Boisterous laughter rang out from behind a “temporarily closed” sign at Murphy’s Irish Pub last week.
Jokes, lilting curses, sentimental stories and tears were flowing among the three “generations” of owners gathered inside. Founder Larry Murphy stopped by to provide moral support as the pub’s most recent owners – Bob Smith and Bill Pollock – handed over the keys to a largely local, and entirely Irish, new ownership team.
Tom Coll, who lives in Sonoma and owns the Abbey Tavern in San Francisco’s Richmond District, has drafted his younger brother Dermot, who co-owns the Abbey and has run it for the past 20 years, to take the reins of Sonoma’s iconic Irish bar.
There are two other partners, as well; Richie Hart, who lives in Sonoma, but hails from Cork; and silent partner Eamonn Herlihy, who lives in the North Bay.
Tom and Dermot are two of nine siblings and Murphy’s will largely be a family affair. Tom’s fiancée Karyn Duffy is helping with the design concept. Her equally-Irish younger sister, Laura Duffy-Reinbolt, is a commercial real estate agent in Sonoma and she represented the Colls’ team in the sale.
Dermot’s father-in-law, Daniel Martes, who also lives in Sonoma, will be the executive chef, working closely with the existing kitchen team. Martes was a partner in the Girabaldi restaurants in San Francisco and he is excited to come out of retirement to help out at Murphy’s.
Dermot and Tom immigrated to America from County Donegal in their 20s. (The Duffy sisters, too, are from Donegal.)
Tom, 53, arrived in 1986, knowing nobody, and within a decade he had bought the Abbey. Dermot, 49, came to visit his brother in 1998 and never left.
“It has been 20 years this week, in fact,” he said with a laugh.
After two decades running the Abbey, Dermot was ready “to change it up,” he said. “I’m excited to be handed a new set of problems,” he laughed.
Tom owns a construction company which he relocated to Sonoma five years ago. He and Dermot have been looking for opportunities here ever since.
“Every time I came up to see him, I’d say, ‘Did you find me a bar yet?’” said Dermot. “We’ve had our eye on Murphy’s for years. We love Sonoma and wanted to be business owners here. Finally, Tom called me in November and said, ‘You are never going to believe this, but Murphy’s is for sale.’”
The Colls don’t plan significant changes but they think that the space can be utilized better. They plan to stay open later and to offer a bar menu between meals and late into the evening. They are hoping that local musician Sean Carscadden will arrange the live music.
“We are thinking about booth seats, new fixtures, fresh paint… nothing too dramatic,” said Tom, who began work inside the day the keys were handed over. He noted that the kitchen, however, needs a complete overhaul.
Daniel plans to work with the current kitchen team to implement a modern Irish menu with authentic, locally-sourced and organic dishes that will include a reworked shepherd’s pie and fish and chips, as well as mussels with chorizo, ham and Irish cheddar croquettes and more.
The Colls are also interested in exploring what they can do with the unused small space across the courtyard that comes with the lease.
“Right now it’s just a very expensive storeroom,” Dermot laughed.
He loves the idea of a whiskey tasting room but says, “We’re still trying to determine what is possible.”
Come hell or high water, Murphy’s will reopen by St. Patrick’s Day, and hopefully a few weeks prior. All the March 17 events were planned by Bob and Bill months ago and they both plan to be there, serving beer in the jockey box in the center of the alley.
In fact, Bob told Dermot that he would love to continue to be involved with the weekly trivia night, which will continue, and the Colls welcome his involvement.
“Our relationship with Bob and Bill has been awesome,” he said. “It’s really important to them that this transfer is seamless. And we want to do this right from the start.”
Bob Smith said that more than two dozen potential buyers requested the bar’s disclosure paperwork, and that the Colls stood out even though they didn’t make the highest offer.
“We knew from the first time we met them that these were the right guys,” said Smith.
“I think Bob and Bill really wanted to sell to us because we totally understand what Murphy’s is to this town,” said Tom.
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