Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Mark Sinnwell's last name.
WATERLOO — Well after downtown Waterloo’s mid-century heyday, and well before its revitalization, Mark Sinnwell decided to take a chance on an old pub called The Boardroom and make it his own.
The year was 1996, and there were no other bars downtown, Sinnwell said — Smitty’s Bar, on Jefferson Street, would open later that same year, he remembered. But when he put out the sign for his new Irish bar named after his mother, Catherine Doyle’s, in March 1996, his establishment was all alone.
“I saw a need for things downtown,” the east Waterloo native said.
The Boardroom had been the place for local business people to join each other for a drink or two after work since the 1920s, said Sinnwell. When he decided to open his own place after several years bartending at BJ’s, the cramped bar on Sycamore Street was the perfect size.
“This was small enough that one person could manage it,” Sinnwell said, standing inside Doyle’s recently.
He removed the orange-and-red shag carpeting from the walls and painted them green, and gave it a few other updates as needed throughout the years. He named it after his beloved mother, a homemaker who raised him and nine other siblings, seven of them by herself after Sinnwell’s father died of a heart attack.
She came into her namesake pub occasionally, Sinnwell said, mainly when family came to town. She died five years ago at the age of 90.
The pub, at 504 Sycamore St. in downtown Waterloo, has barely changed from its beginnings — high round-top tables and chairs jostling for space with the dart board and video redemption machines — but everything else downtown has.
Doyle’s is nestled in the Hotel President building, previously the Park Avenue Apartments, and next to the new private downtown dog park, Wiggly Field. New loft apartments and condos have sprung up all around, and cyclists pedal by on Park Avenue’s new bike-friendly lanes.
Catherine Doyle’s was the unchanging, everyone’s-a-regular bar where Sinnwell spent the majority of his time managing and bartending.
That workload, Sinnwell’s new job with the public defender’s office, and a desire to spend more time with his family are the main reasons he’s closing. Catherine Doyle’s will serve its last pints Wednesday.
He decided it would be a good time to do it because his license renewal was up then. The pub, which is leased, will then revert back to the building’s owner.
“I’ve always said there’s nobody stupid enough to do what I’ve done, because you need to be here 70 hours a week,” Sinnwell said.
That’s not to say Sinnwell doesn’t have fond memories of the place. St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, complete with corned beef and cabbage, always pack the place — admittedly, for the size of it, not a difficult proposition. And each customer, it’s fair to say, knows Sinwell.
“Our goal is to treat everybody like a regular when they come in. No matter if you come in once a year or two times a week, you’re a regular at Doyle’s,” he said.
And Sinnwell is pleased, for the most part, with downtown Waterloo’s progress — and he hopes for more.
“We need more retail down here, maybe bring back a shoe store. I’m glad to see we’re getting a grocery store,” he said. “It’s becoming a destination, downtown.”