Conor McGregor’s Black Forge Inn is many things — but what is it really?


In Irish rain, 163 Drimnagh Rd. gleams more than anything on the block.

Framed in gold light, this jet-black building stands out on a street where cab drivers say there is a division between a “good” or “not so great” section of Crumlin. The Black Forge Inn is located 15 minutes from downtown Dublin. It looks strange next to Paddy Power, and a neon-lit takeout restaurant, as if it were a bar in a strip center.


Conor McGregor’s restaurant is open at a moment that has been both literal and metaphorical for the former champ. Eight months after suffering a broken leg that offered another unflattering look at his vulnerabilities in the octagon, he is still not quite battle ready, and yet, he remains the most talked-about fighter in the game. These days, he is as much a spokesmodel as he is a fighter, tending to ventures in the restaurant, Proper 12, and various fitness and wellness projects. Unable to ply his fighting gifts, he relies on his ample verbal ones.

This jewel in his empire almost went extinct a few months back. Two men riding scooters set off firebombs on The Black Forge Inn during a drive by, according to reports. Gardai in Ireland said that they are particularly interested in anyone who has camera footage to assist with their investigations. It’s been two months and no arrests have been announced.

McGregor, like all his conquests has made a lot of talk about The Black Forge Inn’s stout and whiskey. So being, a) an amateur connoisseur of all, and b) in the neighborhood, I stop by to see if the glossy branding matches the reality. From the one-shot drone promo and Instagram highlights, I expect to walk into a music video.

It’s magnificently stylish. From the stained wood to the herringbone-patterned floor and coffered ceiling, you can see every bit of the 1 million euros McGregor put into renovating the neighborhood bar he says he haunted in his younger days. The bartender is still there, serving me a cup of coffee in the middle of my visit.

Is it a bad time? Probably. The weekend is when most places are busiest. But still, I can’t help wondering about the location, which is a decent haul away from the city centre in what appears to be a fairly sleepy neighborhood. Then there is that whole attempted fire-bombing thing.

A polite call let me know several weeks earlier that the kitchen was closed on that day for renovations, so there goes my food review. I resolve instead to sample his most prized projects: Proper 12 and Forged Stout. It’s a tough gig indeed. But first, I stroll around a labyrinth of spaces off the main bar, all of which are decked out with McGregor memorabilia and bottles of his whiskey.

On the patio’s back, McGregor’s Tiger tattoo wall is the focus of selfies. I arrived just in time for a drunk American to confess that he had only sex with four people today. This confession was made by a young bartender who is on his evening off. All the Americans he has met are, he claims. He wore hi-fi headphones, and a tracksuit, swearing that the Forge is jammed every night since “we got an .”

Michelin star

“You’ve already got a Michelin star?” I answer, hearing the incredulity in my voice.

“A Michelin-starred chef,” he corrects. … “We just got voted best restaurant in Dublin, so, ya get me?”

Seeing few other interview opportunities, I sidle up to the bar. The Madison arrives first. It’s their take on a Manhattan with Proper 12. But to call it a take is generous — it’s cloying and smoky in a way that doesn’t at all evoke the vintage cocktail. I switch gears and go for a glass of Proper 12 on the rocks. Although there are caramel and vanilla notes from whiskey that has been aged in Bourbon barrels, there is a strong, almost chemical finish. The bartender explained that most people won’t drink whiskey straight. He asked if they would like a Fanta or ginger beer on the side.

“It’s not bad,” he says. It’s great for mixing. … I tell Conor to make a nice whiskey, age for 15 years.”


The outlook gets way better with Forged Stout. This dark beer is a refreshing departure from Murphy’s, Guinness and Beamish. It has an inky head with lots of coffee notes and a light mouthfeel. Similar products are available in America; in my area of the Pacific Northwest, coffee stouts have become very popular. But in Ireland, it stands out in a marketplace with comparatively fewer drinking options for beer over whiskey. These days, everyone is getting into the spirits market, from Jay Z to Josh Barnett. Many of these products are actually made by another person.

Content and moderately buzzed, I sit back, almost alone in the gleaming bar, listening to a 70s playlist as the bartender sips his coffee. Conor McGregor is there and he tells him, “We tell them to go, but they won’t.”

