Preparing For The 20th Annual Pigskin Pigout
Anyone can own an Irish bar. All you need are dark woods for your interior, a few antique whiskey mirrors and Guinness on draft.
But an Irish pub, that is something you must inhabit. It is a way of life, an active part in the community, a second home.
One goes to a bar to get away from their family. A pub is where you start one.
The three B’s of a relationship at the pub: It begins at the bar, moves to a booth and finishes with a booster seat.
But a pub does not just happen. It has to have a center, a heart. And that heart in Honolulu is Don Murphy.
I know this firsthand, as I have spent the past 15 years serving drinks at his behest and writing stories for this paper. But this story is not about me, I am but a witness to the magic that is a true Irish pub.
Its roots come from taking care of your community, looking out for those around you who need your help and making them bigger.
When budget cuts slashed sports programs at high schools across the state, who stepped up to throw a fundraiser? Don Murphy.
Aloha Airlines, gutted by those fly-by-night predators at Mesa Airlines, has to lay off thousands of loyal employees. Where are they going to find help to keep families’ health insurance going? It was a whale of a party at the corner of Merchant and Nuuanu.
The list goes on and on, from Hawaii Children’s Cancer Foundation to Ronald McDonald House to Hawaii Literacy Foundation.
“Without Murphy’s amazing support, especially during the years of the recession, some of our programs would have closed,” says Suzanne Skjold, executive director of Hawaii Literacy, which in the last seven years has raised $125,000 for its program through fundraisers at Murphy’s.
“And we are not alone. Murphy’s supports other important education and children’s causes, and we are so grateful to have community-minded business owners like Don and (his wife) Marion, who give so much to help others in Hawaii.”
It is this kind of generosity that makes Murphy’s home for so many people, even into the next world. Behind the bar lies the remains of seven regulars from such varied walks of life as Honolulu Harbor pilot and legendary waterman Dave Lyman, affable car salesman Eddie O’Toole and the irrepressible Star-Bulletin columnist Dave Donnelly.
And occasionally the dead let their presence be felt, like the time the late local publisher Mary Winpenny displayed her jealousy of a living patron. It was on her first birthday after her death, and a gentleman orders a Manhattan, Mary’s drink of choice, while sitting directly beneath her remains.
Before the gentleman could take the first sip of his cocktail, a black-and-white picture of Yankee Stadium that had been hanging next to Mary fell directly onto his drink, crushing it into a thousand shards of glass and so much brown liquid and masticated cherry.
Or when Murphy’s favorite waitress Trina Bowles, who had run his restaurant floor for more than a decade, finally succumbed to her battle with cancer. At the moment of her passing, the clock in the dining room, the one that always had told her when her workday was pau, stopped running, marking the end of her earthly shift much too early.
For others, Murphy’s has become a symbol, a reminder that there are better, happier places in the world. This is the case for the helicopter pilots of the 2-6 Cavalry Squadron of the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade. These soldiers have served in combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan for more than a decade, and before they go on their deployments, they make one last stop at Murphy’s to “steal” their mascot, Murphy’s Armadillo.
“The armadillo and what it represented was always a comforting aspect for us during deployments,” says Capt. Cooper Barber. “It was, more than expected, a reminder of the norms we had left behind when deploying to Afghanistan or Iraq. The tradition of one last celebration at Murphy’s, and ‘stealing’ the armadillo before our departure, was something we would look forward to prior to our departures, and something we would remember fondly during the harder, darker hours.”
The armadillo, whose origins began as a Christmas present from the bartenders to the boss, has been so highly decorated that its original stand had to be augmented with a second wooden level, much like the Stanley Cup. It proudly wears a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and an Air Medal, and has at least one confirmed kill.
“Perhaps, most importantly, it was a reminder of our return celebration, returning the armadillo to its rightful place, and the warm thoughts of being back home among friends and loved ones in Murphy’s was something that always made a long day shorter,” says Barber.
The stories go on and on, but the one we want to focus on today is the 20th annual Pigskin Pigout, an event started during Fred von Appen’s tenure as University of Hawaii football coach.
“I wanted to get involved with UH, and I thought it would be good for the business and good for me, and UH certainly needed it. They didn’t even have a training table then,” recalls Murphy. “So I got to know Fred when he arrived and I asked him what we could do, and he said we don’t have a training table, we could use some money for that. Before that, they ate the same things the students did. I went through it with the players one day, and all they got was a scoop of rice and a hamburger patty. These guys are weighing 260 pounds, and I was, like, whoa!”
Over the last two decades, the event has raised more than $1.5 million for the team, some through ticket sales for the event, which at $100 apiece for all you can eat and drink is a pretty great deal, but mostly through auction items that run the gamut from Super Bowl tickets to pig hunts on the Big Island.
The auction is run by radio personality Bobby Curran, who infuses his New York sensibilities into it, helping to drive up prices on even the most inane items.
“I remember one year we topped off at $500 for All Star Beanie Babies,” says Murphy with a laugh. “Incredible, for Beanie Babies!”
One never knows what will show up in the auction, which happens this Thursday. One year there was a fishing boat, another a Dachshund puppy, but always there are Neighbor Island trips courtesy of Castle Resorts and a lot of fun to be had by the revelers.
For Murphy, though, he is always humbled by the generosity of spirit he finds in this city.
“You just realize, over here it is such a small town and such a great, giving community. I think the thing I am most proud of is the fact that we give everybody an opportunity to give,” says Murphy, who opened the pub in 1987. “We have raised over $3 million for charity through the years, but we just give people the opportunity to come and give, and say, ‘Hey, that was great, I gave $100 and had a great time and I know it is going to a good cause.'”
Murphy credits his mother for imbuing him with his spirit of giving.
“I remember anybody who ever needed help, she was always there,” says Murphy, who was raised in Oklahoma City.
“I remember going to the hospital when I was a kid. My dad was in there sick with a heart condition and we would be in the ER, and someone would be in the corner crying and my mother would go over and grab them and hug them.”
That sense of giving not just money — anyone can do that — but giving of yourself has helped solidify the pub’s place.
“An Irish pub is the heart of the community in a lot of places; it’s something that I am very proud of and proud that the people who work for me have made that happen,” says Murphy.
“It is a gathering place for friends and family, a grounding place. I remember when 9/11 happened, they asked us all to go outside with candles at a certain time and say the Lord’s Prayer. It is a real home away from home for a lot of people.”
Perhaps the greatest sign of the influence his pub has had on its guests happened recently when a regular I hadn’t seen in a while came in with the reason for his absence cradled in his arms. It was a baby boy, a product of a relationship that had begun over pints many years before in this very pub, had moved over to a booth and now had reached the final stage.
After cooing over the cute little lad, I asked his name and the guest simply told me: “Murphy.”