Montgomery County firefighter and paramedic Mike O’Neil sips a beer as he sits beneath the 9/11 wall at Heroes Pub. O’Neil was at the Pentagon doing search and rescue in the aftermath of that day. He’s a typical Heroes regular: a first responder and a local from Arnold who comes in several times a week. He seems to know everyone in the place, and everyone knows him. “Great bar food, great people, and they support the community. This is Cheers,” says O’Neil, referring to the fictional tavern on TV. “We feel comfortable here.”
As we pause on November 11 to celebrate the service of our military veterans, let’s also remember the people that keep us safe in our homes and our communities: our first responders. Heroes both welcomes and celebrates these people. Walking through the door, there is no doubt what this pub is all about. It’s a tribute to the police, firefighters and emergency medical personnel, both local and nationwide.
Heroes’ founder, John Brock, was raised with a long family tradition of fund-raising for police and firefighters’ causes. When he planned his tavern in 1996, making it a police and firefighters’ pub was an easy decision. He wanted a place that would both celebrate first responders and be the comfortable, neighborhood place they and others would like to spend their free time.
In 2002, Kurt Beall switched from Heroes’ staffer to owner. He too has first responders in his blood. His grandfather was chief of the Annapolis Fire Department and the Naval Academy Fire Department. Beall maintained the look and feel of the place, as well as most of the employees and customers.
Firefighter and paramedic Mike O’Neil, left, with Heroes owner Kurt Beall.
“This is a neighborhood place,” he says. “In any given week, 15 to 25 percent of our customers are first responders.” When Bay Weekly visited at lunchtime midweek, it was more like 60 percent.
For staffers, Heroes is a second home. In an industry with an average of 25 percent annual turnover, most Heroes employees have been there for years. Typical is waitress/bartender Nahla Aljinabi.
“We’re like a family, and it’s rare to find a workplace where you like everyone,” says Aljinabi, one of Heroes newest employees with only eight years of tenure.
You don’t have to be a first responder to like Heroes.
John Alvanos and his wife Celia are retired state employees. For years they have been coming for lunch every Wednesday.
“We like the food, and we like the special events,” he says. “They do good for the police and fire departments.”
Heroes is a perpetual sponsor of youth baseball and police department teams. Last year, Beall and Carroll Springs, president of the Annapolis Firefighters Union, organized a drive to help the residents of New Jersey devastated by Superstorm Sandy. Supplies were collected at Heroes and at local firehouses and then trucked up to New Jersey, along with a bus full of volunteers to help with the cleanup.
Covered with first responder memorabilia, the walls of Heroes establish the ambience. The 9/11 section includes an axe used by firefighters at the World Trade Center. The charring on the handle brings back the horror and reality of that day. An interesting artifact is a SWAT shield with three bullet holes: In 2007, a suspect fired on the team conducting a raid. The shield took three bullets, the officer’s vest took two rounds and the officer took a shot in the leg. He recovered, but his shield is a reminder of people who put their lives at stake every day to keep us safe.
Food and drinks are a draw all on their own. On tap are 48 beers complemented by a full-service bar. My personal favorite is Heroes’ chili, but everything I’ve tried has been good.
When you visit, take time to look at the memorabilia on the walls and ask about the stories behind pieces. If you meet a first responder there, say thanks.