Our hunger pangs drive us to leave and we soon make our way out of the Crumlin Night. I run into the drunk American on the street; he had ended our first conversation to tell his wife that I had visited their home town in Hayward, Calif. Sporting an oversized UFC hat and waist-length braids, she is less impressed with this feat than her stumbly husband. They came all this way to see their hero, and they seem happy, with or without McGregor. The only problem is the hangover that awaits.


Bat and ball stars love to get into the restaurant business. The list of combat sports is much shorter. The main reason, of course, is that most fighters don’t make enough money to start. There’s also a ton of overhead, multitudes of variables completely out of your control, and a fickle customer base with insane competition for their dollars. Even if you put your whole heart and soul into it, odds are you’ll eventually fail.

Beloved heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey might be the best example of a restauranteur/fighter. For 39 years, he ran “Jack Dempsey’s Broadway Restaurant,” located for most of its lifespan across the street from the old Madison Square Garden on 50th and 8th Ave in New York City. Every night, the heavyweight boxing champ reportedly sat in a corner booth for dinner, “signing autographs and shaking hands” with well-wishers, the New York Times wrote. “Nearly all are middle-aged, and most are from out of town.” In 1964, you could get a Manhattan and a slice of his famous cheesecake for $1.35. It was a far better restaurant than “Sugar Ray Robinson”‘s uptown Harlem location. When it eventually closed in 1974, the victim of a lease dispute, Dempsey’s wife feared for her husband’s well-being.


Photo by (c) Bettmann/CORBIS/Bettmann Archive

Former UFC welterweight champion Johnny Hendricks remembers the moment he knew it was all over. Nearly one year into a lark as the proprietor of Bigg Rigg Steakhouse in Midlothian, Texas (a chalkboard sign inside bore Hendricks’ trademarked slogan: “Go Beard or Go Home”), he took a good look at his bank account and realized he was $150,000 in the hole. He enjoyed eating there and trying something new. The online critics were not as generous.

“I am not impressed by the performance of this restaurant,” wrote one snarky Yelp critic.

“We did everything right, but you find out how hard it is, hiring and firing people,” said Hendricks, now a full-time police officer in Midlothian. It was not something I enjoyed .”

Most MMA fighters have gone much smaller in food service, opting for quick-in, quick-out joints. Daniel Cormier invested in a small poke chain. Rich Franklin, Seth Petruzelli and T.J. Dillashaw got into juice and wellness, with Dillashaw’s “Clean Juice” a particularly ironic choice in light of his performance-enhancing drug positive in 2019.

A few months removed from his second loss to Anderson Silva, Chael Sonnen opened Mean Street Pizzeria on the mean streets of West Linn, Ore. In the wake of an ill-fated attempt to fight Jon Jones at UFC 151, the two-time title challenger jabbed his future opponent with a pizza “loaded with chicken and full of cheese” for sale until “our chicken runs out and we have to cancel.” The pizza came with a six-pack of beer and was available for delivery, said the poster, so people could “avoid a DUI.” By 2014, Sonnen had sued his business partner for embezzlement. After the failed attempt to fight Jon Jones at UFC 674 Sonnen sued his business partner for embezzlement. Terrence Samuel, a high school student from the area, said that “in our community we expect a certain standard of quality.”

Another UFC middleweight, Tim Boetsch, was at a Raleigh training camp alongside fellow UFC vet Marcus Davis when he met some competitors on the barbecue circuit. His wife’s uncle had worked for him in food service and he was able to get them into a mobile shaved ice franchise. It did well in summer. He had no experience with smoked meats other than eating them. He was drawn to the art of smoking meats, and the various temperature and timing factors that go into delivering the best product. So, the Barbarianq food truck was created.

“There is definitely a level of stress,” he said. It was scary at the beginning when there were people in line. You have to be able to serve everyone. Sometimes it can seem like a marathon, but you just need to stay focused and do everything correctly. You see that line forming outside, it can be very stressful. At the same time, you’re doing something right if a lot of people coming out to eat your food. You get an adrenaline rush and it’s definitely an art. It’s important to excel at what you do .”

, regardless of whether that is fighting or feeding people.

So far, Boetsch says, he’s doing something right. When he posts the truck’s location on Instagram, people show up. More catering orders are coming in, and that means more stable income. Like every other restaurant, costs and supply-chain issues are a constant tug on business, but he’s still in the fight.

He has no desire to own a restaurant.

