The Story of the Fire
We'll admit, we've had our share of scrapes and near misses over the years, but nothing cut quite so close as the events of July 1, 2012. Rebecca Seymour of the Lake County Reporter wrote an article that sums up a chapter of our lives that we very much hope is now just a part of our past. You can see the original by clicking this link.
Out of the Ashes Rises The Pub
Popular downtown Oconomowoc restaurant
hopes to reopen Oct. 26
By REBECCA SEYMOUR
Posted: Oct. 15, 2012
For Bernie and Aelred Gannon, July 1, 2012, is a day the owners of The Pub Irish restaurant in Oconomowoc will not soon forget.
"It was a Sunday and we wanted to take it a little easy because it was just four days after Aelred had his heart stent procedure," said Bernie.
"I had 80 pecent blockage in my coronary artery. I'm just lucky they discovered it and fixed it before the fire!" added Aelred, shaking his head, chuckling.
The Delafield couple's plans for a leisurely day of rest would soon be dashed when at around 1 p.m. their phone rang. "It was Jayson Mauer our bartender. He called to tell us Maureen Stapleton's building was on fire. I put the phone down and picked up our car keys and we raced to the restaurant," said Bernie.
A devastating fire had started at the rear of the more than 100-year-old building adjacent to The Pub, taking the life of Sharon Phillips and injuring Mary Dollack, sous chef for The Pub.
The five-alarm blaze also sent several firefighters to the hospital, temporarily displaced 20 people living in the second-story apartments and destroyed Stapleton Realty.
"We pulled up to the back of the building and all we could see was thick, acrid smoke pouring out of the building and my first thought was, 'Did Mary get out?' " said Aelred. "Somebody told us about an hour later that she had jumped out of the window, but was going to be alright."
More than 100 firefighters battled the fire for hours, successfully containing it from spreading to adjacent buildings on either side.
"Initially we thought our building was not being harmed and then they really started pumping the water and we saw smoke coming out of our upstairs windows," said Bernie. "We just knew there would be serious smoke and water damage."
One year ago, The Gannons were gearing up to celebrate the 10th anniversary of opening The Pub on Oct. 23. The Irish bar and restaurant has become somewhat of an Oconomowoc icon - a place where in the Irish tradition, one hundred thousand welcomes are served up with an abundance of great food, drink, music and conversation.
The building where The Pub is located is 120-years-old, making it one of Oconomowoc's oldest business structures. It was once a drug store, as well as a meeting place for the Oconomowoc Freemasons during the 1800s.
For 20 years before the Gannons transformed the space into The Pub, the building had been home to The Seasons Italian restaurant. Aelred remembers the first time he stepped into the building over a decade ago.
"The restaurant had been closed for six years. When I came in through the back door it was creepy and dark and smelled of old cigarette smoke, but it had a unique feel to it. I loved it," said Aelred.
Walking into their restaurant for the first time the day after the fire would leave an entirely different impression on Aelred and Bernie.
"It was 100 degrees outside and when we walked through the front door the air was grimy and thick with moisture. It was literally toxic to breathe it," said Bernie. "Our restaurant looked like it had just been abandoned. Everything was in its place, but it was so filthy and sodden. Oh, my heart was so heavy."
"It was tough," agreed Aelred. "And it looked like a daunting challenge."
After it was determined the building was structurally safe, the Gannons immediately got to work, contacting a restoration company to bring in huge dehumidifiers to clean the air. All of the artwork, knick knacks and treasures were boxed up and taken away to be cleaned or repaired. Tables and chairs, glassware, dishes and salvageable kitchen equipment were taken out of the building and stored.
"Everything in this building, down to the nails in the walls, has been removed, cleaned and put back," said Bernie.
What couldn't be saved was thrown out.
"Four days after the fire we put up a long table in the back alleyway and just started hauling food out from the kitchen, placing it on the table, photographing it for insurance and then tossing it into the Dumpster. That was a hard thing to do," said Aelred, looking down at the floor.
Two weeks after the fire, all of the plaster behind the bar and along the south wall, adjacent to the building ravaged by fire was torn down. Discovered underneath was the building's original cream city brick. "We always figured it was there and it's so beautiful, we decided to clean it and not cover it back up. We think people are going to really be surprised," added Bernie.
The original hardwood floor had to be re-sanded, the restaurant's bathrooms, serving station and office have also been completely reconstructed and every single surface repainted.
The Gannons received a loan from Oconomowoc's Community Development Authority to help replace the antiquated HVAC system and the electrical service and plumbing have also been upgraded. Other changes Aelred and Bernie want to keep for a surprise when they reopen.
"The last three and a half months have been exhausting and very emotional. It's overwhelming, but it's also heartening. People started to reach out to us right away and so many have offered their help. We are so grateful and we couldn't have done all of this without their support," said Bernie.
The couple is also grateful that Mary Dollack will return as The Pub's sous chef. "The hardships of refurbishing this building can't be compared to what the people who were hurt by this fire have had to endure. Mary has already been helping us with cleaning and we are so glad she is coming back to our kitchen," said Bernie.
Aelred and Bernie hope to be able to reopen The Pub the weekend of Oct. 26 with plans for a bigger celebration in the near future.
"I'm looking forward to opening and getting back into a regular routine again. We just want everybody to come back in here. We miss all of our customers because they have become our friends. And we want to be able to thank them again and again … and again," said Aelred, with a smile.
The Pub is at 114 N. Main St., Oconomowoc. Visit www.aelredspub.com.