The abrupt closure of Kinnee O’Reilly Irish Pub in August left patrons longing for a proper pint of Guinness.
Local restaurateur Richard Righton feels their pain. Last week he announced plans to reopen the El Dorado Hills pub on or about Dec. 1 with the same great Irish brews, a new menu and a new name — 36Handles.
The pub is crawling distance from the native Brit’s gourmet burger joint, Relish. Both are located in Montano de El Dorado, the retail center at the corner of White Rock and Latrobe roads. Righton, 46, also operates the upscale Bidwell Street Bistro in Folsom.
The commonsense observation that two restaurant/bars so close together might cannibalize each other’s sales doesn’t hold in this case, said Righton. The pub was a perfect complement to Relish, with the pair drawing up to 1,000 patrons into Montano on good nights.
Relish enjoyed its best six months while Kinnee O’Reilly’s was open, he said. St. Patrick’s Day was the burger bar’s best day ever.
Recapturing that dynamic is a large motivation for Righton, who had high praise for former pub owners Dave and Betsy Wohlers’ attention to detail in creating the consummately authentic Irish pub, but made it clear he didn’t share their allegiance to the Emerald Isle. He’s British, after all.
But the pub won’t be a strictly British affair either. “I’m not opening the Dog and Bone or the Queen’s Corset up here,” he said with a grin.
British Pubs are known for a lot of things, but good food isn’t one of them. “And the food here is definitely going to be good,” he promised. “That’s what I’m known for and that’s what I want to bring to this place.”
The sacrifice in ethnic authenticity gives Righton the latitude he needs to create a pub menu that will appeal to modern palettes. “This is El Dorado Hills, not Dublin,” he said.
The fare will be lighter than its predecessor. “Less fried stuff, a lot more salads and appetizers … and great sandwiches, including a good pub burger, ‘just one,’” he said. “Not nine, like Relish.” He also promised some authentic pub standards, including a hearty shepherd’s pie and a couple of variations on the pub classic fish and chips — “The best you’ve ever tasted.”
As the pub’s name implies, 36 beers will be available on tap. Most of Kinnee O’Reilly’s beer selection will return, including the Guinness, with the same care given to each carefully poured pint.
The Wohlers’ commitment to the perfect pint included a walk-in refrigerator dedicated to beer, with all the requisite beer plumbing. Expect British standards like Bass Ale and Boddingtons, plus a Belgian or two alongside the Irish brews on tap. Local microbrews will also be represented, as will Coors Light, “the No. 1 selling beer in El Dorado Hills,” said Righton, who also promised 20 good wines by the glass.
36Handles will stock top shelf bourbons to fuel old world cocktail offerings, including the classic Old Fashioned, the tart Whisky sour and the king of cocktails, the Manhattan, all in contrast to Relish’s trendy blended frozen cocktails and exotic martinis.
When Kinnee O’Reilly’s opened in September 2011, Village Life called the impeccably crafted Irish Pub a “beacon of light in the current dark economic climate,” and praised its ambiance, beer, food and owners for having the chutzpah to launch a new business in the depths of the recession and, in doing so, fill a gaping hole in the local restaurant and night life scene.
The pub developed a loyal following. The beer was always spot on and the staff consistently friendly. In August 2012, however, they abruptly threw in the bar towel, reportedly the result of a lawsuit by a restaurant supplier.
“They built a beautiful place and they were actually doing decent numbers,” said Righton. “But the 4 or 5 percent margin you operate on in this business can disappear a dozen ways.”
By any measure, Righton is the right guy to stage the resurrection. The man has black and tan coursing though his veins. The successful serial restaurant entrepreneur’s big smile and quick wit brightened the dark pub during a recent sit-down with Village Life to discuss his resumé and plans.
He spent his formative years behind the bar, pouring cream tea in the afternoons at 14, then graduated to pulling pints in the evening. Within a few years he was managing several pubs for Charrington Bitter, which merged with Bass in 1967.
He trained as a chef, but found his (big) personality better suited to the front of the house, he said. He left England for France, and learned enough to open the elegant French Bidwell Street Bistro in Folsom 13 years ago, befriending commercial real estate broker Vinal Perkins in the process.
Perkins went on to create Montano de El Dorado and offered Righton a prime corner location above the intersection, where Righton launched Relish in March 2010.
Perkins said he had several potential tenants who were interested in taking over the pub after the Wohlers closed, but Righton’s track record, knowledge of and connection to the community stood out.
“I walked in and knew I wanted it,” said Righton. “Look around you. Everything’s done. It’s jaw-dropping gorgeous.”
The Wohlers didn’t skimp on the ambiance, hiring a pub consultant to guide them through what became an expensive design process. The result was a classic Guinness pub, with signature dark paneling, mustard-yellow walls and gilded mirrors, authentic right down to the chairs imported from Ireland.
Righton promised the pub will remain comfortable, with little change to the decor initially. The 11 TVs will stay, and the overall environs will remain family friendly, including a kids menu and games.
The most noticeable addition will be four dart boards. He’ll sponsor a darts team or two, and also some local soccer teams, he said.
Righton will manage the pub for the first year or so, he said, leaving Bidwell Street Bistro in the capable hands of executive chef Wendi Mentink. Chef Pedro will manage Relish.
The Dec. 1 grand opening depends on getting the liquor licenses transferred. What else needs to be done to open? “Hang some dart boards and change the sign out front,” he said.
He’s also inheriting a high-end Digital Dining computer system that allows servers to take orders on an iPad. Drink orders get routed to the bar immediately, which will provide a head start on that properly poured Guinness.
Montano Communications Director and head cheerleader Lynn Repstad summed up Righton’s local track record: “People love Relish, they love Bistro and they love Richard.” She predicted, “They’re going to love 36Handles too.”