What’ll it be? Co-owners Johnny Hannegan, left, and Chris Benson preside over their namesake pub. Photo: Charles Barry
In 1979, John “Johnny” Hannegan ’72 and his friend Chris Benson took out loans at 17 percent interest to finance their dream: an American pub with Irish flavor. They set up shop in the hills above Silicon Valley, on Bachman Avenue in downtown Los Gatos. Thirty years later, C.B. Hannegan’s is going strong and “embraces all the people who come in through the front door,” Benson says. “Or the back door.”
Walls are covered in photos of patrons, rugby gear, Irish politicians, and exchange students from Listowel, Ireland—Los Gatos’ sister city. There is a photo of Hannegan and Benson with Willie Nelson. Nearby, a memorial tribute from the Oct. 20, 1983, edition of The Santa Clara newspaper hangs opposite the bar: two full pages honoring Pat Carroll, S.J., a much-loved member of the Santa Clara Jesuit Community and, in his own words, “a very stubborn, sensitive, and sentimental Irishman.”
The dream of creating a local pub that would serve as a neighborhood gathering place began with Hannegan’s love of pubs and rugby and Benson’s love of “the good food”—pizza, barbecue, fish and chips. The two men struck up a friendship a few years after Hannegan graduated from Santa Clara and was working at Mountain Charley’s, a local bar. They’d gotten to know each other, talked about their dreams, and most important, discovered “each other’s drink of choice,” as Benson puts it.
Their site in Silicon Valley means the pub draws an international crowd as well as locals. And more than a few visiting Irish dignitaries have been known to pay a call. “Johnny’s the ambassador’s ambassador,” Benson says. Hannegan shrugs and says, “Under the Clinton Administration, we’d get calls sometimes from Irish politicians visiting White House saying they’d rather be back at our pub.”
When I spent an evening at the pub earlier this year, the Emerald Isle was represented by Jimmy Deenihan, a Fine Gael politician and former Gaelic football star, who was there visiting from County Kerry. His take on C.B. Hannegan’s? “It’s the best pub in the world,” he gushed. “There’s no pub like it, even in Ireland.”
St. Patrick’s Day is, naturally, celebrated in epic proportions. The city of Los Gatos lets the pub shut down the street so more people can join the party. You won’t find any green beer. You will find all the barbecue (chicken, ribs, pork, hot links) and oysters you can eat, plus three stages featuring live entertainment. Among the groups this year: The Workhouse Poets—featuring Lawrence Elrod ’71 and James Foley ’68 (full disclosure: they’re my father and godfather, respectively)—bagpiper Richard Katz, and a troupe of Irish dancers.
Hannegan and Benson try to foster a family atmosphere in the pub. It seems to be working. Veteran bartender Tom Owens has been with them for 28 years. That, and Benson says, “You know you’re doing it right when the sons and daughters of people who helped create and sustain this place are now working here.”
But it is work, they concede. And, Hannegan says, “It’s not easy having this much fun.”
Emily Elrod ’05
From their Ghost Train release:
I’ll Be Home by Midnight (3:51)