Desmond Nolan and Liam Balfe hit the lottery back in 1993 or 1994. No, not that lottery. The U.S. immigration lottery.
That’s how the two young men from the Republic of Ireland found themselves in the Bay Area. And, in the immigrant tradition, they started their own business, a construction firm, that’s still in operation today.
But a man enjoys a pint or two with friends, now and again, after a hard day’s work, does he not? The watering holes the lads found were OK, but they missed the pubs from back home in County Carlow and decided to build one for themselves, just the way they like it.
Today, that place is a South Bay institution: Fibbar Magees, at 156 S. Murphy Avenue, in downtown Sunnyvale, and the two still own it to this day.
St. Patrick’s Day preparations
Back in Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day, until relatively recently, wasn’t such a big deal. But here in America, just about everybody finds the Irish in themselves on that blessed day, and many feel compelled to don the green and go out celebrate it.
Well now, Nolan and Balfe aren’t a pair of eejits. So Fibbars has gotten with the grand Irish-American tradition, and even now is gearing up for the big day, March 17 (2017). On the day dedicated to the patron saint of Ireland, it’ll be all hands-on deck for the staff.
“We’re expecting it to be busier than normal because it’s a Friday,” says manager Irene Balagot Murphy. “Four o’clock is the height of happy hour.” Naturally, they’ll be serving up corned beef and cabbage, shepherd’s pie, fish and chips. There will be a cover charge after 4:00 PM on St Paddy's Day to fund all the fun.
As always, patrons will have 50 lines of beer and wine to choose from, including the revered Irish ales and lagers like Guinness and Harp. When Nolan and Balfe started the place, and for many years thereafter, Fibbar’s offered lots of imports. But in the era of craft beer, the beer list includes lots more American-made brews, many of them local (plus California wines), Murphy said.
Fibbar’s has also added more TV screens over the years to keep up with the explosion in televised sports offerings (Hurling! Gaelic football! Authentic football! NFL football! Sharks, Giants and A’s!).
Of course, Fibbar’s — (408-749-8373, open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m.) — is not just about food and drink, Murphy says. Not by a long, um, shot. It’s also about entertainment (check the @Fibbars Facebook page for DJs, trivia contests and more) and good old Irish hospitality.
In fact, Murphy said, she met her husband there about 15 years ago, out on the back patio. Both were just customers at the time. “Quite a few of our current and past staff started their relationships here,” she said. “Just amazing.”
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, owners Nolan and Balfe must be blushing. Murphy shared that several customers have been so inspired by Fibber’s that they opened their own Irish pubs, some on the East Coast, and one in the South Bay.
In fact, Nolan and Balfe inspired themselves, and decided to open a second pub, Molly Magees, in Mountain View.
Which brings us to how the name of the places came about. Murphy says they named their pubs after an American radio show that was popular in the 1940s and 1950s, “Fibber McGee and Molly,” because they thought it “sounded super Irish.”
Everyone is Irish on March 17 and treated with the welcoming charm every other day at Fibbar Magee’s on Historic Murphy Avenue in downtown Sunnyvale.
When Tan and his wife Thy bought Lucky Shot Billiards in 2004, they set out to provide a welcoming environment with a comfortable atmosphere and top-of-the-line equipment. Tan said he would like this to be a fun place for players at all levels.
By all measures the vision has been a success. Whether people come for a company event, league play, or because they’ve just finished dinner nearby, the consensus among customers is this is the best pool hall in Silicon Valley. Lucky Shot Billiards attracts a crowd of regulars and competition players as well as casual hobbyists. It is a popular event venue for bachelorette and birthday parties. Groups from prominent Silicon Valley businesses have held events there such as Google, Apple, Nvidia and Cisco.
For Love of the Game
The secret of success is in large part because Lucky Shot is about the love of the game and the camaraderie of friends. According to Tan, it is a place for people to get involved in the physical (technical) aspects of the game and the intellectual aspects of the game. “Pool,” says Tan, “is not just banging the ball.”
Tan’s love of the game is especially evident in the high-end pro shop, on-call cue master, and the fact that every year since he’s owned the business, at least one team from the Lucky Shot has gone on to compete in the APA national competitions.
The camaraderie is evident in the community fostered at the pool hall. The customers respond generously to fundraisers sponsored by Lucky Shot Billiards (where the business matches money raised). Beneficiaries are many and have included Second Harvest, Red Cross, firefighters and police. All tips to staff are pooled and given to charity. In the winter, customers collect coats and blankets to help local homeless people.
Stop by Sometime
The next time you are in Sunnyvale, stop on by. All you’ll see on So. Murphy Avenue is a neon sign above an open door with a flight of steps going down. (An elevator is also available – call for information). But don’t let the small entrance fool you.
There’s a lot going on and if you love pool, or just think it’s a great way to spend an hour, there’s no better place in Silicon Valley than Lucky Shot Billiards.
Lucky Shot Billiards is located at 189 S. Murphy Ave. Sunnyvale, Ca. 94086. They’re looking forward to seeing you soon. Drop down and give them a shot!
Sunnyvale Downtown Association