By DAVE SCHWAB | Uptown News
Everybody’s favorite Irish pub in Normal Heights, Rosie O’Grady’s, has changed ownership.
But not to worry. The pope is still Catholic — and Rosie’s will remain Irish.
Since Nov. 4, the ever-popular watering hole at 3402 Adams Ave., which always keeps a running tally of days left until St. Patrick’s Day, has belonged to the Social Syndicate restaurant development group.
Since its founding in 2014, Ocean Beach-based Social Syndicate has established itself as a leader in revitalizing and/or creating casual neighborhood concepts.
With more than 45 years of collective experience among its governing board, Rosie’s is the most recent acquisition in Social Syndicate’s growing stable of nine other eateries. Those venues include: Bootlegger on Market Street; Wonderland Ocean Pub and OB Surf Lodge in Ocean Beach; The Local Pacific Beach and The Local Eatery & Drinking Hole in the Gaslamp Quarter; Blue Water Seafood in Ocean Beach; Grand Ole BBQ in Flinn Springs in East County; and The Rabbit Hole in Normal Heights.
Jon Conklin, new general manager at Rosie’s, said its acquisition was a “no-brainer.”
“Rosie O’Grady’s has a wonderful identity, from its dive bar appeal and live-music culture to its Chicago vibes and neighborhood legacy, that we would be silly to touch,” noted Conklin. “Rosie O’Grady’s is staying Rosie O’Grady’s: Chicago-style Irish dive, through and through. Any changes that we do will only enhance what is already amazing.”
Will there still be live music?
“Absolutely,” answered Conklin. “The music culture at Rosie O’Grady’s is so eclectic. You can go from jazz, to old school hip-hop, to folk music on any given night. Tuesdays are truly awesome as we have funk night which features our in-house Hammond organ.”
Pointing out Normal Heights “has a very balanced collection of bars and restaurants,” Conklin added, “Our niche aims to cater to everyone, but especially those who are local to 92116. Many people within the neighborhood have chosen to call Rosie’s theirs, and we want to make sure it stays that way.”
Social Syndicate CEO Brendan Huffman said the idea is not to make wholesale changes, but to burnish the image of venues acquired by his restaurant group.
“We’re always very sensitive to all the heart and soul that was given to the previous concept,” said Huffman. “The legacy is paramount when intentionality is authentic. Our intention is to grow roots in the community and continue the hard work from our predecessor. Rosie’s is no different, as we’ve retained the name and a few employees as well. This place was/is a classic.”
“It was time for us to retire, my husband is 77 and I’m 83,” said Barbara Betz, who, along with Michael Rammelsberg, had owned a furniture store in Chicago before coming out to San Diego and purchasing Rosie’s in 2002. “Our customers, they all thought of us as mom and pop. They all loved Rosie’s.”
Betz said Rosie’s has been an Irish place since Ron Stout, an attorney and big Notre Dame fan, purchased it in 1984. Prior to Stout’s ownership, Betz described Rosie’s as being “not a very nice place, a dive bar, but Stout changed that.”
One of many improvements made by Betz/Rimmelsberg was to turn the small annex bar in the rear of Rosie’s into a full-blown wine bar.
“We did a lot of things to keep the history and the Irish tradition alive,” said Betz. “Being from Chicago, we turned it into a place for Cubs and Bears fans. We were eclectic. But at the same time, we tried not to take away the personality of the bar. It’s a landmark. It’s a legend.”
A farewell party was held recently for Rosie’s outgoing owners on a Sunday night. Betz said it reminded her of “a lot of good times and a lot of good friends over the years.”
On goodbye night, Betz said Rosie’s “was taken over by our customers, who, after a few drinks, made off with a lot of our memorabilia, took a chunk of it home with them.” But she added good-naturedly, “We’ve retrieved quite a bit of it.”
Betz pointed out Rosie’s has a great deal of “friendly” competition with numerous other bars and restaurants lining Adams Avenue.
Mick Ward, co-owner of the Ould Sod Irish pub across the street and who started out bartending at Rosie’s in the ‘80s, agreed.
“It’s all good,” noted Ward, an Irish native. “Mike and Barbara are great people. We complement each other for sure. We’ve had a great relationship. All the bars get on. It’s a great neighborhood.”
Huffman noted Rosie’s customer base “resides primarily either north or south of Adams Avenue and takes a lot of pride in the surrounding community.” He recalled, “When we added Rabbit Hole [3377 Adams Ave.], there were crowds of people outside watching our artist [Sean Dietrich] paint a mural on our brick wall. Everyone seems emotionally invested in Normal Heights and that prideful energy is very contagious. … Rabbit Hole and Rosie O’Grady’s are timeless fixtures uptown and plan on being around for several years to serve their regulars.”
— Reach Dave Schwab at firstname.lastname@example.org.