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Pub is place where everybody knows your name

J.B. O'Brien's Pub is neighborhood gathering place


by: BARBARA SHERMAN - OPEN FOR BUSINESS - John Howard (the J in J.B.) is co-owner of J.B. OBriens Pub in Tigard, which opened in the Willowbrook Center in 2002.J.B. O'Brien's Pub in the Willowbrook Center is a friendly neighborhood drop-in place where you are sure to run into someone you know and the staff greets you by name.

The comfortable pub at the intersection of Pacific Highway and Durham Road has become both a landmark and a neighborhood gathering place since it opened in November 2002.

"I bet 95 percent of my customers live within two miles," said co-owner John Howard. "It is a true public house - a meeting place for neighbors."

The menu refers to the place as having "great food, great drinks and questionable ownership," but most would disagree with the third part of the description.

The menu offers samplings from several cultures including Irish, English, Greek and Mexican plus traditional pub food - there are some unique soups plus salads such as a crunchy spinach and cranberry veggie salad, and a Greek chicken and spinach salad.

There are a variety of classic burgers, and a specialty - Philly cheese steak - plus traditional items such as Irish stew, shepherd's pie, corned beef and cabbage, and bangers and mash.

The "Irish Mexican" part of the menu features chicken enchiladas, quesadillas, fajitas and fish tacos, and patrons can always get chicken, steak or chili.

The different ethnic foods came as a result of the staff's heritages, according to John.

"We made the focus an Irish pub, but it really is a nice American/Irish/Mexican restaurant," said John, who co-owns the pub with Bob Slack. "My bartender is from Philadelphia and a supporter of the Philadelphia Eagles (hello, Chip Kelly), so we have to serve Philly cheese steak.

"My kitchen manager and his wife are from Mexico, so all the Mexican food is made right here, although I never thought I'd sell Mexican food."

John said his original concept was for a local spot where people would feel at ease. "I wanted a place where women could come in alone and feel comfortable," he said.

Several groups of people come in regularly at the same time every week - especially during happy hour - to sit at "their" table and place orders with "their" server.

Happy hour runs from 4:30 to 6 p.m., and "we have 27 items on the happy hour menu," John said.

"A golf group comes in every Tuesday, and in the summer, you see the golf carts parked outside," he added. "I miss my snowbirds! There is a big group of 12 to 20 that comes in every Friday night. This is a retirement community around here, and lots of people come in to talk.

"There are lots of pubs in the vicinity, and everybody gets their liquor from the OLCC, but we work to have great food, and the menu is constantly evolving. We made a great gumbo a couple of weeks ago. In the summer we use a Traeger to smoke all our own meats.

"I come from a background of being in the restaurant business, and part of our mission is to keep our prices below the corporate chain level. My philosophy is to keep it small and keep it friendly. One of our biggest assets is that there is so little turnover in the staff - the customers and staff know each other."

J.B. O'Brien's is known well beyond the area once a year for its all-out celebration of St. Patrick's Day, and John already has the plans for 2013 pretty well set.

"It's on a Sunday this year," he said. "We'll have specials on Friday, Saturday and Sunday plus Irish dancers and bagpipers. On St. Patrick's Day, we do one week's worth of normal business, and we are told we have the second-biggest celebration in the Portland area. It doesn't matter what day of the week it falls on - we are pummeled."

The pub also celebrates other occasions such as the summer solstice, the end of summer and the restaurant's birthday, and during nice weather, patrons utilize the outdoor seating.

"I think we have a good thing going," John said. "I would call this a success. The clientele is a mixture of different people, and it is incredibly different from lots of other pubs. It has a lot to do with my staff - they attract the customers.

"Our focus is food and conversation. We're a pub. We do as much business in food as beer and bar - nine out of 10 people come to eat and have a drink. Sometimes I think I've been more lucky than good."

J.B. O'Brien's Pub is located at 11555 S.W. Durham Road; it is open weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. and weekends from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m., and breakfast is served all day.

For more information, call 503-941-5592.