetic changes, the entire kitchen had to be upgraded to allow for a dramatically increased menu, Bauer said.
Structurally, the restaurant remained the same, aside from the brick floor and the brass bar.
The menu was upgraded to include a full line of sandwiches, salads and vegetarian options, along with a variety of cold beverages. Of course, this is in addition to an impressive array of coffees and teas.
"The health inspector says we're one of the cleanest restaurants in the county," Bower proudly added. That includes the notorious bathrooms — which any true patron of Bridget's can remember vividly.
As for the clientele, students still remain a large part. The coffee shop is also frequented by members of the medical community, owing to the large number of doctor and dentist offices nearby, as well as St. Joe's Medical Center.
A ladies writing club, various book clubs and a men's prayer group also use the facilities.
"We do get a lot of students. At night there's a lot of studying going on," Bauer said, adding that she normally turns down the music if people are studying. "If someone had told me I'd be doing this now, I'd say they were crazy," Bauer said.
Although the money isn't the same, the restaurant has survived its first year — the traditional test for eateries. This can perhaps be attributed to the fact that Molly's is one of the few restaurants of its kind in the South Bend area.
Another, more recent convert to the non-alcoholic scene is Irish Connection. Earlier this year management decided to place its liquor license in escrow after a disagreement with the Indiana Alcoholic Beverage Commission about a fight outside the establishment.
"It's gradually picking up," said Irish Connection owner Leon Townsend on business since the changeover. "Surprisingly, there's a lot of under 21 people that just want to go to dance. It's not so much the alcohol.
"Drinkers really didn't participate. They just stood there drinking. It's more of a carefree atmosphere now — people just having fun," Townsend said.
"From the standpoint of seeing people have fun, this isn't a bad way to go. It could be a blessing in disguise," he added.
As an added bonus, ICONN also experiences less problems with disorderly conduct from its patrons, Townsend said. The main challenge is having to generate revenue solely through cover charges and various games and concessions.
Surprising ICONN managers, many over-21 students visit ICONN to dance after they've been to other bars, he said.
"We still have about 10 percent of our customers over 21," he explained. "Not drinking is not as big a problem as people think," Townsend said. "Dancing is what's attracting them."
Patrons are more involved, dance more and are encouraged to get behind a microphone or bring in their own CDs to play.
"The biggest complaint we've had is that there aren't enough guys," Townsend said.
The establishment's atmosphere remains largely unchanged, with two dance floors and a bar-like scene. In lieu of alcohol, they now serve frozen drinks like virgin daiquiris and margaritas, as well as smoothies. As far as food, they have hotdogs, cheeseburgers and nachos.
"Thursday night still seems to be the popular night for students," said Townsend. "The habits of going out are not too different from the 21 crowd." Fridays are usually a mix between students and people from town, with Saturdays continuing to be mostly non-students.
"In spite of the talk that students can't have fun without alcohol, I've met a bunch that have proved that wrong," Townsend said.
All News Stories for Wednesday, September 29, 1999