Not an Irish goodbye: McKnight’s celebrates final anniversary as owners close pub
On Wednesday, Nov. 16, John Oberly, owner of McKnight’s Irish Pub, was all smiles as he told his customers to pull up a rock and someone would be right with them. It’s a greeting he is proud of and that Steamboat Springs has become familiar with the past five years.
“When we took this over the Tugboat was gone, El Rancho was gone and the Cantina was gone,” said Oberly, who is affectionately known as Coach by employees, customers and friends. “They were all places that were an ‘every man’s’ place. I’ve been a pub guy for a longtime, so we wanted to run this place.”
Oberly, and his wife Pam, signed a five-year lease when they took over operations of McKnight’s in December 2017. Since that time, McKnight’s has gained a strong local following by hosting bingo and Latin nights, holiday parties for local businesses and events like the Mustache Ride. The bar on the east side of town served as a home for memorial services for the folks who left an impression on the Yampa Valley, a place for sports fans to come watch the game, or teams to come unwind after a day on the pitch.
The Irish pub’s run crossed the finish line this week with a retirement party on Saturday, Nov. 12, its final bingo night Wednesday, Nov. 16, and its final regular business day Thursday, Nov. 17. At 4 p.m. Friday, Nov. 18, the Oberly’s and McKnights invite the public to come in one last time for a garage sale and auction event.
Oberly, who back in the late 1980s opened and ran Paddy O’Brien’s American Pub in Steamboat, said he is leaving the pub behind as he and his his wife head toward life’s next big adventures.
“It’s bittersweet,” Oberly said of the closing. “I was going to carry through the ski season if nobody ran the place, but my wife says, ‘Really, you want to go through the ski season with one cook?’ … So I’m going to try to double my ski days. I’ve been struggling to get 20. I’m going get a head start in December.”
Oberly moved to Steamboat Springs back in 1985 after visiting Steamboat Springs for the Cowpie Classic rugby tournament. He left in 1988, after getting married, and spent the next stretch of his life living and raising his family in the Denver area. Oberly often returned to Steamboat Springs to take part in the Cowpie Classic, and after coming for the 2012 tournament, the couple made the decision to come back to the Yampa Valley.
“The Cowpie was what brought me up in the first place in 1980,” Oberly said. “I came up for the Cowpie and fell in love with the place. Even when we weren’t living here I was making multiple and annual visits to keep in touch because this place was home in my head, and I hope we can stay the way.”
Oberly has plenty of plans, in addition to hitting the slopes to fill his time once the pub closes.
“My lovely bride and I are going to make a trip up to Ireland that was scheduled for May of 2020 that didn’t happen for obvious reasons,” Oberly said. “We are going to make that trip this spring.”
Kerry Shea, who opened McKnight’s in 2011 with business partner Brent Pearson, still owns the space and credited Oberly for his efforts with McKnight’s.
“When we originally conceived the concept, we wanted it to be that neighborhood pub where the community could come in, where everyone felt safe and it was a place for good cheer and times, and experiences with friends and family,” Shea said. “Ultimately, that’s what happened, and John continued on with that same spirit, and put everything he had into it. I have a lot of respect, and appreciate everything that John had done to continue on that original concept in the original spirit of the business.”
Shea said there is nothing specific planned for the space, but is in the midst of active conversations. He said the possibilities are wide open right now, and if the right person comes along, reopening McKnight’s is also a possibility.
“It’s a classic public house,” Oberly said. “It’s what a public house should be and that’s all I ever wanted.”
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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