The Parkway Tavern was packed Tuesday, just the way John O’Gara liked it.
Hundreds of people came and went, hoisting beers, telling stories and raising a ruckus.
Many might have shown up anyway, but they really wanted to be there Tuesday because O’Gara, the Tacoma tavern’s long-time manager, had died hours earlier.
“It was his baby,” said Nicholas Brosier, an employee of seven years. “He put a lot of heart, soul, energy, time, everything he could into this place. We treated him like family, the bar like home. He was the patriarch of the family, you know?”
O’Gara, 52, “had several health challenges,” said his sister, Angela Geary.
“We didn’t expect his death when it happened, at all,” she said. “It was looking like things were sort of turning around for him, and they just took a dive.”
O’Gara worked at the The Parkway, 313 N. I St., for longer than many of his coworkers could remember, somewhere between 15 and 20 years.
Co-worker Michael Corcoran said Tuesday’s gathering was exactly how O’Gara would want to be honored. It’s how they recognized two other employees they’ve lost in the past decade or so.
“He was always honest with a customer,” said Corcoran, who has worked at the bar since 2001. “Even if he didn’t like them, he could joke with them and still get his point across. Just a great bartender. Even when it came to the point of having to cut someone off or kick someone out. Always a nice diplomat.”
O’Gara was a staple within Tacoma’s brewing scene, those who knew him said, organizing contests and festivals.
“Wherever he went, anywhere in the country or the world, he was interested in checking out the brewers and what was happening,” Geary said.
Donna Herren, wine and beer buyer for the Tacoma Boys grocery store, said she used to work with him on a tongue-in-cheek craft beer blog called The Brews Tribune.
“As far as the craft beer community, he had a large role to play in just making people aware of what was out there and kind of vamping up the list at The Parkway to start including more craft beers, more local beers,” Herren said. “It seemed like everybody knew the guy.”
O’Gara was born in Ireland and raised in England before he moved to the United States and married in 1990. He worked at The Swiss when it opened.
“He was a very loving, caring person,” Geary said, “He was sort of charismatic, lively, likes to joke. Really was proud of his Irish roots.”
And a big fan of England’s Leyton Orient Football Club.
He’s survived by his wife of 22 years, Marit Berg-O’Gara; 7-year-old daughter Maeve; siblings Angela, Nicola and Stephen Geary; and mother Lois Geary.
A public memorial for O’Gara is being planned, his family said.