When you walk into Hap's Irish Pub on Erie Avenue in Hyde Park the authenticity hits you immediately. Framed pictures above the bar of the original owner and loyal patrons. A brick backdrop that's heard many stories and seen countless people. A bartop, actually moved from the bar next door before it became Hap's, so worn and nostalgic you can feel the history by touching it and setting your beer mug on it.
The second room is located in the right rear of the pub with more pictures of old Irishmen, a sketch of original owner Gordon Thomas, trophies, scrapbooks and everything in between. There's an intimacy in this room that makes you feel as if you're in someone's home.
Unlike most pubs, where the bar area is tucked in the back or in a corner, the bar at Hap's is right up front. On a summer day, if the front door is open, you could shout out your order from the sidewalk. Beyond the bar is a door leading out to the patio, a very quaint and informal area with an old black barbecue and patio furniture on a wooden deck facing a wooden fence. It could be someone's backyard.
There's an unmistakable atmosphere at Hap's. I've been to other Irish pubs, and they don't come close. This atmosphere, in large part, has to be credited to Thomas. Talking to his nephew, Richard L. Thomas, I learned it was Gordon's goal to model Hap's after pubs he saw in Ireland. There's no question this modeling lends to Hap's its altogether original authenticity — Gordon Thomas was the original proprietor when Hap's Irish Pub opened in 1975. The Pub has been located next door under different names, and doors down as long as the oldest patrons can remember. But it wasn't until 1975 that, in the present location, it came to be called Hap's Irish Pub. Thomas' goal was to attract Irish immigrants, while also creating a neighborhood bar that everybody could enjoy.
The bar was named after Gordon's father, a happy man nicknamed "Hap." The Thomases lived right down the street from the Pub. In fact, Gordon's wife still lives in the same house. After Thomas passed away in 1997, his son, Danny, took over where his father left off, keeping the tradition alive and authenticity intact.
If you've ever driven down Erie Avenue on St. Patrick's Day, you know it's Hap's by the line of people trying to get in the door, often waiting outside if they have to. You won't see green beer here on St. Paddy's Day.
"We don't do that," said Joe Keller, the head bartender. That's for those other Irish pubs. Hap's opens a little earlier that day so Danny can cook a traditional Irish breakfast for his patrons. Festivities start early and end late on St. Patrick's Day. About noon comes corned beef and cabbage and Irish stew prepared by Danny's mother.
A wise man once said a table is not a table without strong legs to support it. Hap's strength is its people. When I asked Danny Thomas about Hap's uniqueness, he said the people are what makes Hap's what it is. Personally, I have never met such an eclectic group. You'll find blue-collars, white-collars, volunteers, athletes, professors, students and a whole lot of Irishmen.
"A lot of people that come over from Ireland want to find an Irish pub that's much like the one's they're used to frequenting. That's why they come to Hap's," Danny said.
Many Irishmen who move to Cincinnati find Hap's a home away from home. "Some of the Irishmen that move over here from Ireland have their mail sent here (to Hap's)," said Paul Rueff, the daytime bartender.
This is what Gordon Thomas wanted: a place for the Irish — and people from all walks of life — to get together, have a couple of beers, socialize and have a good time. Thanks to Gordon and Danny Thomas, the tradition of Hap's Irish Pub lives on.
Said Keller, "People that want to go over to Ireland don't go to the travel agency. They go to Hap's to get advice." ©