The old-style Irish pubs are fast dying out and the need for change to a new image for the Irish is urgent.
The article in Crain’s New York Business quoted Tim Tully who has stood behind the bar of the Blarney Rock Pub on West 33rd street for 11 years. He explains how three years ago the Blarney Rock got a boost when neighboring pub and rival Hickey’s Bar closed after 44 years.
"The rent got jacked, and the owner walked away," said Tully told Crain’s New York Business.
However, next door to the Blarney Rock is Stout NYC, the largest Irish pub in the city, offering dozens of microbrews, some with “organic” and “gluten-free” in their name, and serves fare such as scallion black-bean turkey burgers.
Upscale taverns such as these, along with rising rents and changing tastes, are gradually pushing out New York’s old line Irish pubs, many of which are becoming less Irish in order to stay in business.
"You've got to change with the times," Paul Hurley, president of the United Restaurant & Tavern Owners of New York and former owner of Kennedy's, an Irish pub on West 57th Street that shut last year after the landlord doubled the $20,000 monthly rent told the magazine.
Other recent pub casualties include the Blarney Cove on East 14th Street, Dewey's Flatiron on Fifth Avenue, Druids on 10th Avenue and O'Flaherty's on Restaurant Row in the theater district.
There used to be 30 Blarney Stone pubs in NYC, but now only five are left.The original on Third Avenue in midtown closed last year.
It’s not just the rising rent – changing tastes are also killing the old Irish pub.
But even pub owners trying to adapt to the changing times by adding craft beers and gourmet food to their menus are finding it a struggle to overcome the perceptions people have about Irish bars.
"Given the type of cuisine and the prices people expect at Irish bars—no $18 cocktails, which help boost margins—the numbers just can't add up," said Faith Hope Consolo, chair of the retail group at real estate broker Douglas Elliman. "It's rough for Irish bars right now."
Martin Whelan, who has built a mini-empire or nine pubs, including the 17,000 square foot Stout NYC, has become the most successful pub owner in the city by dialing down the Irish elements at his establishments, reports Crain’s New York Business.
Whelan says that with increasing rents, success comes from spreading expenses over a large base and bringing partners to help shoulder the burden, like he has at Stout NYC.
"Fifteen or 20 years ago, a bartender could open a place with a friend," he said. "Not now."
This summer, a new, 32000 square foot mega pub called Pier A is set to open this summer in Battery Park City. The tavern will offer Guinness but will also be “celebrating the harvests of the Hudson Valley” says owner Danny McDonald, who also owns the Dead Rabbit, located in the financial district, and which was named the “world’s best new cocktail bar” but Tales of the Cocktail last year.
McDonald revolutionized the Irish bar scene in 1995 when he opened the Swift Hibernian Lounge.
"I wanted people to think differently about Irish pubs," he said of the quiet, candlelit establishment.
James Morrissey, a 27-year-old nightlife promoter from Dublin is trying to shake up the Irish pub scene with plans to open a bar on East Houston Street later this month called the Late Late Bar & Spirit Grocery.
The pub’s name refers to an Irish talk show from the early 1960s on which divorce and other taboo subjects were openly discussed and the bar's decor will evoke an Irish residence from that time.
Craft beers and cocktails will be on the menu, and the Guinness will be served in crystal goblets with a mint leaf on top, which is the style in Nigeria.
"Irish pubs here are based on stereotypes," Mr. Morrissey said. "We want to disrupt that model."
Originally published May 2014.