The newest Irish bar in San Francisco is preparing for its first St. Patrick’s Day. Located in the heart of the Financial District, the Irish Times serves traditional Irish fare and will host live music on St. Patrick’s Day. Owner John Lillis, a native of Ireland and a second-generation barkeep, can often be found behind the bar pouring drinks with wife and bartender Jennifer.
Irish Times, 500 Sacramento St., San Francisco, (415) 217-5060
This is a great building. What else has been in this space? We opened here in August 2010. Before that, it was Norton’s Vault and The Leopard. It was built in 1865 and survived the earthquake and fire. There are two walk-in vaults on every floor and opium dens in the basement. It has been a bar for 50 or 60 years, and it was a longtime brothel and Barbary Coast bar.
What kind of renovations did you do here? We got the lights from an old church in Noe Valley. We redid the floors and opened up the windows and added new TVs to turn it into a bit of a sports bar. We are now in the process of getting outdoor seating.
How did you meet your wife? She’s been in the business for a long time, and I met her in a bar in Boston years ago. She was a busboy at Hennessey’s. She’s a fantastic bartender. One of the most professional bartenders I’ve come across and very attentive to detail. We’ve been together eight years and have two kids.
There are a lot of Irish bars in San Francisco. Why did you open a new one? We thought there was room for another good bar in the Financial District. The concept was to open a modern Irish sports bar.
What’s the food like? The Irish Times combo BLT is very popular, as are our shepherd’s pie and bangers and mash. People love our burgers. Our fries are all fresh cut in the morning.
What’s your clientele like? We get suits and regular folk. Stockbrokers, lawyers, guys who work in restaurants. We have a huge lunchtime crowd and after New York [stock market closing] time, we get a lot of brokers and then the regular after-work crowd. We get a lot of hotel traffic, too.
Have you had any celebrities here? We got Jude Law last month. Mel Gibson came in a few months ago and Liam Neeson came in when we first opened.
What are you doing for St. Patrick’s Day? We are hoping for outdoor seating and we will have traditional dancers and music. Bagpipes.
Where are you from? I’m from County Galway. I lived here for 12 years and went back for seven years until the economy gassed.
What did you do before bartending? I was in construction and event catering. I had a potato wagon.
Tell me about your father’s bar. He owned Joe Watty’s Pub in Inis Mor, which is a very remote island off the coast of Galway. People still speak Gaelic there. A big joke on the island is that the next parish over is in Boston.