Let’s face it, the British and the Irish don’t agree on much of anything. Certainly, not religion, or politics, and more recently, even membership in the EC. But there is one thing the Brits and Irish have in common—the same foods.
Having trouble finding Colman’s Mustard Powder? How about some Jacob’s Biscuits? HP Sauce? How about some white or black pudding?
To many an Irish exile in New York, these comfort foods of home—or the lack thereof—has only increased their homesickness. But for the Irish in New York City there is relief in sight. And this relief comes in the shape of Myers of Keswick, a shop filled with the packaged treats of home, not to mention the best sausages in New York, the same sausages you’ll enjoy in some of New York’s finest restaurants.
It All Started with Malachy McCourt and the Bells of Hell
The shop in question is Myers of Keswick, located on Hudson Street down in Greenwich Village. The man in charge is Peter Myers, from Keswick in the Lake District in northwest England, who has spent nearly the last 50 years working in the Village, first in the bars and for the last 31 years at his sausage shop.
The shop opened, Myers proudly proclaims, on July 4, 1985. Before that Myers was part-owner of the Bells of Hell saloon. The Bells, as it was known around the Village, was originally opened by Malachy McCourt on West 13th Street in the Village in the early 1970s. One of his barmen was a young immigrant from England, Peter Myers.
The Bells eventually closed under McCourt’s stewardship and was reopened by Myers. It became the running mate of the legendary Lion’s Head writer’s bar down on Christopher Street as a steady stream of regulars from both places passed in the night on 7th Avenue perambulating between the two places. In its time the Bells was known for its music, featuring Turner & Kirwan: Larry Kirwan, future leader of the Black 47 Band, and Pierce Turner, seen here performing “I’m a Freeborn Man of the Traveling People”
Kirwan remembers the parade of celebrities who passed through the Bells: “Norman Mailer came a couple of times to see Turner & Kirwan of Wexford. Angela McCourt was also there quite often but that would have been in Malachy’s time.” He also remembers seeing all the Clancy Brothers, Joey Ramone of the Ramones, famed composer David Amram, not to mention a future Pulitzer Prize-winning author by the name of Frank McCourt.
Myers of Keswick Hits Hudson Street
After he pulled out of the Bells of Hell, Myers went looking for a new venue. Being that his father, and his grandfather before him, were butchers, it was a natural progression that Myers should turn to the trade he grew-up in.
A friend told him of a shop that was for rent on Hudson Street between Jane and Horatio Streets. For years, it had been an Italian deli decorated with Provolone cheeses hanging from the ceiling. They had specialized in hero sandwiches for the working man and had become a staple in the neighborhood. Myers met with the former owner who now owned the building and a small, energetic business was born. The shop is right on the border of what is now one of the hottest neighborhoods in New York, the trendy Meatpacking District.
The shop looks much as it did in its Italian deli days—the refrigerators and counter display cases are the same—but the shelves are filled with products from the other side of the pond that the Irish and English cherish.
An exiled Irishman’s first impression? “My mother would have loved this place!”
Myers estimates that he imports over 300 products from England. The shelves are filled with the likes of Marmite, Sarson’s Malt Vinegar, Branson’s Pickle Chutney, Colman’s Mustards, HP sauce, Jacob’s Biscuits, a wide variety of teas, and more crisps—that’s potato chips for the uninitiated—products than you guessed existed.
His biggest seller? Would you believe Heinz Baked Beans? It’s true. The beans are grown in the U.S. and Canada, shipped to England for processing, and return home to be sold at Myers of Keswick. Myers calls them “the most traveled beans on the planet.”
There are all kinds of sweets (Myers says that Cadbury Flake is his bestseller) and the refrigerator is filled with sodas that no American has ever heard of. His number one soda pop? IRN-BRU, a sarsaparilla tasting soda that is famous as a hangover cure and, according to Myers, outsells Coca-Cola in Scotland.
Chipolata and Bangers? This Way
But what Myers is famous for are his homemade sausages and other goods, all cooked in the back of the store. His link sausages, called Chipolatas, are the best in the city. They are seated next to his plump bangers, which even without the “mash” are a meal in themselves. Next in line are his Cumberland sausages.
But that’s only the beginning. His food display case is an amazing assortment of delicacies. There’s a cornucopia of pies: Shepherd’s, Pork, Sausage Roll, Pork & Stilton, Cornish Pastry, Chicken & Mushroom, Cheese, Onion and Potato, Chicken & Leek, Steak & Ale and Curried Lamp. It’s all topped off by the heart-attack inducing Scotch Egg. (For the uninitiated, that’s a hardboiled egg wrapped in a hard sausage.) Myers also provides Kerrygold Butter and Donnelly’s Black & White Puddings.
Myers two busiest seasons of the year are the weeks leading up to Christmas and St. Patrick’s Day. He estimates that 90% of his customers are either Irish or British. At Christmas time, it is not unusual to see lines stretching to the corner as customers try to get in and get things such as Christmas puddings and Bird’s Instant Custard. St. Patrick’s Day is extra busy as Myers is supplying sausages to Irish pubs for their Irish breakfasts.
New York restaurants are an important part of Myers business. He supplies all of famed restauranteur Keith McNally’s New York operations—such as Pastis and Café Luxembourg—with sausages. In addition, he supplies Irish pubs such as Swift’s on East 4th Street and the Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog down on Water Street near South Ferry.
As the Bells of Hell was a magnet for celebrities, don’t be surprised if you bump into Keith Richards, Rod Stewart or even Naomi Campbell at Myers of Keswick. The late British actor, Edward Woodward, famous as TV’s The Equalizer, was also a regular.
With the Christmas rush over, the St. Patrick’s Day madness is about to commence, Myers and his daughter Jennifer Mary, who acts as a manager/owner, are bracing themselves for a Celtic invasion, an Irish insurrection in search of the comfort foods of home.
Myers of Keswick, 634 Hudson Street (between Horatio and Jane Streets), New York, New York 10014. Phone: 212-691-4194. Fax: 212-691-7423. Email: [email protected] Website: www.myersofkeswick.com. Hours: Mon-Fri 10am-7pm; Sat 10-6; Sun noon-6.
Dermot McEvoy is the author of the The 13th Apostle: A Novel of a Dublin Family, Michael Collins, and the Irish Uprising and Our Lady of Greenwich Village, now available in paperback from Skyhorse Publishing. He may be reached at [email protected] Follow him at www.dermotmcevoy.com. Follow The 13th Apostle on Facebook.