Despite award-winning food and a fully stocked bar selection that could put most any other local pub to shame, it's the people — both staff and customers — that makes Fiddler's Green Irish Pub in downtown Winter Park what it is, the owner said.
“We have a cross section of people who come in here which is what makes it, in my opinion, special,” owner Donal O'Brien said in his easy-to-distinguish Irish accent.
He finds the most joy watching the different people that come into the pub interact with each other. Providing a venue for stimulating conversation, he said, is top priority.
“We don't like to be called a bar. A pub is a public house and a public house is like a social center, and that's what we consider ourselves,” O'Brien said.
Fiddler's Green, which opened in 1996, features authentic old world recipes ranging from fish and chips to Irish stew and Guinness that tastes like it was flown in right from Ireland. And here, everybody really can know your name.
“This place is made of regulars,” said JohnE, a 10-year customer and occasional musical performer at the pub. “It's like everybody knows everybody, and even if they don't, they at least act like they do.”
From both the employees and the customers, people are likely to see a familiar face at Fiddler’s. Even the dishwasher has worked there for 14 years. “People tend to stay — I think they enjoy it,” O’Brien said.
The exterior of the pub, which has been in the process of renovation, is on the verge of being restored to its former glory, the owner said. The process, which has taken months longer than anticipated to complete, doesn’t add any new flair or frills, but brings back the essence of the past.
“We're not an in-your-face kind of place,” O'Brien said. “Some people go to places just to say 'entertain me!' I suggest people entertain each other. We give them the setting for that. I suppose that's what makes us a little different.”
Does the pub have numerous HD TVs? Yes. Can customers expect to see them if they come in on a daily basis? No.
Televisions are only usually brought out for sporting events, like the recent World Cup. On an average day, only two are on display, both on mute. Having all of them out all the time, O'Brien explained, would impede on the social aspect of the pub atmosphere.
In true Irish fashion, expansive wood paneling and brass details encompass the interior. The booth seats are old English church pews, and shelves are covered with old books and knickknacks O’Brien collects on his trips back to Ireland. An old wooden and, O’Brien admits, out of tune piano, waits in the corner for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, when the pub features live musical performances.
All of the little details add up to give Fiddler’s an authentic pub feel that keeps customers coming back.
“It's kind of cozy. I like the atmosphere of the place — it gives it that real Irish pub-type feel,” said Ben Griffen, who discovered Fiddler’s a few months ago when he drove by the Kelly green building on the corner of Fairbanks and Pennsylvania avenues.
Scott Balsam said he has stopped by the pub nearly everyday after work for the past 10 years.
“It reminds me of back North, like the bars back home,” Balsam said, “some place to come and talk about sports and politics and relax.”
That’s exactly what O’Brien intended for Fiddler’s to be about.
“There's always a bit of fun going on,” he said. “Life is pretty serious these days so it's nice to relax and have a bit of enjoyment. That's what we try to provide.”
For some, Fiddler’s Green has evolved into even more than that.
“I've been coming here for probably 10 years,” JohnE said. “It's like a home away from home; it's just a nice place to come and see friends.”
Walking through the antique wood doors in to Fiddler’s Green, he said, “It's just like coming home.”