When Liam Gibbons decided some 25 years ago to leave his forestry career for a business brewed in his passionate Irish heritage, he settled on what turned out to be the shamrock of Ocean Shores.
It was a place where if you matched up the shape of Western Washington with that of Ireland, Grays Harbor would nearly line up with Galway Bay.
“The vegetation and the weather are very similar,” explains Gibbons, whose Irish first name equates to William, or Bill as is customary.
Gibbons’ Galway Bay Irish Pub is celebrating 25 years in business with a private and public party next weekend.
Gibbons is a Midwest native, but he traces his roots to County Mayo on the west coast of Ireland. Back in the early 1980s, he moved to Hoquiam for jobs with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the National Forest Service, working with tribes such as the Quinault Nation on timber sales contracts until 1990.
He recalls he first came to Washington state when Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980.
“Everybody tries to blame me for the mountain blowing up, but I had nothing to do with it,” Gibbons laughs over pints of Galway Bay Ale at the pub.
In addition to the Irish establishment, Gibbons also owns and operates the North Cove Bar & Grill in Tokeland (across from Shoalwater Bay, with partner Christ Doyle) as well as the 8th Street Ale House in Hoquiam.
He’s also the inspiration and chief architect of the annual Celtic Music Feis, the fall Irish music festival that brings in participants and audiences from around the globe.
Gibbons first opened his business in Ocean Shores as an Irish import gift shop in the Driftwood Plaza.
“I came out here and there was nothing,” he says.
With the gift shop going for a couple of years — “I wanted to be where the tourists were” — a neighbor at Windermere Real Estate, Barry Bennett, joined Gibbons in realizing his ultimate goal of opening an Irish pub in town.
“The next thing you know, we’re taking out bank loans,” Gibbons said. The first Galway Bay Irish Pub opened April 24, 1993, on Ocean Shores Boulevard where the Eagles lodge is now. “We were the first microbrews in town. Back then, all you could get in town was Rainier, Budweiser and Olympia.”
Gibbons didn’t consider himself a connoisseur of beverages, but he does note: “Well, I’m Irish. We do have our crutches.” He credits his wife, Linda, with supporting his move into the business, with the marriage now far exceeding the business anniversary at 39 years.
“She was a school teacher, and back then we had two young daughters, so she was busy enough herself,” he said when asked if she helped in running the business. Her steady income and benefits supported the family while the business was “hemorrhaging money” to start out.
When the successful combination of the Irish pub, gifts and restaurant specialties began to catch on, it was time for a move and then something even more bold: an Irish music festival.
“The festival certainly put us into second gear,” Gibbons said.
But what’s set apart Galway Bay as an established Ocean Shores business when so many last fewer than 10 years? “I think it’s the uniqueness,” he says. “People love Irish pubs, and we always stuck to our guns and did Irish music.”
Live entertainment has been a staple along with the quality of food, and a staff that is like family. “We take traditional Irish food and we try to make it taste good,” he jokes. “Not an easy task.”
In the 25 years of business, Ocean Shores has gone through a significant change in Gibbons’ view: “It’s grown immensely. When the pub started in 1993, the town was a couple thousand people back then. It’s now at least three times the size of when I started, and the tourism never stops.”
Gibbons acknowledges the music festival (scheduled for Oct. 16-21 this year) has helped him get through the winter months when business generally slows for everyone in Ocean Shores. “It used to be that you used to start losing money in October, November, December and January.”
The festival now has brought thousands of people to the city and other business as well, and Gibbons has had to limit tickets because of the demand for the often sold-out event, which includes the Ocean Shores Convention Center and the 8th Street Ale House. “They come out, enjoy the town and it brings them back more often. Anytime somebody comes to a town and has a good experience, they want to come back more often.”
The experience upon entering and wandering about in Galway Bay is even more engaging with Gibbons providing a tour of his personal artifacts. The place has endured a fire, and there is now a cozy fireplace and lounge area that has replaced it with artifacts like the ceramic bust of President John F. Kennedy, a game room overseen by the likes of Lou Holtz (when he was coach at Notre Dame) and Larry Bird (as a Celtic, of course), and a banquet room with photos of popes and even a signed portrait of Mother Teresa.
“Who has an autographed picture of a saint in their banquet room?” Gibbons asks rhetorically. He got it from the late Dee Thorp, who ran Harbor Home Health and Hospice in Hoquiam, who had received it during an international symposium for hospice nurses that Mother Teresa had attended.
It took seven or so years of asking and prodding, but Thorp finally decided to bequeath it to her fellow Rotarian and persistent Irish Catholic friend: “I wore her down.”
For the anniversary, there will be a private celebration on Friday with Bennett, the original partner, former employees and the original “cast of characters,” including customers and vendors.
Music will be by longtime Galway performers Peter Yeates and Ken Larson, starting at 8 p.m. both Friday and Saturday.
Galway Bay is at 880 Pt. Brown Ave. NE.