Many of us recall the popular television show “Cheers” where “everybody knows your name.”
And for many years, folks in East Naples enjoyed the same brand of amity in a Southwest Florida version of a friendly, casual watering hole and restaurant with a camaraderie not often seen in chain bars and lounges.
A place where everyone knew the regulars and where visitors were made to feel like locals, Erin’s Isle Irish Pub held court as the place to be as the winter sun dipped into the horizon and as the thirsty sought a cold brew or specialty libation.
However, in 2012, even though owner Mike Ward had a five-year lease in hand, he found it increasingly difficult to deal with the landlord and thought it was time to hang up his bar towel and walk away and retire from the business he nurtured throughout the years.
But fate had other plans, and when developer Allan Cooper contacted Ward with a proposal to lease the venue at Hibiscus Golf Club, Ward said he “could not help himself,” and he jumped right back into business.
Like a phoenix, Erin’s Isle rose again, and Ward said business is booming in new digs that are open to the public.
Celebrating the 30th anniversary of Erin’s Isle, the restaurateur reports serving about 150 people for lunch — the bulk of his business from golfers — and 250 to 300 every Sunday for brunch.
If you go
Erin’s Isle Restaurant and Irish Pub
Where: Hibiscus Golf Club, 5375 Hibiscus Drive (off Rattlesnake Hammock Road), East Naples
When: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays
Prices: Starters ($8.50-$16), salads and burgers ($5-$9), dinner entrees ($11-$29), Sunday brunch ($12.95), children’s menu ($5-$7)
Information: 239-325-2630 or erinsisle.biz
“It’s a different ambience, but it is working out very well. Naturally, some of my customers say they miss the old place, but others think this has great atmosphere. It’s still Erin’s, and I am still running things. I am very happy here and apparently so are our new and old customers,” Ward said.
Opt to sit on the terrace at stone tables with wicker rocking chairs overlooking the links, or enter a spacious foyer into a 128-seat room decorated with green and tan hues. Cozy up to the bar for a cocktail with reduced pricing on all drinks from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., or grab a table and feast on dishes prepared by chef Louis Rios, who also manned the kitchen at the former location.
Many diners drive up for lunch in golf carts. Value menu choices include appetizers ($8.50-$16) for Erin’s blooming onion, oysters Rockefeller or jumbo shrimp, soups ($3.95-$5.50) or salads ($5-$9), with a burger plate for $8.
Dinner favorites range from prime rib ($21 for 12 ounces to $23 for 16 ounces) to the Wiener schnitzel ($22) and roast duck. Seafood dishes ($16-$23) such as the sautéed grouper and broiled salmon, share popularity with house specialties ($12-$18) such as Irish stew, roast loin of pork ($16) and vegetarian choices ($11-12) such as eggplant parmigiana or the veggie stir fry dish.
“The variety of our menu brings our diners back. During any busy lunch or dinner hour I am in the kitchen doing what I love — cooking for my guests,” Ward said.
“I do all the prep work every day; it brings me a sense of peace and calm. I just love to work and I like to be hands on and taste everything to make sure it’s great. My sister says I am a bit of a control freak,” he said.
Sourcing his seafood from Collins fish market in Miami and produce from Immokalee farms keeps the menu fresh. With his “right-hand man,” his brother, John, and his 18-year-old grandson cooking by his side, Ward keeps daily operations and menu items on track.
While old customers may recall the huge tent party erected to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, Ward promises an equally fun weekend celebration this year. Entertainment will be on tap all day into the wee hours. Erin’s regular entertainment schedule is offered six days 7 p.m. to close.
“We have more entertainment and more fun,” Ward said.