Ward co-owns The Ould Sod and lives in Allied Gardens.
“Wherever you go in the world, you will find an Irish pub.” In that “Irish Pub Song”, The lyrics list some of the far flung and most unlikely places around the world, from Honolulu to Kathmandu (briefly), where the thirsty traveler might stumble upon an Irish pub. Other ethnicities have spread their cuisine far and wide, but the Irish preferred the liquid option, catering to the masses with the unique brewing and distilling elixirs of Guinness and Irish whiskey from the enviable bar stool along the counter (or ‘altar’). as my 103-year-old father used to call it) of an Irish pub.
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My name is Mick Ward and together with my business partner Tommy Quinn we have owned and operated The Ould Sod for over 32 years. Along with our late partner, Lt. Col. Ron Stout, we took over the old Elbo Club in Normal Heights on New Year’s Eve 1989. It is the third oldest liquor license issued at the same address in San Diego and one of the oldest Irish pubs in the city. I come from a small village called Collon in County Louth about 25 miles north of Dublin.
Tommy hails from County Longford in the Irish Midlands. We were both bartenders at the Blarney Stone in Clairemont, San Diego’s first real Irish pub, having both worked in retail in Ireland. From day one, likely due to Ron’s military background, the Sod became a popular hangout for Marines and active duty veterans, and also a meeting place for off-duty police officers to relax and unwind. That tradition is as strong today as it was in 1990.
People often ask the simple question ‘why are Irish pubs so popular?’ and I suppose the answer is as simple as it is complex. If we take San Diego as an example, it’s amazing that a city – a city that has never been a center of Irish immigration over the centuries like Boston, Chicago or New York – can boast some of the best Irish pubs around can claim on the world stage. The Field, Hooleys Public House (there are two of them), The Blarney Stone (there are three of them), Stout Public House, The Harp to name a few are all the finest establishments showcasing all the good and fun within an Irish pub.
All the owners, whether Irish or American, have a great relationship with each other and frequent each other’s bars. We are all blessed with great staff who work tirelessly to create an atmosphere that we feel is unique in Irish pubs: a friendly face, a lovely smile, a caring manner, an ear to listen, a voice to support or a… Shoulder to cry on. Basically, all of our bartenders are part-time psychiatrists. But don’t underestimate the ‘fun factor’ or as we say in Ireland, ‘the craic’.
Not to be confused with the illegal white stuff, the craic is what defines an Irish pub. It’s the banter back and forth across the bar; it’s the traditional Irish music, the folk singers and ballad singers; it’s the step dancing and singing along; it’s the passionate debate about sport, local and international; It’s the knowledge to park your ego at the door, because in an Irish pub you’re fair game for a good rib from the moment you step in.
Simply put, the Craic is the all-encompassing lure of the Irish pub, from San Diego to Santiago, Sligo to Sydney.
Tommy Quinn and I have tried to bring to The Ould Sod all the ‘good stuff’ we have observed in Irish pubs throughout our travels. Add these observations to almost 90 years of combined experience behind the bar and we hope we have achieved the goal we set out over three decades ago: to create a space, 5,200 miles from Ireland, where everyone, no matter where he is from, will feel safe and welcome. A place where we proudly display our history and heritage while showing deep appreciation for those who have served this country in the uniforms of our armed forces and law enforcement agencies.
Our proudest achievements over the years are not quantified by sales numbers or spreadsheets. It’s the moments when we learn that someone in the community, regardless of their background, needs a helping hand.
And that’s when San Diego’s Irish pub community shines at its brightest. Regardless of the venue, we all unite for the cause – our musicians and entertainers, our guests and staff, our families and friends. It’s no exaggeration to say that San Diego’s Irish Pubs have raised millions of dollars over the years for individuals and organizations who know that unconditional help is just a phone call away. But remember: we always have a good craic with us!
Happy St. Patrick’s Day from the Quinn and Ward families!
This essay is in the March 17, 2022 print edition of The San Diego Union-Tribune with the headline: No matter where you go you will find an Irish pub