” Owning a restaurant is essentially committing yourself to it if you want them to do things your way.” he stated. Some people may become managers, but that’s not the same passion as being there every day for the rest of your life. I don’t have any interest in being at a restaurant every day for the rest of my life.”

Boetsch’s goal is to continue slinging delicious barbecue “on my time” with the freedom to work when and where he wants. For all its challenges, the food business is nothing like his previous job.

“When you’re locked in a cage and you know somebody’s going to try to punch your face in, there’s not a whole lot of things in life that will be more challenging than that,” he said.


My wife and I return to The Black Forge Inn two weeks later, hopeful the kitchen will be open. The food is advertised on Instagram as upscale pub fare with hot stones plates, steaks, and different purées layered around the proteins. I had been told the kitchen should be up and running a couple days after my first departure. When I walk through the door, however, the same bartender greets me with a smile and a slight grimace. There is no food.

It’s just three days since St. Patrick’s Day. Strings with the Irish tricolor are still hanging around Dublin and some street sweepers may have made a mistake outside bars. Again, not great timing. McGregor had an all-day blowout for the holiday and had just given a sit-down interview in the Forge to his website, The Mac Life. On this day the place was dead again. There are a few people in the corner, and an Ohio couple next to us, taking a break after a destination marriage. They, too, were hoping for food but settled for drinks. I continue my quest to find a good cocktail with Proper 12, ordering the “Fighting Irish” drink I’d seen in the video that was finished by blowtorch. Boozy cinnamon lemonade is the result, a pleasant if odd combination. I try a whiskey sour with IPA syrup. I miss the stout.

I notice a guy walking through the bar whom I’d seen around McGregor on social media. I follow him outside, intent on talking to somebody, anybody, about this place. It is a restaurant. Are you looking for a bar? It could be a bar. As I catch up to him, I notice a black Bentley parked outside. And there is “Notorious,” all traps and shoulders. He nods to me as he walks in.


The Ohio couple’s eyes widen back at the bar. The man stage-whispered, “He’s there.” He’s here, he stage-whispered. I’m cool, I’m cool,” she says to no one in particular.

In Dublin, McGregor’s reputation is far different from Jack Dempsey, who in 1950 won an AP poll of the greatest fighter of the past 50 years. Almost nine years into his UFC run, he seems to have squandered most of the goodwill he built as Ireland’s biggest fighting export, prompting a string of expletives from locals I ask throughout my trip who cite his repeated brushes with the law. There’s a big whiff of classism in their critiques, like city folks looking down at working-class Crumlin. When the former two-division champ walks through the room, though, he is the king in his castle, the don of this family. He flashes a veneered smile and works the room, shaking hands.

McGregor takes a place in the corner and burys himself in his smartphone, making jokes, singing to Outkast’s song “Ms. Jackson”; he asks a server to bump the music. With a pint Of Forged Stout in hand, he hops onto the bar and uses a blow torch to give the beer a smokey halo. His coughs soon follow. “Happy Monday!” he shouts, then retreats back to his perch and his phone. Even bartenders without uniforms are present at the bar. Everyone is trying not to look at the famous guy in the corner.

McGregor declines an interview request, saying he just wants to eat and relax. My bartender placed silverware at the bar for us just a few moments later. Along with sizzling steak delivered to “The Notorious,” the chef has made us a meal. This is a butter-roasted corn-fed chicken dish, which includes a large portion of chicken and root vegetables. It also comes with chicken jus. Many local pubs offer pre-made and microwaveable versions of Irish favorites. This is scratch cooking from a classically trained pro.


As it turns out, the pro, Ed Raethorne, has worked in Michelin-starred kitchens and cooked for presidents and celebrities alike. McGregor, he told me, is just another boss, and he’s just another chef trying to hire competent and reliable help amid a global shortage in talent. McGregor isn’t sure that everyone enjoys The Black Forge’s cuisine.

” “I don’t believe anyone is in Dublin doing the same thing we are doing now.” he stated. It would be great to have some attention from the media

We thank Ed and Conor on our way out, full and a little buzzed. I’m still not entirely sure what the Black Forge Inn is. Listening to McGregor’s interview, I’m not sure he knows either, and I’m not sure it really matters. McGregor’s Black Forge Inn, which is also his whiskey and his legacy, is his declaration to the world. It’s his passion, whether it’s packed to capacity or blowing tumbleweeds. And passion, in restaurants as in fighting, is needed in ample supply to survive.