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The Noreen's Story

By Kari O'Connor

Our Dad, Donald O'Connor, always wanted to be called “Timmy.” We used to ask our family how he got that nickname, and nobody knew why. It just kind of fit him. He looked like a Timmy.

Dad was definitely from the steel mills – he was a vulgar, dirty guy with a good heart. He was still at the steel mills in the late '60s when a friend of his decided he was going to move to Vegas. So Dad hitched a ride and ended up staying permanently.

Back then the mob was still a force in Vegas, way before all the mega-resorts and corporate mentality. He started as a craps dealer downtown at the El Cortez, rocking and rolling with the locals.

Then he saw our Mom, Noreen.

Mom was from Sonora, California, a small town in the mountains east of San Francisco. She'd been living in Vegas with her sister Kathy for a few years, and back then there used to be bands and dancing at the Bingo Palace casino (now Palace Station).

Dad went up to Mom and asked her to dance. She said no. She told Aunt Kathy that she thought he was one of those Smooth Operators. But Dad persisted. Always the charmer, he convinced her to dance, and a few years later, they were honeymooning in Hawaii. Dad came back to work at the Frontier as their house was being built in east Las Vegas. Sean was born, then me. When I was about 3 or 4, Dad missed Christmas because of work, and that was it.

He partnered up with two friends of his, and started his first bar, This Is It! in the early 80s. It was right on the Strip at Las Vegas Boulevard and Harmon, and was the dealers' place to party after work.

But, eventually, Vegas started to expand, and having a neighborhood bar on the Strip just didn't make sense, so Dad started looking for a new place. In 1984, he bought a bar called Who Cares? and named it after Mom.

Eventually, Noreen's grew to have quite a few regulars who have seen Sean and I grow up around the bar. On one of the walls near the front door, pictures of our regulars started showing up, eventually turning it into the “Wall of Time” (and the most popular corner of the bar to sit). It was our regulars who made Noreen's what it is now.

When Mom passed suddenly in 1998, the bar rallied around the family. We held her wake there, and it was definitely a celebration. Mom was very much loved by everyone. She was the quiet, reserved balance to Dad's brash loudness.

Dad persevered, as did the bar and our regulars. Mom's absence changed everything. But we had support, and Sean and I started getting more involved in the bar. And when Dad was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 1999, we knew we had to be strong. Our family rallied around us.

When I was little, I always heard Dad explaining why he stayed on the east side of town: because he wanted a Pittsburgh bar that was close to the airport. If folks from Pittsburgh came to Vegas, they had a slice of home close to getting off the plane. And for folks who had moved to Vegas from back east, they had a place to go. And when Dad died in 2001, we knew we had to keep that feeling alive. For him.

Dad's brother, our Uncle Bobby, once told us that – even though we live in Vegas – embracing our Pittsburgh roots would make Noreen's successful, and we took that to heart when we renovated the bar in 2008. We started to show the Steeler games, and when the season started in 2008 that culminated in a 2009 sixth Super Bowl win (with a packed house), we knew we were doing something right. At one point during that great game, Sean leaned over and said to me, “Dad's watching out for us this year.” And he was right – though Dad (with Mom) watches out for us all the time.

We are so grateful for all our regulars old and new, and especially love to see Pittsburghers come out and support the best team in the world. The best compliment anyone can give us is that they feel like they're back home. And though we were born and raised in Vegas, being a part of the Steeler Nation makes us feel at home, too.