A new restaurant with an Irish twist has entered the Wantagh community. The Irish Poet Restaurant Bar, located at 1891 Wantagh Ave., opened its doors last Wednesday.
The pub opened after three friends and longtime Wantagh Inn staffers – Mike McNiff, 47, Bill Brown, 45 and Herbie Behan, 52 – decided it was time to open up their own place.
McNiff, originally from Castlerea, Ireland, has lived in Wantagh for over 25 years. Irish Poet has been a long time coming: he said he has wanted to open up a restaurant since 1981. Not to mention, he’s not worked in any other industry.
“I was born in Ireland and the Irish are known for opening bars and restaurants,” McNiff said. “Between us, we’ve been in the industry for a long, long time. Bill and Herbie and I used to all work together and we decided we’d give it a go.”
While the restaurant will offer sports packages, it’s more than an average sports bar, McNiff said – it will provide for families in the community, too. The restaurant area seats roughly 70 people. There are 30 seats at the bar, and another party room that seats an additional 70 people.
Aside from typical bar grub, the menu is stocked with salads, vegan options and plant-based options, McNiff said. The whole team brainstormed menu choices, he said. His go-to pick is the steak sandwich.
But getting the restaurant opened was no easy feat. McNiff, Brown and Behan signed the lease for the spot was signed in May 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. They never looked to open their restaurant anywhere else, McNiff said. Wantagh was always the “dream spot,” as the train station is in close proximity.
“We knew what we were in for,” McNiff said. “There were hurdles along the way and we got over them and we’re moving forward. I’m excited to be in Wantagh, it’s is a great town. The response has been good.”
“It is a beautiful space,” Alison Casey, of Merrick, said. “They did a top-notch job laying it out and decorating it with lovely American and Irish touches,” she said. “McNiff, who I’ve been friends with for years, is a great guy. This is his dream being realized. He’s a guy that came here from Ireland and truly loves this country. He’s a glowing example of the American dream being realized.”
McNiff said his favorite part of opening the eatery was seeing all of the people he hasn’t seen in the past year.
Wantagh resident Chris Schiro, who got his start in the restaurant business bartending with the trio of owners, said that they’re “fantastic guys to work with.”
“They’ve been working towards this their entire lives,” Schiro said. “It’s an unbelievable experience. The place is absolutely beautiful.”
The restaurant had a soft opening on July 11 for specific members of the community before their official opening on July 14.
The restaurant business is not an easy one, McNiff said. There is always uncertainty.
“My favorite part so far has been the computer breaking down on the first order on the day,” he said with a laugh. “It’s Murphy’s Law – if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. It’s the nature of the business we’re in.”
Nevertheless, community members like Casey are excited try the new eatery. “The Irish Poet will be my new regular spot,” she said.