Sláinte Pub and Restaurant – a new eatery and bar on Route 54 in West Fenwick Island – boasts both authentic Irish cuisine and traditional Irish hospitality. The restaurant held its soft opening over Memorial Day weekend, with a packed house by word of mouth alone, and plans are to hold an official grand opening June 25 and 26.
Owned by the McNamee family, Sláinte – pronounced “slan-cha” – takes its name directly from the Irish word for “good health” or “cheers.”
“We wanted it to be an authentic Irish name,” explained General Manager Declan McNamee. “My parents are both from Ireland, and if you’re going to do something you have to do it right. We know Irish better than anything.”
McNamee’s parents, Brendan and Tricia, were born in County Tyrone and Belfast, respectively, and met after they moved to the United States. The family has owned and operated bars in the Philadelphia area and has made food service a family affair.
“I used to go there every day after school and clean their bar in Philly,” explained McNamee. “I bartended there a little bit when I was younger. We had our first Holy Communions at the bar. Our birthday parties were at the bar.”
Open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., Sláinte offers Happy Hour daily from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Happy Hour drink specials include $1.75 domestic drafts and $3 rail drinks. They also offer Happy Hour lunch specials that always include one of the Irish dinners.
Among its authentic offerings, the restaurant features shepherd’s pie, fish and chips, Irish stew, and bangers and mash – which are grilled pork sausages served over mashed potatoes. The restaurant also offers a children’s menu called “Wee Bits,” with smaller, kid-sized portions and kid-friendly tastes, served with ice cream for dessert.
“It’s a mixture of our family recipes and our chef’s expertise,” McNamee explained. “I made the menu. I told him, ‘This is what we want. You take it and twist it.’
“We wanted meatloaf on the menu,” he continued. “Well, instead of just slicing it, putting some gravy on it and ‘Here you go,’ we make it and grill it and then top it with barbecue sauce, and it’s amazing.”
The McNamee family isn’t the only element of Sláinte that offers experience to back up its ambitions. Executive Chef Graham Reese is a 17-year veteran of the restaurant business. He previously worked at Café Gelato in Newark, Del., for four and a half years, when it first opened.
“Upstate was a little too fast-paced for me, so I moved back down here,” the chef explained.
Neither is Irish cuisine foreign to Reese. While attending culinary school in Baltimore, he spent a month abroad in Ireland, doing an internship at a hotel there.
According to McNamee, Reese came to Sláinte well recommended.
“I asked a couple good friends I know who are in this business if they knew anybody that was looking for work who was a real chef. All three of them said Graham,” noted McNamee.
The dining room at Sláinte offers marble-topped tables surrounded by tall leather chairs. The pub and restaurant – which seats more than 100 people – has a cozy Irish atmosphere.
“In Ireland, the places are homey and comfortable, and it’s almost like you’re sitting in your own house,” McNamee pointed out. “That’s what we wanted to do. Everybody is supposed to be at home, feel welcome and be a part of the family.”
On the walls hang various pictures of the Irish countryside, Irish poems and handmade artwork from Ireland. A large one-of-a-kind copper “Sláinte” sign hangs in the dining room above the bar entrance.
“My uncle is the only man in Ireland that still makes them. It’s called ‘reposing,’” explained McNamee of the metalwork technique, which is also known as repoussé. “It’s handmade copper, and they take the copper and make the sign with a hammer and a nail. He spent over 30 hours on it, and then my parents brought it back from Ireland when they were over there in March.”
Sláinte offers more than cuisine and atmosphere, though. After July 4, the pub will host live entertainment on Fridays and Saturdays, at 10 p.m.
“Once a month, I’ll have a good band come from Philly or Washington or Baltimore – somewhere local that people on vacation will know, but not the same thing you hear around here. We will have Irish music at least twice a month.”
The pub, which boasts six television screens, is designed to be a perfect place to watch sports.
“The Irish love their sports,” McNamee acknowledged, after a week in which Philadelphia Flyers fans flocked to the bar. “So we’re going to do the football package. We’ll give away a football jersey every Sunday. We’ll also be watching the World Cup.”
McNamee is proud of his family’s tradition of Irish hospitality, which is reflected in the restaurant’s slogan, “Welcome to the family.”
“Everyone who walks through the door is appreciated,” he emphasized. “We try to make it to every table. If something is wrong, we like to know so we can fix it. I don’t ever want someone leaving unhappy.”
“We want to make it an experience they won’t forget,” McNamee added. “Treat them all like family, and it’s like a big family. Everyone will tell you, if they’ve ever been to Ireland – the people are so nice. That’s what I wanted here. I think our whole staff is so nice and friendly. It really gives an Irish feel.”
Sláinte Pub & Restaurant is located in the Bayside Marketplace in West Fenwick Island, a few doors down from Harris Teeter. For more information, call (302) 436-1916 or visit http://slaintepubandrestaurant.com.
Editor’s Note: In the interests of full disclosure, Declan McNamee’s wife, Jaime, is a graphic artist for the Coastal Point.