On St. Patrick's Day, toasting the city's Blarney pubs
If there's one quintessential part of St. Patrick's Day, it's the time-honored Irish pub. And in this city, more than a few have raised a glass at the various permutations of “Blarneys.”
Dan Flanagan, just in from Ireland, opened the first Blarney Stone in 1952 on Third Avenue between 44th and 45th streets, says Mike Keane, Flanagan's godson and the manager at Blarney Stone in Hell's Kitchen. (Keane technically owns the bar, but says its owner will always be the late Mike Keane Sr.)
Wanting to bring a piece of his old home to his new home, Flanagan named the pub after a legendary, storied stone in Ireland's Blarney Castle that, when kissed, bestows the gift of gab — hence the term "full of blarney."
For the next 20 years, Flanagan expanded, opening bars and giving jobs to friends from Ireland, Keane says. By its peak in the mid-70s, the Blarney Stone chain had 34 bars in Manhattan, and spin-off competitors began to spring up, including Blarney Rocks and Pubs.
Generally blue-collar, working man's bars, the Blarneys were known for their traditional Irish food, cheap prices and tight-knit community. Most patrons were tradesmen, and few women entered. If you needed a job, a loan, a quick meal or cheap pint, you went to a Blarney, Keane says. Owners, bartenders and customers were family.
But as the leases on the original Stones ended in the 1980s and '90s, the owners sold them off, and today there are about five left in the city. Its competitors have fared even worse.
"It's sad to see them all close," Keane says. "But the characters that made the Blarney Stone, as they leave over the years, that's what we miss.
"It's a dying breed," Keane says. "It used to be a much more special place."
amNewYork toured the Blarneys around the city to find out what keeps some of the die-hard regulars coming back.
amNewYork toured the city’s remaining Blarneys to find out why the diehard regulars keep coming back.
Noel Casey, 69, of Babylon, Long Island, has been coming to the Keanes' Blarney Stone for about 25 years. (It's original location was around the corner, but raising rents forced a relocation in 2002.)
"It's good people here, always," Casey says. "Good relationships with the bartenders, the owners, the customers, we all know each other."
Now retired from a career in construction, Casey still comes to the Stone at least once a week, maybe twice, to meet up with friends or just talk with the owners.
"I can't say enough about them," Casey says of the Keanes. "They make you feel welcome like nowhere else does," he says.
"And it gets me out of Long Island."
For almost a decade, Thomas Hogarty, 42, of Bayside, has made the Blarney Rock in Midtown — his "second home." The laughs, he says, keep him coming back.
"Too long, I've been coming here too long," he jokes. "It's just hysterical here."
Hogarty usually comes with group of friends, and they've been sitting at the end of the nearest the door for years. It's that community, he says, that he doesn't want to give up. (And the odd job here or there he can sometimes snag.)
"It's just fun. I don't know another way to put it. You come here, have a laugh with your friends, grab a beer," he says. "It's just the best."
Mike Walty, 32, of Ramsey, New Jersey, is relatively new to the Blarney Stone in Midtown. He migrated over after his go-to bar closed not long ago — another Blarney Stone.
But since coming here, he and his friends have become enamored with its welcoming atmosphere, which mirrors that of their now-closed Stone.
"It's old-school," he says. "We're really into the tavern, old-school pub feel."
And that feel, he says, makes the Stones the best Irish bars around.
"Unlike some of these other places," he says, "they'll give you a free beer everyone once in a while."
(This story has been updated since its original publication.)