Cliches abound when it comes to St. Patrick’s Day and the Irish pubs where it is celebrated: leprechaun hats and green beer, corned beef and cabbage, a well-worn bar stool and countless shots of Jameson whiskey.
These tropes unravel inside James Joyce Irish Pub & Eatery, the soaring restaurant and bar that opened recently in downtown Patchogue. Evocative details fill the space, from pressed tin ceilings and dramatic mezzanines to an undulating marble bar and mural devoted to Dublin life. While there is a neat row of Jameson bottles behind the bar — as well as Guinness pouring from a state-of-the-art nitro regulator, and plenty of craft beer — that corned beef can come shredded atop a Gruyère-laced mac-and-cheese, or scattered on poutine, and a BLT sandwich is layered with smoked salmon. The crowd tends to skew slightly older than in some other Patchogue bars, with ample brogues mixed into the din.
“An Irish pub should be about walking in and having a conversation,” said co-owner Lorcan Phelan, who grew up across the pond. His two partners, Colm Ashe and John Murphy, are Irish as well, and they’ve known each other a long time: Phelan and Ashe as teenagers back in Tralee, in County Kerry, and all three as partners in Holbrook’s Irish Times Pub, which they opened in November 2000.
The airy, contemporary James Joyce encapsulates the evolving face of Irish pubs, which have (at least in the Americanized version) long been fixed in people’s minds as dim, dusty male bastions with sticky wooden bars, lots of beer and pub food straight from the fryer.
The new pub at 49 S. Ocean Ave. ditches what Phelan calls the “diddly di” version of Irish pubs; instead, it is a sleeker, more polished place for catching up with friends or hearing live music while eating gastropub fare. “Pubs have always been meeting places,” Phelan said. “Irish people like to talk.”
Scores of Irish pubs sprang up in America on the heels of Irish émigrés who swarmed Boston and New York from the mid-1800s on. Pubs such as McSorley’s Old Ale House, which opened in New York City in 1854, are among the best known — but suburbs like Long Island became staging grounds for dozens of establishments with names such as Molly Malone’s, Finn McCool’s and Shamrock. These pubs, in turn, were often places where a continuing wave of Irish immigrants — driven by lack of opportunities in Ireland — could land jobs and make connections.
Phelan, who hails from County Kerry, came to the United States in 1987, first working in Holyoke, Massachusetts, before making his way to Long Island. Phelan knew his way around the bar: He began sorting empty bottles as a tween in Tralee’s Brandon Hotel, where Ashe also worked. That wouldn’t be the last time they worked together: When Phelan began a job at Centereach’s Emerald Pub (which became the first Napper Tandy’s but is now gone), serendipity struck: Ashe was also working there, thousands of miles from where they had become friends. “I hadn’t seen him in three years,” Phelan said.
After nearly a decade, the pals, now with John Murphy, started thinking about their own spot, and found the corner space in Holbrook that would become Irish Times — but not without some angst over the name. “Picking a name really is huge,” Phelan said. (Some Irish pubs are named for a legendary figure like Molly Malone or for the owner’s mother’s maiden name, as in the case of Lily Flanagan’s in Babylon).
“John called me and said, ‘Irish Times Pub,’ and I said, ‘That’s it.’ ” They framed historic front covers from the Irish Times newspaper and hung them on the walls.
The pub, which also became a late-night spot, sustained them as they raised families on Long Island. Eventually, the exploding restaurant and bar scene in Patchogue beckoned. “We wanted to be part of the revitalization,” Phelan said. And the 1950s-era building that once held Jay’s Cotton Shop, rich with historic detail, became the place to do it.
The renovation took more than a year, with plenty of the historic salvage finding its way into the décor, from an old sewing machine on one mezzanine to the glass panes that separate high red-leather booths.
Every detail looks considered, including the stained glass that adorns custom-built shelves behind the bar and the platform above them, where musicians can play above bargoers’ heads. Two mezzanines hold more tables, a flickering gas stove, some leather armchairs and dramatic views of the dining floor, and funky chandeliers made from salvaged metal and Edison bulbs hang from the pressed tin ceilings.
As with Irish Times, there was lots of back and forth over the name — until they landed on James Joyce, the famous Irish author. “We said, ‘That’s it!’ ” Phelan recalled. And so, along one of the distressed walls is an enormous mural of scenes from Dublin and Joyce’s magnum opus, “Ulysses,” painted by muralist Dean Goelz. Another Joyce figure is painted near the front door, intended as a backdrop for selfies.
The bar has 20 taps and plenty of whiskeys, and the food covers classic pub dishes, such as Buffalo wings and burgers, as well as plates with an Irish bent. Poutine comes smothered in an IPA-spiked cheese, chopped corned beef and gravy ($9), and there’s a rich, beef-based shepherd’s pie with a mashed potato crust ($18), as well as a creamy potato soup ($5), albeit one made without cream. (The kitchen, which includes space on both the main floor and in the basement, goes through a lot of potatoes, and makes whipped cream from scratch for a house bread pudding).
Despite its size, the pub is not immune to long waits — up to three hours for a weekend table — and the place does capture some of the late-night crowd with weekend DJs. For St. Patrick’s Day, James Joyce will bring in both Irish step dancers and bagpipers for performances, but there will be no green beer or 8 a.m. opening time (the pub will open at 11 a.m.). With March 17 falling on a Saturday — and the village’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and 5K run happening on Sunday, March 18 — the weekend “is a perfect storm,” Phelan said.
James Joyce Irish Pub & Eatery is at 49 S. Ocean Ave., Patchogue; 631-562-4000, jamesjoyceny.com