Dunagan Irish Pub & Brewery opening in Gig Harbor – a first look inside
When it opens this Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, Dunagan Irish Pub & Brewery will be a collection of concepts under one roof – a restaurant, a bar with a full cocktail menu and broad whiskey selection and a brewery operation with 20 taps featuring house brews, guest taps and the greatest hits of Irish beer. Their grand opening celebration begins at 2 p.m. Friday. It’s been more than a year in the making.
When Jesse Dunagan first opened his Irish brewery, Dunagan Brewing Co., in downtown Tacoma in 2015, it seated 35 and was cut into an oddly-shaped space. He grew out of the 1,500 square-feet space in the first few months. The new Gig Harbor space has 4,000 square-feet of space and will seat 96. A small stage tucked into the corner of the dining room will hold solo musicians or small ensembles. The menu of Irish pub classics will carry diners from lunch through dinner and into the late evening.
The layout of the former O’Neills – and Tanglewood Grill before that – has shifted slightly. Dunagan opened up the space surrounding that towering gas-wood hybrid fireplace that fills the front entry. There’s seating directly in front of that fireplace. Look in the basket on the hearth for a classic touch of Ireland – bricks of peat ready to be tossed onto the fire.
If it seems so much lighter in the dining area, that’s because they removed the tarp that was covering the dirty skylight, fixed the leaks the tarp was covering, and all of that resulted in an abundance of natural light into the space. The center dining room is a collection of oversized tables built for groups with cushy high-back chairs that will encourage sticking around. Tables and chairs, mostly seating two-to-four, wind through the side dining room where the stage is located. A cabinet in the center dining area holds a tower of games, just as they were featured at the former brewery. Kids will be welcome.
The Dunagan family history is literally buried into the space. Irish coins that are family heirlooms are sunk into the tops of the columns separating the two main dining areas. The woodworking was undertaken entirely by Dunagan and his family. They pieced together all the old tables from the previous brewery to make the L-shaped bar that anchors the space. There are other bits and pieces from the old Tacoma brewery, including the windows separating the bar from the brewing space.
To the right of the front entrance, where there formerly was lounge seating at O’Neill’s, sits the brewery equipment. Dunagan is in the process of setting up the brew operation and expects it will be operational a few weeks after opening. Until then, they plan to serve their reserve Dunagan beer and supplement heavily from other breweries.
After opening, expect to see the Dunagan Kraken Irish nitro stout, the Vienna lager, their habanero IPA (they call it The Floor is Lava), plus an oat stout with hand-toasted marshmallows. Dunagan, a huge fan of gruit and braggot, plans to debut a gruit made with heather soon. For guest taps, they’ve already got local Gig Harbor breweries Wet Coast and 7 Seas and expect to see rotating taps from other local beer makers. The Irish beer lineup, of course, is well represented. There’s even a handle devoted to mead from Oppegaard Meadery. Some of you might recall recall reading in a story I wrote earlier this year that owner Jon Oppegaard is a mentor for Tacoma’s own Kvlt Mead.
THE MENU AT DUNAGAN
Dan Tobin will be running the kitchen at Dunagan Brewing. As the longtime chef describes it, the menu will be fuss-free food made entirely from scratch. He’ll focus on traditional ingredients and simple preparations.
Expect the usual Irish pub favorites, such as shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash made with sausage from Uli’s, plus fish and fresh-cut chips made in house. That batter on the fish? It’s made with Dunagan’s Vienna lager. In fact, Dunagan beers show up as ingredients in a number of menu items. Because their brewing operations are in flux as they set up the equipment, the opening menu will feature a beef stew made with Guinness, but once they brew Dunagan Kraken, their nitro Irish stout, they’ll use that in the beef stew. I’m looking forward to a roasted chicken dish they’re making that’s served with a cream sauce nudged with the house whiskey, which is Jameson.
Dan also described housemade Scotch eggs. He cooks an egg until it’s soft boiled, wraps it in sausage and fries it. It’s served with sliced aged cheddar and a mustard sauce. It’s the first thing I’ll be ordering alongside a pint of the Irish stout.
For lighter fare, expect an assortment of soups, a chicken sandwich and other flexible menu items that easily can be turned vegetarian. The veg-friendly menu is heavy on dairy, though, so there won’t be many options for vegans. For dessert, Dunagan himself will be making boozy concoctions for the 21+ crowd. He’ll do a chocolate cheesecake with Irish cream and a lemon buttermilk custard with a marionberry sauce flavored with moscato and mint.
Expect the same menu to carry diners from lunch through dinner. For late-night eating, expect a pared-down menu. They intend to stay open on weeknights until 10 p.m. and at least midnight on weekend nights. Eventually, they plan to add weekend breakfast service, but that will take some time to get established. For now, they intend to be open seven days a week, but they’ll determine later if that’s sustainable.
DUNAGAN AS A LIVE MUSIC VENUE
When Dunagan opened his first brewery in 2015, he thought it’d be nice to have an Irish musician play the opening. A google search led him to a performer nicknamed “That Irish Guy.”
Emmet McElhinney, also known as “That Irish Guy,” entertained visitors at Dunagan. And then he and Dunagan struck up a years-long friendship and now McElhinney will be managing the restaurant and bar for Dunagan.
Aside from getting back to brewing beer, Dunagan, a musician himself, is most excited about the musical aspect of the restaurant and brewery. A movable stage sits in the corner of the dining room and it’s built for small ensembles and solo performers. Eventually, the restaurant and bar intends to become home to an Irish music festival.
They can practically assemble a band from staff members who play the mandolin, whistle, guitar and, of course, McElhinney on vocals. Dunagan envisions something like the Coastal Celtic Festival in Long Beach, which Tobin organized when Tobin was the owner of the Irish pub, Crown Alley Irish Pub. He and wife Aubrey ran that pub in Long Beach from 2018 until last year when they closed the doors amidst the pandemic.
Dunagan Irish Pub and Brewery is home to a giant parking lot and with the neighboring hotel, The Inn at Gig Harbor, the infrastructure is there to support a music festival when large gatherings happen again. “The groundwork is getting laid. It’s something that I’m really hoping we can get together in the future,” said Dunagan.
The bar and restaurant will be steeped in Irish culture beyond music. Hurling is as Irish as Irish sports get. And Dunagan Irish Pub & Brewery are big boosters of the local hurling team, the Tacoma Rangers. Their hurling sticks and sliotar are on display in the bar.
Here’s what to expect during the opening weekend: They expect a representative from the Irish Consulate in Seattle, dancers from Haley Prendergast School of Irish Dance, local pipes and whistle musicians, plus Pierce County Pipes and Drums. They also expect a visit from the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce. The restaurant and bar is in soft opening right now, but read this before you go and check their social media for updates.
DUNAGAN IRISH PUB & BREWERY
Where: 3222 56th St. NW, Gig Harbor