Business

At 'Old Neighborhood Pub' in Cedar Rapids, community is key

Patrons talk as they wait for their food at the Old Neighborhood Pub on Nov. 8. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Patrons talk as they wait for their food at the Old Neighborhood Pub on Nov. 8. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — When longtime Irish District bar Paddy O’Rourkes went up for sale, Jeremy Van Hoeck suggested, offhand, to his wife, Andrea Van Hoeck, who goes by Drea, that they should buy it. He didn’t expect her to say yes.

“I kind of jokingly said it, and then Drea said we could go look at it. I didn’t expect that at all,” he said.

He grew up in the neighborhood and had previously worked at nearby bars Mahoney’s Irish Pub, now closed, and O’Malley’s Irish Bar. He felt a deep connection to the neighborhood and wanted to help preserve part of its history.

“I’ve been in this neighborhood my whole life,” he said.

Drea thought it was a great idea, and she signed up for SCORE, a program to help entrepreneurs, to find a mentor and help get a small business loan. Before they knew it, they were the bar’s new owners — they renamed it Old Neighborhood Pub.

The building needed a lot of work and still does. They replaced plumbing and gas lines and gutted much of the interior. As they worked, they saw their first glimpse of how their neighbors would support them.

“A lot of friends and family put their time and work into this place, and that’s kind of what this neighborhood is,” Jeremy said. “Neighbors, customers, people that are in this district all helped out.”

They are hoping to fix up the rundown exterior in the future, but the priority has been the elements needed to get the business open. A back dining room still is only half open.

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“We get one problem fixed and two more pop up,” Jeremy said. “Repairs have cost three times what we expected.”

Road construction for much of their first summer open proved a challenge. They opened on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, and less than a month later got a letter from the city about the impending construction. For almost six months, the road in front of the bar was torn up.

But Jeremy said community camaraderie kicked in and people made a point to stop in. Several businesses in the neighborhood banded together to organize a monthly event, “Construction Junction, Help Us Function,” with music and specials.

“They fought through the construction and came anyway,” Jeremy said. “I know everybody in here. It’s a neighborhood thing here and a family thing.”

The kitchen opened two months ago, with a menu based on food Jeremy likes to eat and cook.

“A lot of it is just stuff I’ve made my whole life,” he said. “My mom worked multiple jobs and would have stuff prepared in the fridge, and I would have to come home and cook for myself. I probably started regularly cooking in middle school.”

The menu is limited, with rotating specials.

“Keeping the menu small makes it easier to change, and it makes it easier to buy from local distributors,” Drea said.

There is always a dish featuring something from NewBo-based Sausage Foundry, like a recent special of Polish sausage simmered in Lion Bridge Compensation beer, then grilled and topped with sauteed peppers, onions and dill havarti cheese.

Other specials have been comfort food dishes like sirloin tip roast with garlic Parmesan mashed potatoes, bacon-roasted brussels sprouts and pan sauce or Brie mac ’n cheese with smoked Gouda, raspberry and jalapeno preserves and bacon. Daily offerings include things like burgers, tenderloins and patty melts.

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“We’re a bar with a kitchen that happens to put out a menu that’s a little bit above bar food,” Jeremy said.

Featuring local producers when possible is important to them, they said, because they see the Cedar Rapids food community as interconnected, part of a larger neighborhood.

“I’d like to try to use as many local, small businesses as possible, because we are a local small business,” Jeremy said.

Each Sunday features live music from 4 to 8 p.m. One customer, a neighborhood regular named Bill Murray, comes in often and orders an “Orange Whip,” meaning he is buying a round for everyone in the bar. It’s something he started doing when the bar was still Paddy O’Rourkes, and the Van Hoecks keep a bell behind the bar to ring when Murray leaves. They’re glad they’ve been able to keep the tradition going.

“The community is our biggest thing,” Drea said. “We want the Irish District to be a destination spot ... It’s been called Uptown, the College District and the Irish District. We just call it the neighborhood.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

If you go

• What: Old Neighborhood Pub

• Where: 608 16th St. NE, Cedar Rapids

• Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday. Closing time subject to change. Kitchen open until 9 p.m. weekdays, 11 p.m. weekends.

• Details: (319) 449-4726, facebook.com/oldneighborhoodpub

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