Notes from the Pandemic: Goodbye O’Faolain’s

After this pandemic started and its scope, potential duration, and repercussions became obvious to those being realistic about what was about to unfold, the permanent loss of many beloved shops and restaurants was an obvious certainty. It was going to happen. The only unknown was which places would close their doors for good.

This morning, I found out via posts made by its employees Facebook that last night O’Faolain’s Irish Pub and Restaurant became the first such casualty in my world.

Calling it my favorite Irish pub doesn’t properly convey its importance to me. It was literally and by far my favorite place to go for well over 10 years. Pub quiz, date nights, meeting up with friends, lazy Saturday afternoons reading a book while having cider and fries, and just plain needing to get out of the house… It was all of these things and more.

O’Faolain’s started to become a major part of my life in 2007. In the aftermath of my first marriage finally falling apart, what I needed most was a place to escape to when feeling overwhelmed by the circumstances of that time — which happened often. Before that event, it was just one of any number of places to go eat and have a couple drinks. However, the atmosphere, the fact that hard cider was on tap, the quality of the food, WiFi for public use, and the ability to settle in at somewhat secluded spot quickly made it my first choice when the need (and the opportunity) to flee the apartment arrived. It turned out to be the wonderfully cliched right place at the right time.

What made the serendipity of it all the more special is that I hadn’t had a favorite hangout since college. In the early ’90s, the Irish Pub on the 1100 block of Walnut Street in Philly (which coincidentally closed last summer) served as that focal point in life. Predominantly, it was the place my friends and I frequented to have drinks on a Friday or Saturday night, but it also served as a pleasant rest stop to enjoy some food, drink and maybe even a book after spending a few hours walking around the city. However, after moving to New York City in the summer of ’96, nothing else ever came close to replicating the importance the Irish Pub had during that time. There were certainly other places that saw plenty of my business, but none of them felt special in the same way.

O’Faolain’s became special while dealing with life as a refugee from a failed marriage. A number of evenings were spent there until it felt right to reenter the dating world. Copious amounts of cider and shepherd’s pie were consumed. Large chunks of books were read, and because this was the tail end of the LiveJournal era, a time when longer posts like this were far more frequent, thousands of sentences were strung together as well. Most importantly, it was where much necessary healing took place.

In retrospect, it all happened rather rapidly. In less than a year, it had become the most important place outside of home. Within less than two years, it became an integral part of my history when Sally and I had our first date there. Since then, there have been countless nights of trivia (with more than our fair share of victories), a couple friendships made, additional books read, Eagles games watched with Brandon, the much less frequent blog posts written, gatherings with friends and family, and even times where I went simply to fulfill the need of being by myself for a while in a place that felt comforting.

Alas, the last visit there was completely unremarkable, and I don’t recall exactly when it was or the reason for going. To merely know when it was, I will need to look at credit card statements from the month before O’Faolain’s thought it was closing its doors temporarily while it waited out the opening stages of the pandemic. There was no way to anticipate that it would be my last time there.

The official announcement placed this afternoon on their Facebook page attempted to strike a hopeful tone:

We ask for your understanding in this very difficult time for our hospitality industry and we look forward to providing “a little bit of Irish hospitality” in Sterling soon again. This does not mean the end.

I want to believe that it isn’t the end. However, looking at the situation realistically, the pandemic will go on for another year, at a minimum. At lot can happen in that time, despite current intents and plans. Realistically, it will be longer before it can return, and if it does, there’s no guarantee that it will be in the same location. Even if does, at best it will be something new that manages to be wonderfully reminiscent of the original. As good as it may be, it won’t be the same.

If I’m lucky, I will find some place like it again.

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