Your Local Irish Pub

John Martin’s is now Just shy of 30 Years in the Gables, a True Local Institution That Changed the Rules of Drinking Here

By J.P. Faber

September 2018

Can any city really have a sense of cozy community without an Irish pub? John Clarke and Martin Lynch didn’t think so when they decided to start John Martin’s Irish Pub in the heart of Coral Gables in 1989. 

“Back in the day, every city had an Irish pub,” says Lynch. “But back in 1989, when we first started, there was no social place in the Gables for people to gather… Before we got it going here, you could roll a ball down Miracle Mile at night and hit nobody.” 

Lynch and Clarke had grown up together in Ireland’s County Cavan, and knew what it meant to have a local pub – public houses that for centuries had served the working man, evolving over the years into community hangouts. 

The problem was a Coral Gables ordinance on the books since 1926, which prohibited the establishment of an independent bar. You could serve liquor in a hotel, or in a restaurant if the bar was out of sight. But the traditional bar – with stools in front and a wall of bottles behind – was taboo. 

Owners John Clarke and Martin Lynch

So, when John Martin’s Irish Pub first opened, you couldn’t get a drink from the bartender. “You could sit at a low table by the bar and talk to the bartender, but he couldn’t actually serve you the drink,” laughs Lynch. “So, a server would come around to get the drink order, then go around to the service bar, get the drink from the bartender, and bring it back.” 

Lynch and several other local proprietors finally convinced the city commission to repeal the law in late 1990, making it possible for restaurants throughout Coral Gables to install bars. 

After that Lynch and Clarke expanded their pub to include a restaurant next door, knocking out the wall between and building it all from wood imported from Ireland – including flooring from an old Dublin church. They had the space designed by an Irish architect, who made sure that every table had a view of the bar. 

Back in 1989, when we first started, there was no social place in the Gables for people to gather…

Co-owner Martin Lynch

Over the years, John Martin’s has evolved to accommodate contemporary tastes – “Ten years ago we would never have dreamt of doing trivia nights,” says Lynch – but the core Irish authenticity has never waned. 

Lynch was raised in a small Irish parish, where he and Clarke went to a national school that consisted of two rooms. Both moved to Dublin, then Lynch came to America in 1981 after his wife was recruited as a nurse, one of 17 Irish girls brought over to work at Coral Gables hospital. Clarke followed a few years later and both worked in the restaurant industry; Lynch as a waiter at Christie’s, Clarke as the banquet chef at the Biltmore Hotel. After their epiphany about the Gables’ need for an Irish pub, they brought investors from home – as they did their first staff – and kept true to their identity. 

Bangers and mash (mashed potatoes and sausage)

“We do a weekly menu now where we change out five or six items,” says Clarke. “But the bangers and mash, the shepherd’s pie, the fish and chips – these have never changed on the menu.” Clarke has run the kitchen since its inception, and still makes all the sauces and soups from scratch. “It’s something we are very proud of,” he says. 

Keeping it real, John Martin’s is now expanding its offerings of Irish whiskey, which is coincidentally a hot growth area in the liquor business. Among the latest he’s added to his Jameson’s and Bushmills’ are Claddagh, Clonakilty, and Teeling. If you are lucky, you might come in one night when there is a tasting going on. 

Today, Miracle Mile is a far cry from what it was when John Martin’s first started. With new competition coming from other nightspots, the bar at John Martin’s is not as jammed. “We do get a good crowd in here at night, but it’s not like it used to be,” says Lynch. “In the early days, there weren’t many acts in town like this. Now you have roughly the same population but you’ve got hundreds more restaurants, so the whole business has been diluted.” 

The bangers and mash, the shepherd’s pie, the fish and chips – these have never changed on the menu…

Co-owner John Clarke

Nonetheless, John Martin’s keeps it going with a spate of regulars, and lots of private-party business. They also cater to special clients with special programming, like a Saturday late-night happy hour from 10 p.m. to midnight. Or “open mic night” on Sundays at 8 pm… “It’s for all of the frustrated musicians who thought they were Led Zeppelin when they were younger,” says Lynch. “Now they are attorneys and doctors and advertising executives. They all come in and play music, and they are appreciated.”