Maguires Hill 16, an iconic Irish restaurant and bar on North Andrews Avenue in Fort Lauderdale, is shutting down, its owners said Wednesday. Its last day will be Sunday.
James Gregory, who is in charge of the daily operation of the family-owned pub, gathered his employees and broke the news on Tuesday. "I told them that after Sunday, we're no longer going to be their employer," he said.
Maguires, as it is commonly known, employs 35 people, he said.
"It's heartbreaking," said Quiche Hackett, who has worked as a waitress at the business for eight years. "It's been like a family. Very close-knit between the employees and customers."
James Gregory said the property is under contract for sale to local investors who have teamed up on numerous restaurant and condominium projects in the region.
Alan Hooper, president and CEO of Hooper Construction, developer of several adjacent condominium projects in the area known as Flagler Village, and a partner in the Restaurant People, which owns YOLO, Tarpon Bend, Sun Surf and Sand and Boatyard, confirmed the property was under contract but declined to comment about future plans.
Jim Gregory, James Gregory's father who bought the business with his wife Martina in 1999, said the surrounding condominium development made it impossible to envision a future at the location. "All the properties have been bought up around me," he said. "The parking lots have all been bought."
During busy events such as the annual St. Patricks Day party, which draws 4,500 patrons, the bar has leased use of adjacent properties for parking, James Gregory said. But surrounding development is making it more difficult to accommodate patrons for such events, he said.
James Gregory said he doesn't know what the buyers plan to do with the property but said the sale included the liquor license. Initially, the buyers said they wanted a seamless transition that would keep employees working at the establishment, James Gregory said. "They asked me to stay on a couple months to show them how everything worked."
But last Thursday, attorneys for the buyers said they wanted "a full close" before the property changes hands on Jan. 10, he said. Arrangements have been made for vendors to retrieve leased equipment on Monday before the walk-through and close, he said.
Word has spread quickly through the restaurant's community of patrons. Longtime real estate agent Bill McGee said he's been coming to the bar for 40 years and won't be the only one who will miss it. "The power brokers who run this town come here and eat lunch because they can talk," he said. Little has changed over 40 years, he said. "They may have moved some pictures around, but that's it."
Crumpling crackers over a bowl of Irish potato soup, Jim Bode said he's been coming for 20 years. He prefers to sit facing the bar at a long wooden table he nicknamed "Big Timber" because that's his nickname too, he said.
"When I go out, I want more than good food," Bode said. "I want a place with an attitude. This place has a great, friendly attitude. It's always the same. You can count on it."
Fans of the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, as well as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish college team, have also claimed the bar as their teams' Fort Lauderdale headquarters. Steelers fans will gather one last time under the Gregorys' ownership on Sunday to watch their team's first-round playoff game against the Miami Dolphins.
The structure was built in 1940, according to the Broward County Property Appraiser's website. The bar has been open since at least 1960, when it was called Fridays and allowed customers to bring their own meats and grill them outside, James Gregory said. At some point it was renamed Maguires, and operated under that name by the owners who preceded his parents.
The bar's fans, James Gregory said, include Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, and brass of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department and Broward County Sheriff's Office, including Sheriff Scott Israel, who has held election campaign gatherings there.
Jim and James Gregory both said they would miss the bar. "Having a piece of Ireland here in Florida has meant a lot to us," James said. He said he'll especially miss serving as a way station for Irish residents who would find their way to the bar during seasonal visits to Florida, or before leaving for a cruise, for a plate of its signature fish and chips.
After the sale, Jim Gregory plans to stay in Ireland, where he and his wife own two other bars. He said he won't miss the 15-hour flights he used to make every month. "I'm 77 and it's time I stopped."
James Gregory, 42, plans to marry an Irish woman whose family also owns bars in Ireland, then take a long break and decide whether to return to Florida or stay in Ireland for good.
He declined to reveal the sale price other than to say "it's a nice high figure."