It’s likely a few eyebrows were raised when Olde Blind Dog Irish Pub in Milton, Georgia (a state known more for grits than Guinness!) was named the International Irish Pub of the Year—the first American pub to be honored.
But for anyone who has ever passed through the doors of the Milton dining destination, hoisted a pint of ale and sampled the authentic Irish menu, the award was a fitting tribute.
Owner Ron Wallace, who founded Olde Blind Dog with a small group of local investors in 2009, said the award from the Irish Pubs Global Federation was based on a number of criteria, including authenticity, ambience, use of social media, customer ratings and warmth of staff.
“On Saint Patrick’s Day [that year] we had visitors from Los Angeles, New York and many other faraway places that showed up and just said we wanted to be at the best pub in the world for the special day,” said Wallace, a retired UPS executive who lives in Milton.
Although St. Patrick’s Day is the High Holiday for Olde Blind Dog, with a daylong celebration that goes on into the wee hours, every month pays tribute with “St. Practice Day” on the 17th of each month.
“We started St. Practice Day as a way to keep St. Patrick’s Day fresh in everyone’s minds,” said Wallace. “It has evolved over the years and has settled into a very festive celebration with live music when it falls on a Friday or Saturday.”
But regardless of the day or the month, Olde Blind Dog stays true to its Irish roots. Geoff Kokoszka, director of Operations for the pub, notes the corned beef is steamed every day to ensure it remains moist, tender and fresh, and the Shepherds’ Pie is made with chunks of lamb leg instead of the ground beef that most American versions use.
“We have tried to be as authentic with our Irish fare as we can while still appealing to the American palate,” said Kokoszka. “We have had many people from Ireland, Scotland and England tell us that when they eat at Olde Blind Dog they feel like they are back home.”
Specialties of the house include the Rueben sandwich, fish and chips and the Shepherds’ Pie, which are the most popular Irish selections.
“Guests’ favorites are the ale and cheddar dip, fried pickles and our special made chicken wings with every kind of homemade sauce imaginable,” Kokoszka added.
The decision to locate an Irish pub in the far suburbs of Atlanta was made by the restaurant’s founders, who all lived in Milton and were looking for a unique concept to bring to the young city.
“From the first day that we started construction we had people streaming in and out of the building, curious about the pub and anxious for it to open,” said Wallace, who named the pub after his dog. “About a year after we opened we found out that Milton had one of the highest demographics of Scotch/Irish in the state of Georgia.”
Opening day was packed, with a line out the door most of the evening.
“Olde Blind Dog was the 27th restaurant that I have opened in my career, and it was by far the busiest out of the gate,” said Kokoszka. “It was challenging for the first few weeks, but the grace and loyalty that the residents of Milton showed us was amazing.”
Inside and out, every detail of the pub is deliberate, from the design elements and furnishings brought over from Ireland, to the dark woods reminiscent of traditional Irish pubs, to the accessories and items that date from generations ago.
“Olde Blind Dog is often referred to as a museum because of the décor,” Wallace explained. “Many items are hundreds of years old and one of a kind. The few things that are not old have been antiqued to give it an authentic feel just like pubs in the Celtic countries.”
The signature piece is the museum quality, larger-than-life model of Braveheart (aka Mel Gibson depicting William Woods), who resides in full regalia at the entrance, inside a steel cage for his protection.
“People often ask why a Scotsman in an Irish Pub?” Wallace laughs. “We truly are a public house or Celtic Pub representing all seven Celtic nations, but people relate more to an Irish pub so we decided to identify ourselves as such.”
In the spirit of many locally-owned and operated establishments, being a part of the social and civic structure of the community is an important part of the business model.
“We sponsor many of the local sports teams, high school and middle schools, and consistently donate to churches, school PTAs, neighborhood associations, first responders and others,” Kokoszka said.
This is the second year Olde Blind Dog will host a St. Baldrick’s shaving event on March 18 to raise money for childhood cancer research.
“Last year we raised $20,000 and our goal this year is $50,000,” said Geoff Kokoszka.
Looking to the future, Wallace said a third location may open in the next few years, joining the Milton and Brookhaven locations. ■