As announced yesterday, Tir Na Nog, the downtown Raleigh Irish pub, will close November 22 after 18 years beside Moore Square. By next summer, it will be replaced by Plenty, a brewery serving room with a focus on food pairings—specifically, traditional Chinese dim sum.
Tir Na Nog’s owner, Pete Pagano, will continue to serve as landlord of the vast, 8,000-square-foot space at 218 S. Blount St. His future tenants are his current neighbors, Vansana and Vanvisa Nolintha. The siblings, who opened the Laotian restaurant Bida Manda, in 2012, will partner with Patrick Woodson for new venture. Woodson, an avid home brewer and traveler, will serve as Plenty’s brew master and specialize in producing Belgian beers, with an additional focus on barrel-aging and sours. The brewery itself will be located several blocks from Plenty in a not-quite-finalized location.
According to Vansana Nolintha, the group has been planning the concept and searching for a locale in Raleigh for two years. The ultimate decision to occupy a space that shares a wall with Bida Manda evokes the intimate business style of the Nolinthas’ mentor, Ashley Christensen, whose several Raleigh restaurants are pinpointed in close proximity.
“For my sister and I, it’s really exciting for us to continue our commitment to this community, right next door,” says Nolintha. “When we decided to sign the lease for Bida Manda’s space in Moore Square four years ago, it was one of those times when people were like, ‘What are you guys doing? This is on the edge of downtown Raleigh.’ But it has been a really meaningful journey for us, to contribute to the positive, wonderful experiences that Moore Square has to offer.”
In his press release on Monday, Pagano remarked that Tir Na Nog always aspired “to serve as the living room of our community.”
Its successor, Plenty, has similar goals: “We hope to continue that spirit of a gathering space,” says Nolintha.
Indeed, gathering space seems the most fitting way to summarize Plenty’s distinctive concept, which will combine Belgian brewery, a Chinese eatery, a library and a floral shop. Tir Na Nog’s large location boasts a 200-person occupancy, roughly twice that of Bida Manda.
“That’s the beautiful thing: The space is generous,” says Nolintha. And if all those ideas seem strange in a single space, he’s with you. “I’m curious: What is the overlap between dim sum and flowers? What is the overlap between beer and dim sum? What is the overlap between books and flowers? Those are what’s exciting to me. It’s easy for it to just be a restaurant, just be a bar, but this is an opportunity for us to challenge and inspire different ways of being in a public space.”
Nolintha, who studied design as an undergraduate at N.C. State, believes that creativity thrives in a diverse environment, where multiple mediums merge. Though Plenty will tread into unknown territory, the faces behind the operation will be familiar. Bida Manda’s bar manager, Jordan Hester, and manager, Whitney Wilson, will oversee the bookstore. And server Deana Nguyen, who has been with Bida Manda since the start, will spearhead the flower operation.
“Even though this is a separate journey, it’s still just us, a group of friends, with a dream,” says Nolintha. “There are a lot of reasons not to do it. We are busy, and we have a lot more to lose now. As much as I am excited, I am also nervous. But I believe it’s important for any business, any relationship, any partnership to always remain youthful and creative and adventurous.”
Tir Na Nog hasn’t just been a restaurant for downtown Raleigh, of course. Aside from its Irish and American folk offerings, the spot has hosted WKNC’s weekly Local Band, Local Beer series since 2007. That longstanding free showcase on Thursday nights has become a staple off the local music community, offering a stage to young Triangle bands and giving audiences a free, reliable source of entertainment. So with the end of Tir Na Nog, what’s the fate of LBLB?
Worry not, says Craig Reed, who took over booking for the series from its founder, Chris Tamplin, in 2013. The series will move just down the block to The Pour House. There will be a couple of LBLB-style shows at The Pour House after the final Tir Na Nog installment on November 19, but the series will officially re-launch in January 2016 after the post-holiday hustle.
Reed says he’s interested in preserving the integrity of the series as much as possible—he recognizes the institution’s importance to the community as an outlet for discovery and entertainment. WKNC will remain a sponsor, and the booking will contiue to highlight up-and-coming local acts as well as the increasingly broad variety of breweries nearby.
Another loose end seems to be what to do with music festivals that have made use of the space—most notably, Hopscotch. The festival has presented nighttime shows and day parties there since it began in 2010. Festival director Greg Lowenhagen said last night that the festival had not yet considered a replacement for Tir Na Nog, and that the festival learned of the news only when it broke yesterday.