Unlike most successful entrepreneurs, you can find the Irishman Niall Hanley — owner of a handful of ventures including the record breaking Raleigh Beer Garden and four-floor nightclub Solas — at his establishments, making sure that everything is going just as it should. He’s the opposite of a hands-off type of mogul. From the very start of each venture, he plays a huge role in coming up with the details, designs, and concepts, and continues to work tirelessly to make his vision become reality.
I had the pleasure of meeting Hanley at the famed, Raleigh Beer Garden, which has won two Guinness World Records: one for the most varieties of draft beer on tap and the most beer brands on tap in one place.
While touring the absolutely incredible beer garden, you quickly realize that it’s unlike any other you’ve seen. The bar countertops are made from the impressive oak trees that were once rooted on the property where the beer garden now is located. Then there’s the massive, beautiful tree in the front of the establishment whose branches extend all the way to the ceiling, giving you the feel of a lux tree house.
Hanley is a jovial, charismatic, and passionate entreprenuer. One conversation (or/and drink) with him will have you feeling like you’ve been long-time friends, just catching up. That said, everyone in Raleigh, North Carolina seems to be genuinely friendly —
the kinds of people who actually want to know how you’re doing when they ask.
Here are some of the highlights of the conversation had while exploring the Raleigh Beer Garden.The Daily Meal: How did your childhood influence your decision to become a pub owner/ entrepreneur?
I grew up in the business, my father owned a pub in Ireland, so it’s always been in my blood. The pub is actually still there and my brother owns it now as well as another business called The Western Hotel. I never thought I would get back into the business, but when I came to the states, it was a natural progression. Home is where the heart is, and for me that’s in the pub.Why did you choose Raleigh instead of staying in Ireland?
I first arrived in the states back in 1994. I always thought that I was going to go back home to Ireland sooner than later. After about five years, I realized Raleigh was now home. Raleigh reminds me a lot of Ireland: friendly people, great quality of life. Raleigh is like Ireland but with a roof on it, it’s like “Ireland West.”How has Raleigh's nightlife changed since you've been in business and how does your beer garden and pub fit in?
I opened Hibernian in 1999 when there wasn’t much going on in Raleigh. Raleigh has changed dramatically; it’s been an explosion of progress. A lot of the smaller businesses, bars, and restaurants that have opened up over the years have been part of that growth.
People saw that there could be great things here and a very energized downtown area grew out of that. It was evolving, and everything started to happen at once. The Beer Garden is a homage to North Carolina beer and beer overall — we have an entire floor dedicated to local beers. The Hibernian is part of the old guard — we’ve been part of the city for 17 years — good Irish pubs are hard to find.How did you end up with the world record for number of operational taps?
That wasn’t a conscious decision. It started out by wanting to showcase a large number of local beers and things quickly escalated. Then, we did some research and realized that we did in fact have the largest number.
Why a beer garden?
I love beer and I have a background in horticulture. I love plants and being in the beer business, so it was perfect to marry the two together. I wanted to achieve a true Beer Garden. There are a lot of Beer Gardens out there without a lot of Garden. The space we created has retractable walls and is a true indoor-outdoor space. We wanted people to feel like they’re in the Garden and drinking their favorite beer at the same time.
Anymore plans in the works?
We’re definitely looking at expanding the Beer Garden brand. I’m looking into some new locations and franchising opportunities. Our most exciting project will be the Morgan Street Food Hall here in the Warehouse District. It will be a beautiful food hall and market, emphasizing North Carolina foods, both retail and freshly prepared.
We’ve created an environment for young chefs to come in, incubate their talent and then go out into the world — we will look to have 55-60 different vendors ranging from small retail to bigger kitchen units. They have the opportunity be mentored by a management team and helped along the way.
There are too many to have just one, but I’m very partial to hoppy beers. I like Foothills Brewing Company Hoppyum IPA and Crank Arm Brewing’s Rickshaw Rye IPA. It always depends on the time of the year. If I’m in Ireland, then I always choose Guinness.