Local Current Blog

From the Shamrock Room to the Shanty: The musical history of O’Gara’s Bar & Grill

A crowd dances to Journey during a DJ night at O'Gara's in 2007. (Marcus Metropolis/CC BY-NC 2.0)

In March, O’Gara’s Bar & Grill announced a plan to tear down the St. Paul Irish pub, replacing it with a new apartment building and smaller version of the bar. Construction is slated to take place by late 2019. Although the renovation will mean a complete overhaul of the building, owner Dan O’Gara said in a statement that the new space will “retain lots of little touches” from the original space.

O’Gara’s has been family-owned since Jim O’Gara founded the bar in 1941. Over the years, the pub has made a name for itself for its yearly St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, its association with Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schulz (who lived in an upstairs apartment in his teen years, as his father ran a barber shop in a space that’s now part of the bar), its welcoming atmosphere, and its live music.

O’Gara’s has housed various live event spaces throughout the bar’s history. Minnesota legends from Grant Hart to Cornbread Harris have made appearances at the pub. Here is a look back at some of O’Gara’s most memorable music moments.

The Shamrock Room

In 1982, Tim O’Gara (son of founder Jim O’Gara) created the Shamrock Room. The Shamrock Room served as O’Gara’s main bar, and was also the location of performances by jazz big bands, like the local Cedar Avenue Big Band and Nova Contemporary Jazz Orchestra, as well as acoustic acts. In 2008, Minneapolis legend Cornbread Harris performed in the Shamrock Room with Tony Ortiz (the Monroes).

The Garage

In 1985, O’Gara’s opened the Garage, a music venue that hosted local and national acts. Local musician and founding member of the Gear Daddies, Martin Zellar, was one of the Garage’s frequent performers. In the late ’90s, he hosted a monthly Neil Diamond tribute show, and in 1999 debuted a show titled “Foreign Cars,” a concert dedicated to the music of Foreigner and the Cars.

Another regular show at the Garage was Wayne Night (not to be confused with the Jurassic Park actor), a concert series active in the ’90s, booked by Wayne Augustin and held the first Monday of every month. Augustin would perform at most of the shows and invite other local acts to join him on the bill. The sets were almost all acoustic, and although it only paid $20-$100 (the cover was $3), local musicians would clamor for a spot at the gig.

Augustin grew up in Austin, Minnesota with Martin Zellar and worked a day job as a landscaper. He recorded a few solo albums, occasionally performed with the Gear Daddies, and was well-connected with most of the musicians in town. He was also Grant Hart’s cousin. Augustin often booked Hart to perform at Wayne Night.

The Shanty

In 2011, O’Gara’s renovated the Garage, turning it into the Shanty. The renovation was an effort to shift away from live music and repurpose the space for video games, DJ sets, craft brews, and food. Although the space got a new look, it received an old name. When Tim O’Gara built the Garage in ’85, he planned on naming it the Shanty. However, construction workers referred to it as “the garage,” because the building was a former mechanics shop. When it came time to update the venue, Tim’s son Dan decided to restore the name.

Following its construction in the early 2010s, the Shanty hosted live music regularly, up to six nights a week. In recent years, live performances have become less frequent, and are often reserved for occasions such as St. Patrick’s Day.

Will the legacy of music at O’Gara’s continue? It still remains unknown. Dan O’Gara has not announced any information about live music at the new O’Gara’s location.

Colleen Cowie runs the blog Pass The Mic.