$250,000 club basement is shrine to St. Patrick


Dublin? Paula and Tim McNamara have re-created an Irish pub in the basement of their Lutherville home, inspired by the famous Black Tom's Pub.

March 12, 2000|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The wife of Timothy Connor McNamara says, "Tim's as Irish as Patty's Pig." Although Paula McNamara is only half as Irish as her husband (she's half English), both Baltimore natives are equally enthusiastic about their Irish heritage.

The flag of Ireland flies outside their English Tudor home in Lutherville, where the half beams are not stained dark brown like those of a typical English Tudor, but are painted a soft green in the style of European Tudors. Mr. McNamara, who traces his lineage back to County Clare, never fails to see the humor in buying an English Tudor from the original owner, who was an Englishman.

The house met the couple's primary requirements for location -- close to work and school -- and it had a large basement with 8-foot ceilings. All his adult life, Mr. McNamara had wanted to own an authentic Irish pub. "But my family had been in the restaurant business," said his wife, "and I knew the work involved. So, I suggested we build our own pub."

To design the pub, Baltimore architect Tom Gamper was hired.

"There was a synergy," Mrs. McNamara said. "We felt immediately connected."

The architect was very enthusiastic about the job, and his clients joked about making him an Irishman. Ironically, the connection turned out to be more than a feeling when Gamper discovered his own Irish roots in an old family document identifying one of his maternal ancestors as a certain Mr. McNamara.

Jim Macko, owner of Kodiak Construction in Baltimore, already renovating the upper floors of the house, became the third member of the pub project. A photo album traces the demise of concrete and cinder block, and the emergence of a historically correct setting that seems more at home in Dublin than in the suburbs of Baltimore.

Construction of the pub appropriately began on St. Patrick's Day 1997 and, six months later, on Sept. 13, the architect, the builder and their clients toasted the grand opening of the project that had cost approximately $250,000.

"This is something you do for yourself, not for any kind of resale," Mrs. McNamara said, adding, "We intend to spend the rest of our lives in this house."

The pub is reached via a series of brick courtyards. A stone pathway leads to a large green door with leaded glass panels. Gold letters announce: "The McNamaras, Established 1997."

The 30-by-40-foot pub overflows with Irish music, courtesy of a commercial-quality audio system.

Baltimore cabinetmaker David O'Neill designed the 15-foot oak bar, with its own tap of Guinness stout and collection of green Depression-era bar glass. It stands at one end of a polished dance floor made of 100-year-old barn oak. A fireplace illuminates the library adjacent to the dance floor. Here, guests can sit while watching a 52-inch rear projection television housed in a custom, recessed cabinet.

Accordingly, guests can't help but feel they've left Maryland behind and landed in the middle of Ireland's famous Black Tom's Pub. The details are all in place: a lighted Guinness sign, a 1940 Dublin phone booth (the phone works), a 1957 Seeburg Jukebox, a digital piano and a floor-to-ceiling wine rack whose duplicate stands in the Inn at Perry's Cabin in St. Michaels. The walls have been treated with a smoky faux finish reminiscent of the tobacco-stained paint in an old pub. Bead board, beveled glass and old Irish artwork lend authenticity to the mix. Guests will want to visit the paneled restroom, or stop by the kitchen for a plate of "pub grub."

Like most everything in this couple's life, the pub is shared with family and friends. The annual St. Patrick's Day party fills the pub with hundreds of guests from 8 p.m. until the wee hours, when: "I just tell whoever's left to lock up, and I go to bed," the hostess sayswith a smile.

Since moving to the house six years ago, the McNamaras have followed a "10-year plan" of renovation and construction. More urgent than their desire to build the pub was the need to renovate the first and second floors into living space suited to the lifestyle of an educator and a businessman/diplomat.

She teaches fine arts and study skills at the Inverness Center Alternative High School in Baltimore, and he is a partner and managing director of Horton International, a management consultant and global executive search firm. Mr. McNamara is also consul for Denmark, representing its interests in Maryland.

The McNamaras designed all the changes on the first two floors, which required replacing the wallpaper. An unwanted third-staircase was dismantled. With the removal of a second-floor wall, thus affording a view of the living room, plus the installation of new windows, custom doors, light fixtures and hardware, the house was visually brightened and expanded.

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