In Irish Pubs, Sandy Can’t Stop the Party

by and

Irish bars and restaurants in Manhattan and the Bronx weathered Hurricane Sandy this weekend and even managed to thrive in the storm’s aftermath.

A sign outside O’Hanlon’s invited thirsty customers inside. Credit: REBEKAH MINTZER

Hurricane Sandy proved it could do a lot of things: down power lines, flood the streets and rip trees from their roots. But what couldn’t it do? Stop the Irish from having fun.

Less than 24 hours after Sandy crashed ashore and left parts of New York City dark and devastated, Irish Americans in some Manhattan and Bronx neighborhoods appeared not to have missed a beat. Owners of pubs and restaurants in Woodlawn and parts of Manhattan said Tuesday night was their busiest in months.

“The bars are jamming and the liquor stores are packed,” said Meagan McGough, owner of the McGough Academy of Irish Dance in Woodlawn. “People are walking around like there was no hurricane.”

A bartender at The Landmark Tavern, an Irish saloon in Midtown West that dates back to 1868, said some of his co-workers weren’t able to make it to work because of the storm, leaving him a busy night handling the crowd. “We’re short staffed and we have a full house tonight,” he said Tuesday night.

Others reporting brisk business included Rory Dolan’s Restaurant on McLean Avenue in Yonkers, a favorite local spot in the heavily Irish area, and the Jones Wood Foundry on the Upper East Side, a British pub that boasts a large British and Irish crowd.

Author Dave Cullen, who lives in Hell’s Kitchen, one of the areas blacked out by the storm, went out with a video camera on Monday night to chronicle life in his darkened neighborhood. Most of the footage he shot was of a pitch-black New York — until he crossed a small Irish pub in the shadow of the Empire State Building. The result: this YouTube story, “The Magic Irish Pub–lit up and full of drinkers in middle of blackout zone.”

“There’s Irish people drinking,” Cullen informs his viewers. “Could not have made this s*** up.”

Similarly, the streets of the East Village were dark and desolate Tuesday night, but one local bar stayed open by candlelight. O’Hanlon’s, an Irish pub on East 14th Street between First and Second Avenues, was one of very few businesses operating in the area, which lost electricity due to an explosion at a nearby Con Edison power station, which was caused by a storm surge from the East River.

O’Hanlon’s Bar was lit only by candlelight after the power went out in the area due to Hurricane Sandy. Credit: REBEKAH MINTZER

“I think people are just happy to have somewhere that’s not their house to go,” said Patrick Byrne, co-owner of O’Hanlon’s, who served customers with a miner’s light strapped around his head. He had an ice machine full of beer that had never gotten warm enough to go bad — so why not serve it, he said.

Byrne’s co-owner, Tom Staunton, also had a miner’s light on his head and a line of candles on the bar to help him fill orders from thirsty patrons. “It’s just odd not being really able to see people and see what’s going on,” he said.

By 9 p.m. Tuesday, about 40 people were in O’Hanlon’s, gathered at tables or at the bar, most chatting animatedly with friends, their faces only partially lit by small white candles. Though bars tend to be dark places, the lack of any interior lamps or ambient light from the pitch-black street gave O’Hanlon’s a vibe that was vaguely eerie but cozy.

Joe Bergamo and Andy Brienza came for an urgent reason—sustenance. Remembering how little Hurricane Irene ended up affecting the city in 2011, the roommates failed to stock up on food and water for Sandy. They were also going a bit stir crazy in their apartment after the electricity went out.

“We were just closed in, staring at each other,” Bergamo said. Brienza added that the two “just wanted to be around people,” so when they walked by O’Hanlon’s and saw lit candles through the window, they came inside.

Alec Cumming, who was at the bar with a friend, said that he lives nearby and expected that he would have to go to a different part of Manhattan — or to Brooklyn — to find an open bar. He was pleased that O’Hanlon’s hadn’t shut its doors.

“This is a historic moment,” he said. “You never see New York like this.”


Leave a Reply