Wonder Wall

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Murphy has collected an array of local- and Irish-themed bar memorabilia and relics over the three-plus decades of operating his popular establishment.

As the Chicago Cubs were making what ended up being a successful run toward a World series title in 2016 following a 108-year championship drought, local restaurateur and avid sports fan Don Murphy was busy cooking up an idea.

The Cubs and their loyal legion of fans had long been besmirched by the “Curse of the Billy Goat,” which was supposedly placed on the team in 1945 by William Sianis, who owned the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago. As the story goes, Sianis was asked to leave the Cubs’ Wrigley Field during Game 4 of the World Series that year after fans complained that his pet goat, appropriately named Murphy, was annoying them. Sianis reluctantly left with his four-legged pet but vowed that the Cubs would never win another championship.

Fast-forward 71 years, and the Cubs were in line to win the World Series after battling the Cleveland Indians over seven games. Murphy decided the best way to help the Cubs “get over the hump” and achieve their championship dream was to cook an entire goat and make Goat Sliders as an option for guests watching the game at Murphy’s Bar & Grill, his popular downtown Honolulu watering hole on Merchant Street. The Cubs went on to end the curse, and a throng of happy Cubs fans celebrated in the “Cubs Corner” of Murphy’s, which features a prominent piece of the restaurant owner’s priceless sports memorabilia collection.

In that corner, which patrons can see by glancing to the right upon entering the bar’s door, is an actual seat from Wrigley Field. Murphy, who grew up in Oklahoma and recalls fond memories of attending a handful of Cubs games, acquired the seat following a ballpark renovation in 1986. He explains that, after looking back at the team’s record while the seat was used at Wrigley Field, the seat was occupied by 1,149 happy fans – the number of team wins while it was in service.

The “GOAT” lives on at Murphy’s
While a photo of a goat representing the old Cubs curse is on the wall, too, a different kind of GOAT (greatest of all time) is also honored at Murphy’s. Legendary heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali is featured in another corner nook of the bar as a pair of signed gloves (a limited edition set numbered 340 of 1,000) is flanked by an autographed picture of the prizefighter holding the Olympic torch at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

“When (Ali) got out of prison after refusing to participate in the Vietnam War, I got to watch him in an exhibition match in Oklahoma City,” Murphy says. “He was so quick, it was incredible.”

All aboard the Ryan Express
Murphy has befriended countless sports figures, coaches, athletes and patrons over the years, and those relationships have helped him to build the collection he refers to as “A lot of great memories all over the walls.”

A signed Nolan Ryan baseball is prominently displayed, and while an autographed ball from one of the game’s all-time great hurlers who was nicknamed the “Nolan Ryan Express” is sought after by many a collector, this particular ball is unique. Former Major League umpire Mark Johnson was good friends with Murphy until dying in 2016, and was assigned to work at third base during what would be Ryan’s seventh no-hitter game in 1991.

As Murphy explains, a batter facing Ryan late in the game hit a foul ball down the line manned by Johnson, and the umpire snagged it. However, instead of tossing the ball to a fan, the ump realizing that history could soon be made – stowed the ball away in his pocket. After Ryan finished off the no-hit effort, Johnson got the pitcher’s autograph and gave the ball to Murphy.

“You’re not going to find something like that anywhere else!” Murphy says.

Priceless memories live on
In four decades of operating the restaurant, Murphy has amassed an array of photos, autographed items and apparel that each carry unique storylines. On one wall, a rare autographed Barry Bonds jersey and a flag from the old Candlestick Park in San Francisco hang near a priceless sign that was initially posted at Honolulu Stadium, the “Termite Palace” that preceded Aloha Stadium.

Above the expansive bar, guests will see part of the old Yankee Stadium before it was razed, a Neil Everett bobblehead doll honoring the local sportscaster turned ESPN SportsCenter anchor, and a collection of photos featuring sports legends the likes of Dizzy Dean, Babe Ruth, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Larry Bird, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Rocky Marciano and Joe Lewis.

And, with a name like Murphy’s Bar & Grill, one won’t wonder why a Notre Dame football helmet and a hurling stick from Ireland also have homes above the vintage shuffleboard table.

Historic roots run deep at Murphy’s
To say that Murphy’s Bar & Grill holds a special place in historic downtown Honolulu is an understatement. Murphy’s was originally the Royal Hotel under the ownership of W.L. Green. Because the hotel was in a prime location near the bustling Honolulu Harbor waterfront, it served as a gathering spot for merchants, ship captains, laborers and even royalty. King David Kalakaua was said to have frequented the hotel, as did other prominent figures, including Robert Louis Stevenson. Over the decades, and as the local landscape and business community changed, the building that is now home to Murphy’s remained the same.

In 1987, Murphy bought what was then Royal Hawaiian Saloon and opened Murphy’s Bar & Grill. In the nearly 35 years since, the lunch, dinner and pau hana destination has provided a “little taste of the Irish homeland, all wrapped up in great food, good company and an extensive bar.”

Giving back to the community
In addition to building a strong base of loyal customers over their four decades running Murphy’s Bar & Grill, Murphy and wife Marion have also made it a priority to give back to the local community through an array of charities and nonprofit organizations. The restaurateurs have made it a holiday tradition to help those in need during Thanksgiving and Christmas, offering food specials and donation opportunities that help provide meals for families in need and toys for children.

Murphy’s has also become synonymous with University of Hawai‘i athletics as the restaurant hosts the annual Pigskin Pigout to raise funds for the Rainbow Warrior football program. The event, which has been held 25 times thus far in conjunction with the fall football season, has raised nearly $2 million for the ‘Bows as patrons buy tickets to enjoy a bountiful buffet
and participate in a live auction, which features memorabilia donated and often autographed by pillars of the professional sports world. The funds donated help the UH program cover costs that may not always be fulfilled by the program’s budget.

“It really means a lot to me,” says Murphy of the Pigskin Pigout, which is tentatively slated for October of this year pending the evolving COVID-19 restrictions. “I had a player who was at UH when June Jones was coach who came into the restaurant years after graduating and was so thankful because we had helped to feed the team after games. To see the current and former players so appreciative of the support, and to include the loyal fans and customers in the experience, it makes everything that goes into organizing and running what is usually a big block party so worth it.”

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