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VOL. 126 | NO. 163 | Monday, August 22, 2011

Loftus’ The Brass Door: ‘Pub Inside a Museum’

FREDRIC KOEPPEL | Special to The Memphis News

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Seamus Loftus sits down for an interview on the mezzanine of his new Irish pub, The Brass Door, looks over at a ventilation duct next to him, runs a finger along one edge and purses his lips in disapproval. He calls a staff member over. “Look,” he says, “I’m not mad, and I don’t remember who’s in charge upstairs, but there’s dust all over these vents. This is unacceptable. Just bring me a rag and I’ll wipe them off.”

Former soccer coach Seamus Loftus is a co-owner of the new Downtown Irish pub and restaurant The Brass Door, 152 Madison Ave.

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

He shakes his head ruefully. “Details. They’re like an army that keeps on coming.”

The restaurant and bar Downtown, in the old Marx and Bensdorf building at 152 Madison Ave., has been open for a week, and Loftus, 44, who has no experience owning or running a restaurant, looks remarkably on top of the details, though he says, “This is making the jump and hoping the chute opens. It’s a brazen act of faith.”

Before coming up to the dining area on the mezzanine, Loftus had been in the basement, where a crew is trying to ready a stage for an appearance that night by Pete Best, the loneliest Beatle of them all, dumped for the sake of bringing Ringo Starr on board the fame and fortune train. Loftus is constantly on his cell phone or giving orders to his staff, making suggestions. “Put a table here, right by the stage,” he tells someone. “The band must never be without beer.”

He looks at a visitor and smiles. “Beer, musicians and rock ‘n’ roll. What more could you ask for in life?”

A thorough country-boy, Loftus was born in the seaside village of Killala, population fewer than 600, in County Mayo, in the west of Ireland, but he grew up in near-by, larger Ballina. Afflicted with wanderlust, Loftus traveled and worked many sorts of jobs, though principally as a coach. After two years in Australia, he came to the United States in 1993, after a girlfriend had applied for green cards and he got one and she didn’t.

“I was coaching football (soccer) for Nevill High School in Monroe, La., and I got a job coaching tennis and cross country at CBU (Christian Brothers University). I had no specific plans, no specific destination. Then, I was coaching for Grace St. Luke’s, and, anyway, one night over a glass of wine I was talking to my partner Scott Crosby and his wife and my girlfriend, Shawna Engel, she works for the (University of Memphis) law school, and I said that this area needed an anchor, a good Irish pub and restaurant. It was a crystal-clear concept because I wasn’t involved in it.”

Several months passed, and Loftus was working for Dex Imaging, and he saw Crosby on the street, “and Scott said are we going to open this pub or not, and we started to search for buildings.”

The building they finally chose was designed by the prominent architectural firm of Jones and Furbringer and was erected in 1913. It was owned by local artist Carroll Todd.

“Lovely man,” said Loftus. “We took him and his wife Christine to breakfast and talked about the building. At first, we leased it for exploratory purposes and then we bought it. It has been extensively refurbished. We put in a brand new kitchen and two bars.”

Originally a bank, the narrow building’s spectacular architectural features include a soaring ceiling over the main floor and tall windows that face south and east, aspects wisely left alone in the remodeling.

“In a manner of speaking,” said Loftus, “this is a public house inside a museum. We were determined not to do the obvious. It’s a romantic gamble based on being in love with the thing. If we had wanted to slap together some leprechaun pub, well, why bother with it? We wanted to give our staff something to be proud of.”

Loftus’ definition of an Irish pub doesn’t hinge so much on the beer and food it serves – though Guinness and Harp are on tap and the menu includes an all-day Irish breakfast, Dublin Coddle, Irish stew and a ploughman’s lunch – but on the function it serves.

“This particular pub, truthfully at its core, should be a meeting place for the community, a place to get a bite to eat, have a drink, relax, have fun, exchange ideas. We’re no smoking. We could be out of our heads and end up in the poor house over it, but I wanted families to be able to bring their kids. This is more about community than some other pubs. So far, we’ve had an eclectic and diverse crowd. A public house is a great leveler. If it’s a good community pub, there’s no room for bull----. Everyone gets a fair shake.”

Loftus hopes that The Brass Door, along with the recently opened Thai Bistro across the street, will signal a revival for the blocks of Madison that run from Third Street through Second and Main to Front, where Madison stops at the law school.

“One of the things about this strip, except for (the former) Burger King, is that from here to the law school this is as beautiful a stretch of city as anywhere in the country.”

As for a possible expansion, the dream that seems to fuel a great deal of restaurant ambition, Loftus says, forget it.

“I’ll not be going to Toledo to open the ninth Brass Door,” he said. “This is it, my only pub, I’ll never do another one, so I stand up for everything and anything.”

PROPERTY SALES 83 405 4,276
MORTGAGES 104 424 4,814
BUILDING PERMITS 148 883 10,151
BANKRUPTCIES 53 264 3,149