Coogan’s, an Irish jewel of Upper Manhattan, was set to close this May with a $40,000 hike in monthly rent but was saved by an incredible community effort of folks from all different ethnicities and backgrounds.
Leading the charge was Lin-Manuel Miranda, who drops in all the time, as does his father. So do black men, white men, brown men, comrades all. Hell, they’re so hospitable, they’d even welcome the Trumpster.
The New York Times writer and twice Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jim Dwyer, who lives nearby, is the chronicler of all things Coogan’s, each column a jewel. Years back, the owners, Peter Walsh, David Hunt and Tess O’Connor McDade, insisted on keeping the pub open even when the neighborhood changed and times got tough. Then this year they faced eviction because of a $40,000 a month rent rise.
When Coogan's was set to close, Dwyer wrote: “Coogan’s came through the crack wars of the 1980s and served as a meeting spot for, among others, Dominican-Americans, African-Americans, Caribbean-Africans, Irish-Americans, old-time Jewish-German refugees, police officers, doctors and construction workers. Also, reporters, including this one. And my family. When riots were tearing the streets apart in July 1992, Coogan’s stayed open 24 hours. One evening, it hosted the local precinct captain and a local power broker, who met in the back room. The next day, the riots ended.”
I went there with Jim soon after 9/11. He was right about the magical mix.
Cops and robbers, drinker and dossers all mixed together in a beautiful melange of New York. There was a Shamrock run on St.Patrick’s weekend for charity and a fundraising breakfast for Dominican HIV families later in the year. Coogan’s quite simply was the glue that held the neighborhood together
There was supposed to be a Coogan's wake this weekend and a protest which most thought would change little. We have seen before neighborhood landmarks disappearing as gentrification spreads.
Like Tim Finnegan’s Irish wake however, the Coogan’s corpse arose.
“Tim revives! See how he rises!
Timothy risen' from the bed
Sayin', "drink and porter is my order
Thunderin' Jaysus! Did you think I’m dead?"
Coogan’s was almost dead. “They want about $40,000 a month more,” David Hunt, one of three partners in Coogan’s, told Jim Dwyer before the reprieves. “That’s not remotely doable. Right now, we are paying all our bills every week, and that’s about it. But when we leave at the end of May, not one employee, not one vendor, not one tax will be unpaid.”
That sounded like an encomium for Coogan’s. Then at the weekend, a deal was struck.
“New York-Presbyterian and Coogan’s are delighted that this has been resolved in a way that satisfies everyone involved, and that Coogan’s will continue to be a very special part of the Washington Heights community,” the hospital and the restaurant said in a joint statement.
They acknowledged that Representative Adriano Espaillat and the Manhattan borough president, Gale Brewer, had been instrumental in bringing about the agreement. Also taking part was Luis A. Miranda Jr., a political consultant who is the father of the Broadway star. His son Lin-Manuel Miranda pumped his fist in the air and shouted, “Coogan’s!” when the announcement was made. Alexander Hamilton would approve the quiet revolution.
So Coogan’s is saved, a neighborhood preserved, and ordinary folk shown they can make a difference. Do yourself a favor if you are ever in Upper Manhattan and visit. It’s a unique community who recognize the Irish language epithet “Ni Neart Go Chur Le Cheile” --”No strength unless we pull together.”
Definitely true in this case.