Cork bar owner: Our pub is full of great characters and we all enjoy their company

As we continue our series on Cork’s pubs, in The Bar Stool, CHRIS DUNNE catches up with the owners of Mok’s bar on Bandon Road
Cork bar owner: Our pub is full of great characters and we all enjoy their company

Don and Tara Ellis in Mok's Bar, Bandon Road, Cork. Picture: Denis Minihane.

WHEN Tom Ellis’s son, Don, took off for Spain on a well-earned break, Tom took care of business and the reopening of the family pub when the Covid-19 restrictions were lifted.

“The 8pm closing was a bit of a disaster,” says Tom, who previously owned Ellis’s on Gilabbey Street.

“It got a bit messy at last orders and it was hard to blame people. It was great to be open at all until then though.

“The reopening of normal hours went very well, it was very orderly and everyone was in a good mood.

“There are still a lot of people sceptical, we have a good few customers who are in their seventies and they mightn’t come back right now as they are still a bit afraid.

“It’ll take a few weeks to kick in and for things to settle down.”

Don Ellis, proprietor, in Mok's Bar, Bandon Road, Cork - who is glad to be back in business. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Don Ellis, proprietor, in Mok's Bar, Bandon Road, Cork - who is glad to be back in business. Picture: Denis Minihane.

Tom is glad Mok’s is open again for business.

“I like the banter and the craíc with our customers,” he says.

“We all know each other well. We are like an extension of St Finbarr’s club. A lot of the players come in here for a drink and a chat. Mok’s is a hurling, sporting pub that is always lively.”

Mok’s has a regular clientele and has welcomed in the likes of Micheál Martin, John Bruton, the great Jimmy Barry Murphy, and the legendary Paudie O’Shea.

“Sports commentator, Tony O’Donoghue, often pops in when he’s back in Cork,” says Tom.

Mok’s is a hive of activity every day.

“We have our Monday Club when the lads catch up with each other and we get some students in during the week.

“Apache Pizza came in with their pizza oven for a few weeks and used the kitchen upstairs. The customers were happy with that.”

Don and Tara Ellis outside Mok's Bar, Bandon Road, Cork. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Don and Tara Ellis outside Mok's Bar, Bandon Road, Cork. Picture: Denis Minihane.

There is always a lot going on in Mok’s on the Bandon Road.

“Clann ná Eireann, a traditional folk group, play here once a month. My son is friendly with two lads in the group,” says Tom.

“Roger Goode’s son is the best tin-whistle player ever. He is superb.”

Tom and his son, Don, were busy re-decorating the pub when they had spare time during lockdown.

“We cleaned up the place and gave it a fresh lick of paint. And when we ran out of work I did nothing,” adds Tom, who has two daughters as well, Sharon and Janet.

Sharon is a former Miss Cork and a former Miss Ireland.

“I went for walks and I played a bit of golf when we finished touching the place up,” says Tom.

He was relieved to open the pub door again.

“It was just great,” he says.

Don was back in his normal place too, after his holiday in Spain.

“I know all the customers,” says Don. 

“I grew up in the area. And I grew up in the pub trade. We used to own another pub, Ellis’s in Gillabbey Street. We had both Ellis’s and Mok’s for 18 months at one stage. I love meeting the people of the parish.”

Mok’s is home-from-home for Don.

“It’s not like work at all,” he says. “I’m working in the bar since I was 12 or 13 years old collecting glasses and helping out.

“In our old pub we had a snooker table and two pool tables. Here in Mok’s, it’s just pints.”

Where did the name Mok’s come from?

“I’ve heard four or five stories about where the name Mok’s came from,” says Don, who is married to Tara and who is a dad of three.

“The pub was Murphy’s at one stage and the nickname of the man who owned the pub was called Mok because he used to call everyone Mok! He’d say ‘Hiya, Mok’, or ‘how’s the going Mok’!”

Don Ellis, behind the bar at Mok's.
Don Ellis, behind the bar at Mok's.

Don’s son, Jack, often helps out in the pub.

“He’s in first year in UCC but he often does a few hours behind the bar.”

The lads love the buzz and lively atmosphere in Mok’s.

“We have a great mix of people coming in and the Barrs and Lough Rovers are both near here. The Barrs won the county and the Munster football championships - we celebrated until 8pm!”

How did table service go down with the regulars during the restrictions?

“We’re lucky we have a good day trade,” says Don.

“A lot of the older lads come in during the day rather than at night time. I’d usually drop down their drinks to the table, so they were used to that. The few that liked staying at the counter found it more difficult but doing table service didn’t affect anyone too much.”

Early closing wasn’t ideal.

“The 8pm closing affected the people who were working more,” says Don.

“Last call was at 7.20pm and anyone working, going home, getting changed to go back out again, were caught for time. So it’s great to be back to the normal closing time.”

People can get supper near Mok’s too.

“We’re near Lennox’s chipper, so that’s handy!” says Don.

Does he mind working seven days a week and for long hours?

“I am used to the hours now. I’m just so glad to be back again.”

Did he find the time long when he was out of work, when the pubs were closed.

“It was a big adjustment,” says Don.

Don and Tara Ellis in Mok's Bar, Bandon Road, Cork. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Don and Tara Ellis in Mok's Bar, Bandon Road, Cork. Picture: Denis Minihane.

“I was never at home by day, but I got used to it and I liked spending time with the girls, my wife Tara, and our daughters Amy Rose and Jane. We had a getaway to Spain before re-opening.”

Don liked getting acquainted with his customers again.

“Bill the poet is a great character,” he says. “Bill is retired. He is liable to give a blast of poetry of a morning, or break into song. After a few pints he tells stories to entertain the lads.

“The pub is full of great characters and we all enjoy their company,” adds Don.

“Derek, a regular customer of ours, loves re-calling the old days of hurling in the ’60s, forty or fifty years ago. He livens up the place with his stories.”

Mok’s is back in business again.

“We are in a good place now,” says Don.

“It is onwards and upwards from here. I am very positive.

“I know friends of mine who own pubs in West Cork and Kerry and they were in the horrors not seeing a soul some days - maybe only four or five customers other days. We open at 10.30am every day and we tip away every day.”

Don and his father, Tom, are looking forward to tipping away in the days to come.

“It’s a great feeling being back in business,” says Tom.

“Everyone is happy. After two or three drinks you can see the relief on their faces. The customers have their own little niche here. Our regular customers are like our friends. We know everyone by name.

“The sons of the dads we used to serve are coming in to us now - it’s all good. We hope to stay open from now on.”

Next week in The Bar Stool, we feature The Castle Inn.

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