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The Bar as a Brand Experience: Growing Up a Saloon Keeper’s Son

Every time someone compliments me on the cocktail I’ve just made for them, I inform them that I come from a long line of Irish saloon keepers–I design a mighty fine cocktail.

Every time someone compliments me on the cocktail I’ve just made for them, I inform them that I come from a long line of Irish saloon keepers–I design a mighty fine cocktail.

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It’s true. My father and his father, who migrated to the U.S. from County Galway, owned somewhat famous Irish pubs: my grandfather, Joe Sr., in Jersey City and my dad Joe Jr., in Minneapolis. In fact, Duff’s, one of my father’s joints in downtown Minneapolis, was legendary during its heyday in the ’60s and ’70s. All of my high school friends were envious of me and couldn’t quite believe it when I set my sights on becoming an artist rather than a barkeep. Sometimes I wonder what kind of proprietor I might have made.

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Joe Sr. behind the bar at Duff’s in Jersey City, circa 1922

One of the main things that kept me from the booze trade was the ridiculous schedule my father kept when I was growing up. He was there every day except Sunday, from mid-morning ’til 1a.m., since every patron expected “the boss” to be part of their chosen bar experience. It took its toll on him as well as my poor mother, not to mention their relationship. The other big negative in my young, naïve eyes were the “clients” he had to serve. I’ve had my share of characters in the design biz but they pale in comparison to my father’s lot, particularly when they’d been over-served. I spent a lot of under-aged time at Duff’s and the stories, both clear-eyed and bleary, of what went on there will stay with me always.

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Ashtray and matchbook from Duffy’s bar in Minneapolis, Minnesota

I guess this is all why one of my favorite kinds of design projects is helping to create a bar/restaurant experience. In fact, add in another favorite, adult beverages, and you’ll see a good amount of the work we’ve done over the years falls into these camps. The latest, Cooper, a true Irish pub just outside of Minneapolis, is a case in point. Our client, Kieran Folliard is as charming an Irishman as you’d ever want to meet and he’s become a local legend at transporting the Irish pub experience from “the old sod” to the relatively conservative middle of America. This is the fourth unique saloon in the Kieran Collection and it’s a truly authentic physical environment in which to enjoy a Guinness or a Jameson, thanks to Kieran, his management team and a talented group of Irish craftsmen from Dublin, at Ol’ Irish Pubs Ltd.

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Cooper logo and postcard

Working with clients like Kieran, who are as passionate about their creations as we are about ours, is one of the joys of being in the design business. It proves that real collaboration is a critical component of commercial success. In the end, there’s really nothing we can do in our design efforts that can replace the “person” part of designing a unique personal experience for the guests. To me, it’s also a reminder to choose your clients wisely. If the product isn’t there, the best packaging in the world is only going expedite impending failure.

Needless to say, this particular design project takes me back to my roots and they’re roots that keep on extending. My son, Joseph is the designer and my daughter, Bridget is the project manager on Cooper–and no, neither of them have had any desire to pick up the previous family trade. Though they never got to see their grandpa in action down at Duff’s, they’re helping to capture the true art of Irish hospitality, served up in the best possible way, to a new generation of revelers. And, somewhere up in heaven, the old man’s smiling down with tears of joy in his Irish eyes.

Read Joe Duffy’s blog Duffy Point of View
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Principal and chairman of Duffy & Partners, Joe Duffy is one of the most respected and sought aftercreative directors and thought leaders on branding and design in the world.Joe’s work includes brand and corporate identity development for some of the world’smost admired brands, from Aveda to Coca-Cola to Sony to Jack in the Box toSusan G. Komen for the Cure. His work is regularly featured in leadingmarketing and design publications and exhibited around the world. In 2004 hefounded Duffy & Partners as a new kind of branding and creativity company,partnering with clients and other firms in all communication disciplines. Alsoin 2004, he received the Medal from the AIGA for a lifetime ofachievement in the field of visual communications. His first book–BrandApart–was released in July 2005 and in 2006, he was recognized as one of the”Fast 50″ most influential people in the future of business by Fast Company.

About the author

Principal and chairman of Duffy & Partners, Joe Duffy is one of the most respected and sought after creative directors and thought leaders on branding and design in the world. Joe’s work includes brand and corporate identity development for some of the world’s most admired brands, from Aveda to Coca-Cola to Sony to Jack in the Box to Susan G.

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