By David Martin
If you could create your own rugby bar in Florida there is a list of things you would probably want to make sure you include. Right near one of the world’s most famous beaches – check, owned by a rugby player – check, a generous sponsor and supporter – check, a bar that acts as your team’s personal clubhouse – check and finally, a place that feels like a rugby team would be welcome – check. What you have done is created Tir Na Nog in Daytona Beach.
It was about 10 years ago that Randy Phillips, the bar’s owner contacted the Daytona Beach Coconuts founder and then president Gerry Keating and invited the club to come to Tir Na Nog shortly after they opened. Randy was no stranger to the club himself. He found the club after his sister Lisa starting dating and eventually married one of the players. Still in high school Randy started playing for the team and when he and his dad Bill opened the bar they invited the Coconuts to the bar. Gerry brought a few teammates around and in short order the club found a home.
“Having the bar there, we have a place not only where we can go to but any rugby person who comes into town can come into Tir Na Nog and say is there any rugby in town and they will find us,” said Craig Howitt, the club president. “Any alumni also know that when they come back, this is the place to go.”
Drawing a lot of players from nearby Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach Rugby tends to be a bit transient, so Howitt explained that having a solid base at Tir Na Nog gives the team a solid foundation for the current team, new players and returning players. As a club, Daytona Beach has had some success over its 30-year history. That includes a fourth place national ranking as a Division 3 team and a 6th place ranking in Division 2. They were tops in Florida two years in a row in Division 1. Currently in a rebuilding phase and are a solid Division 2 competitor in the state.
To get where they are, Tir Na Nog helps out with travel expenses, offers deep discounts for home post game events, picks up the cost of team kit and developed a fundraiser. The team members sell beer mugs at $5 a cup. That cup is good for beer specials most nights at the bar.
“Whatever they need they call me and I make it happen for them,” said Randy Phillips. In April, the team held their annual general meeting; naturally they held it at Tir Na Nog. As they were voting, Randy came in just as they opened the nominations for social chairman. Randy accepted the nomination and funny enough, the vote was unanimous.
Explained Howitt, “Now Randy has to remember to call himself to remind himself that his team is coming to his bar this weekend, I think he can handle that.”
“I guess I was just in the right place at the wrong time,” Phillips laughed. “But then again I own the place where three quarters of the team’s socials are held, so I guess it makes sense.” But he says he is proud that his bar is a real rugby bar and enjoys both the local team and out of town visitors.
Aside from being a rugby bar, Tir Na Nog is also a music venue. Walking into the place the u-shaped bar is on the right side and the pool tables are in the back. But the other side of the bar is performance space with a small stage. Phillips said they feature local artists and original music. Traditional Irish music is popular on Sundays, he added. Right now they are in the middle of a kitchen renovation. When it’s completed this summer they plan to have a full menu. A signature dish is expected to be a rotisserie chicken, with a South American accent, in addition to Irish fare and pub food. The menu is a work in progress, but they might offer a full Irish breakfast a few times a month.
“Tir Na Nog is the social hub for the club,” said the team’s founder, Gerry Keating. “It’s in a great part of town and just off the beach. We are solid patrons of the bar and have given them some good exposure to Florida rugby. But they provide us with a home and a real team clubhouse atmosphere. We have grown together and feed off each other it’s a true symbolic relationship.”
Being a rugby team in Daytona comes with built in attractions. Annually the town hosts two huge events, Bike Week, a celebration of all things motorcycle and the Daytona Beach 500, a premier NASCAR event. Spring Break is also pretty popular in Daytona Beach too. It is one of the few beaches where cars are allowed to drive on the beach. All that means the town gets filled up and having a bar a block off the beach is a great benefit both for the team and visiting players. It’s not uncommon for visitors to take a quick dip in the ocean post-game and pre-party.
Phillips says the club is great about bringing new faces in. He says while the team will stop in after most practices and games, he added that every night it seems someone from the club will pop in.
“There is a whole gamut of bars in Florida, Howitt said. “This is a traditional Irish bar but it also has a rugby feel. So it’s a place where the rugby party atmosphere isn’t going to get your tossed out. We have team posters on the wall and it’s our home. We are a sociable team and this is our bar.”
The Daytona Beach Coconuts RFC are here www.daytonabeachrugby.org
Tir Na Nog - www.tirnanogpub.com
David Martin is the author of “The Hooligan’s Table, The Rugby Player’s Cookbook, www.therugbycookbook.com
If you would like to include your team and your team’s pub in an upcoming feature, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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