Best in Business spotlight: Shanahans Pub & Grill

Shanahans Pub & Grill bar tenders
Courtesy of Shanahans Pub & Grill

Originally Tom’s Tavern before it was purchased by the Shanahan family in the late 1990s/early 2000s, current owner of Shanahans Pub & Grill David Cookson purchased the business in 2008. Cookson kept the Shanahans’ name and slowly turned it into the type of bar that he would want to go to.

“It was tough in the beginning because of the recession and my lack of knowledge of how to run a business,” Cookson said. “I used my 17 years of experience bartending and I learned a few things from the bar owners I worked for at the time. But most importantly, I learned what not to do and how not to treat your staff.”

Cookson decided to raise the quality of the food at Shanahans to Gastro Pub style (mostly scratch food, prepped in house). He said they soon got labeled as a “Five Star Dive Bar,” a title that they fully embraced, seeing that they were a Neighborhood Dive Bar in the first place.

“We started getting pretty busy and well known around town for a while with the only downside being customers showing up expecting a restaurant dining experience, not a loud and busy Neighborhood Dive Bar,” Cookson said.

In 2018, Cookson decided to expand Shanahans’ patio and opened The Infirmary next door. Since he figured that the type of bar he would want to go to now at his age would be a nicer quiet lounge-style bar, they opened The Infirmary as a Whiskey and Cigar Bar that shares the patio and kitchen with Shanahans. Cookson said this gives customers who are looking for a more relaxed and higher caliber atmosphere who like Shanahans, but aren’t into the noisy, busy dive-bar scene, another option.

Thinking back to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cookson said Covid was possibly the hardest time he’s been through at Shanahans. “Anything that you could think of horrible to happen, happened,” he said. “From dining restrictions, political unrest, mask mandates, arson, break-ins and burglaries, staffing, and all-around fear of uncertainty. We managed to pull through with the help of some great staff and clever ideas.”

In addition to being a “Five Star Dive Bar,” Shanahans used to also have live music shows a few times a month for local bands, but Cookson said they had to stop after the condominiums went in across the street, as there were too many complaints from the new tenants.
With St. Patrick’s Day coming up soon on March 17, Cookson said they are expecting to be busy all weekend, as the holiday this year falls on a Sunday. Shanahans will have a themed menu that day, as well as bagpipers coming through periodically.

Cookson said he doesn’t have any immediate plans for Shanahans or The Infirmary this year because he is currently busy getting ready to open a TOGO’s in Camas, with a couple more to follow. “So, if opening another business doesn’t kill me, I’ll try again to buy the building that Shanahans is in so I can finally do a remodel, while keeping the ‘Five Star Dive Bar’ theme,” he said.

Shanahans has been chosen as the best bar/pub in the Vancouver Business Journal’s Best in Business numerous times, including in 2023. Cookson said he feels this popularity really comes from the staff. “Most of our bartenders have been here for 10-16 years,” he said. “In my experience, if you treat your staff the way you would want to be treated, you’ll have employees that like their jobs. And if your employees like their jobs, then the customers will have a much better experience in a positive environment.”

Brooke Strickland
A lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest, Brooke Strickland is a full-time freelance writer that specializes in writing blogs, website content, and business news for companies & publications around the country. She is also the co-author of Hooked on Games, a book about technology and video game addiction.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.