O'Hara's Pub
O'Hara's Pub

Owner Christine Thompson raises a glass to O’Hara’s 50th anniversary with longtime bartender Jason Gardner.

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O’Hara’s Irish Pub

A teetotaling Canadian is where O’Hara’s Irish Pub’s history begins.  Fifty years ago, original owner Gail Hewitt founded the classic dark pub serving only beer, wine, chili and sandwiches.  There was a piano and a player named Red who performed for the patrons.  And, every St. Patrick’s Day, they hosted a wake with a coffin, pallbearers and bagpipers who walked around the Plaza before returning to the pub.

Current owner Christine Thompson, niece of Hewitt, who didn’t drink and lived with her parents (Christine’s grandparents), has run the pub for the past 20 years.  “When my Aunt Gail bought the pub, my grandfather was the handyman, my grandmother was the cook and cleaner, and until they could afford a bartender, Gail tended bar,” says Thompson.

Located in the same spot in Old Towne Orange, prior to O’Hara’s, the location originally housed a place called Kelly’s Bar, then the Mel-Dor, “which stood for Mel and Dorothy,” says Thompson.

No one really knows how O’Hara’s got its name.  “We were told it was a family name somewhere in the lineage, but I’ve been doing my own genealogy for the last 15 years and I have yet to find an O’Hara,” says Thompson.

Hewitt ran O’Hara’s for 30 years until her passing in 2001, when Thompson took over.  “I was in dentistry for 25 years, and in her will, Aunt Gail left me a portion of ownership,” she says.  “I made the decision to leave my career and run the pub because I wanted to preserve its history.”

O’Hara’s 13 employees are all long-term, including the husband and wife who have been cleaning the pub for 30 years.

While the look and feel of the pub hasn’t changed much, over the years the décor has accumulated.  Patrons have donated many items on the walls, such as all the football helmets hanging from the ceiling, and the 13 x 7-foot Irish mural painted for the pub’s 25th anniversary in 1997. 

“This history here is kind of layered,” says Thompson.  There’s a Stetson poster between the TVs and the Wrigley Field sign from the 1970s that hangs behind the bar.  But the street sign with mile markers for Irvine Park, Olive and Tustin has sparked the most discussion over the years.

“Where that street sign originally stood has never been resolved,” Thompson says.

In the past 50 years, Thompson believes the best thing they have done is not change too much.  “If you haven’t been here for 10 or 20 years, you’ll see something you remember,” she says.  And, if you look hard, you’ll see the photo of Aunt Gail.

O’Hara’s Pub Irish Pub
150 North Glassell St., Old Towne Orange, CA 92866  /  714-532-9264

Article Published in the
May / Jun 22 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review
Written by Sheri Ledbetter Photo by Kristin Smetona
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