For years, Skosh Monahan’s has been among Costa Mesa’s better-known restaurants — serving not only as a neighborhood watering hole and eatery, but a nerve center of sorts in the local political realm.
On Monday, however, the Irish-styled establishment owned by a former mayor is closing its doors for good after nearly 19 years.
In keeping with its theme, Skosh Monahan’s closing has been something of an Irish goodbye. There was no major marketing push announcing the decision, no glitzy, nostalgia-tinged events aimed at coaxing customers back through the doors one last time.
“That’s not my style,” owner Gary Monahan said.
Instead, the news has trickled out steadily in recent days. A conversation with a regular here, a Facebook post there.
“We’re going to go out with a bang,” he said, as he surveyed the space from a seat at the bar.
Monahan said the closure can be chalked up to simple economics.
“We haven’t been making much money for a while,” he said, and his lease at 2000 Newport Blvd. recently ran out.
There’s also no denying that the day-to-day stress of running the restaurant has taken a toll.
That doesn’t mean the decision was an easy one.
“It’s definitely emotional,” he said. “I’ve had my breakdown moments. I’m hoping to get through tonight without one. I don’t know if that’s going to happen.”
Like the restaurant that bears his name, Monahan has long been a local fixture. He’s one of Costa Mesa’s longest-tenured City Council members — serving five nonconsecutive terms between 1994 and 2016. He also was elected to one term on the Costa Mesa Sanitary District board.
“It’s the end of being able to go to the neighborhood pub and being able to catch up on the neighborhood stuff.”
Throughout that time, his politics and profession have often been bedfellows. While he was on the council, Skosh Monahan’s gained a reputation as a local Republican stronghold — a gathering place for Monahan’s political allies and a host venue for election night parties.
Longtime Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher famously maintained an office above the restaurant. There’s still a darkened electric sign hung near a back entrance that reads, “Rohrabacher Liberty HQ.”
Skosh’s is also the location from which a private investigator tailed former Councilman Jim Righeimer in 2012 and called police, reporting that the official was driving drunk when he wasn’t. The private detective later pleaded guilty to filing a false police report and illegally placing a tracking device on another councilman’s car.
Monahan himself was arrested on suspicion of DUI and hit-and-run outside of his restaurant in November after a driver hit a parked car.
Though the political tenor of the restaurant has waned since Monahan’s departure from the City Council in 2016 and Rohrabacher’s loss to now-Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach) last year, some residents credit their own local involvement to the people they met and the conversations they had at Skosh’s.
“I attribute my integration into the city of Costa Mesa to Gary,” said Krissie Bogner, a former member of the city Parks and Recreation Commission. “He’s done a lot for a lot of schools and organizations and people in general for the city — and Skosh’s has become a hangout for our family as well. I just think he deserves to be recognized for all he’s done.”
Jim Fitzpatrick, a former city planning commissioner and sanitary district board member, said Skosh’s was “where I first started to learn about Costa Mesa, Costa Mesa politics and the things that were going on in the city.”
“It’s the end of an era,” he said. “It’s the end of being able to go to the neighborhood pub and being able to catch up on the neighborhood stuff.”
As employees geared up for the last hurrah Monday afternoon, a few regulars trickled in to shake Monahan’s hand and clap him on the back.
Monahan said he doesn’t anticipate going anywhere. The new owner, he said, has big plans to renovate and redesign the space. Monahan said he’ll be involved with that new venture in some capacity.
Looking back, Monahan said there isn’t necessarily one thing that particularly stands out from his time helming the restaurant. Instead, he said he’s enjoyed developing relationships and interacting with the clientele over the years.
“It’s mostly regulars and locals, so it’s kind of like in ‘Cheers,’ ” he said, referencing the titular bar in the famed NBC sitcom.
After a second, he added with a laugh, “I mean, I’m shorter than Sam Malone.”