Saying Goodbye to Jake O'Connor's

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I’m mourning a loss. An old friend is leaving and never coming back and I’m sorting through my many emotions.

For more than a decade, Jake O’Connor’s Public Houses called the corner of Water and Second Streets in Excelsior home. It’s also been home to the people and activities and stories of our community.  For many of us lifelong residents of the area, we were thrilled to know something new would be filling the long-vacant hardware store space, damaged by fire and left to just sit.

For this Irish girl, it was exciting news to hear the words “Irish Pub coming to Excelsior.” I wasn’t there on opening night, but I was there within the first week, and as anyone knows me or follows my social media, I spent a lot of days and evenings at my beloved pub.

Jake’s was the place where everyone knew your name. Servers, bartenders and patrons alike felt like family (one was, more about that later). I count it as a GOOD thing when we walked into the bar and said hello, and before we settled in our seats, Karl’s gin-and-soda-with-lime and my Pinot Noir were poured and placed in front of us. Our friends behind the bar took good care.

 It was at Jake’s I taught my underage kids the thrill of sitting at the bar. Our family had many, many memorable meals at Jake’s, countless baskets of fries and bottomless sodas or kiddie cocktails. It was the meeting place when we came to town in more than one car. “Meet back at Jake’s” was the rallying cry. If a kid got lost or separated? They knew where we’d meet back up. I still dream about the lamb shank, brussels sprouts and boxty. Karl tears up over the fish and chips.

 Jake O’Connor’s is where my oldest son James learned to work and run his ass off. Most know that the kitchen was downstairs and the dining room up, and that meant you had to have strong legs and be ready for some good cardio. Every shift was a sprint, right James? He served, bartended, cooked a bit, laughed a thousand laughs, learned to exercise patience and humor with unsavory customers. His co workers became friends and leaving after a few years there was a big transition.

 Raise your hand if I took you to Jake’s for your first time? Yep. There’s a lot of hands up. I see you. Lucky, lucky you.

 St. Patrick’s Day was Jake’s or nothing. Honestly, where else would you go in our area?  Stepping into Jake’s was like being in Ireland, and I’ve been so I know.  The floor creaks like a proper pub floor, the art and fixtures were all brought in from Ireland. It was built and crafted with feckin love. St. Patrick’s Day was a blast at Jake’s. It’s there that I met and fell in love with the Wild Colonial Bhoys. It’s there that I snorted hearing silly young men ask for green beer (GET OUT). It’s there on that night that I sat back and watched the whole town and then some come together, complete with friends, enemies, drunks, drag queens and bagpipers. It was heaven.

 Minnetonka Homecoming! We’d get there early, grab a sidewalk table, order food and drinks and enjoy the sights and sounds and crowd of the Homecoming Parade. There was no better view.

 When our house burned down 4 years ago, we went to Jake’s for dinner that week because we didn’t have a damn kitchen to cook or eat in of our own. Dermot bought us dinner that night and hugged us and cried with us. More about Dermot later. But eating at Jake’s after what we’d been through was like going to your best friend’s house after a really rotten day. The food and friendships got us through.

 But the best memory, the most personal one and the one we shared with the people we loved best, was the Sunday night nearly 5 years ago when my son James walked me down the stairs to the cellar, to meet Karl at the fireplace, and have our dear friend Darbi walk us through our wedding vows. We had a short and sweet service, flanked by best friends and close family and surrounded by six of the most beautiful kids ever. We took a jar and he poured water in from Lake Minnetonka and I from Lake Minnewashta and we promised to create a wild and wonderful life together. Everyone got a Guinness (sorry kids) after the ceremony, and there was a champagne toast all around. We had fish and chips bites, corned beef sliders, my favorite flat bread and many more delicious things to eat. The staff treated us like beloved family and it was a perfect wedding.

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My tribute to Jake O’Connor’s would not be complete without some words about my friend Dermot Cowley. Without a doubt, one of the hardest working, toughest bosses, fearless visionaries and kindest souls, Dermot knows hospitality. His many successful restaurants are testimony to that! He’s a proud Irishman and infuses his culture and pride into all he does.

 Dermot is also an incredibly generous person and community member. Jake’s has sponsored numerous community events. What would the Luck o’ the Lake 5k be without the pub???  Dermot has given over and over to the ICA Food Shelf, sponsoring and participating in the Sizzle for a Cause (and winning it twice!), and the Great Taste event. Countless gift cards and dinners were donated to raise money for people in our community that need a helping hand. Dermot always says YES first, and then wants the details.

 The how and why of the closing of Jake O’Connor’s doesn’t matter to me. It’s not a scoop or breaking news. It’s not time to discuss opinions on the menu or the crowd or how full or empty it may have been on any recent night.

 It’s time to raise a perfectly poured pint or a wee bit of Jameson, one that tastes just right on a cold winter’s night or a hot summer afternoon. Thank you, Dermot, and your staff and family, for creating a space that holds so many beautiful memories for me and thousands of others. We’ll miss you more than you know.

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Jill Holter