Public figures and public houses
Irish icons to match your favorite watering hole
Whether or not you subscribe to the idea that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, it can’t be denied: the Celtic country has a propensity for producing both notable individuals and an oft-imitated barroom culture. Since Irish pubs spanning the Rochester area vary in character as much as the luminaries from the emerald motherland that spawned them, we endeavored to pair some of our favorites from both categories:
O’Lacy’s Irish Pub
C. S. Lewis (author)
5 School St., Batavia
Clive Staples Lewis and his Oxford writing chums found repose in a sturdy pub and a well-poured pint. Conversation was paramount within this group, which included J. R. R. Tolkien and Owen Barfield. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia and dozens of other books examining the Christian faith from an intellectual or allegorical point of view, valued a public house that encouraged good communication. Kent Ewell, owner of O’Lacy’s, takes a similar stand. People come into his establishment with friends or on their own, ignore their smart phones for a while, and dig into conversation. Simple pleasures like wooden chairs and tables, a menu that hasn’t changed for seventeen years, and properly poured pints of Guinness foster full bellies and fellowship above all else.
Daniel Day-Lewis (actor)
89 S. Union St., Spencerport
Whether it means learning to skin animals, asking crew members to douse him in cold water while hurling verbal abuse, or confining himself to a wheelchair, Daniel Day-Lewis strives to become his characters. Maybe that’s why he’s the only actor to have won three Oscars for best actor. (Maybe.) McColley’s owner, Matthew Brooks, exerts a similar effort to maintain the authentic character of a pub in the British Isles. No jukebox, no pool table, and no fryers. Fireproof thatch lines the ceiling, and the fresh rafters were hewn by Amish craftsmen from Lyndonville. The benches in the bar are church pews from the 1800s, and the front doors once belonged to a 1900s schoolhouse. And no, the pub doesn’t identify solely with Ireland: in fact, McColley is a Scottish name. (But then, Day-Lewis was born in London and requested his Irish citizenship.)
Grace O’Malley (pirate queen)
1768 E. Main St., Rochester
Though she was born in the early 1500s, O’Malley still lives in Ireland through legend and song. She inspired the allegiance of hundreds of men, poured molten lead on the heads of her enemies, pirated ships, and sacked castles. She even kidnapped a lord’s son because his father wouldn’t invite her to dinner. In short, O’Malley was a rebel with a taste for decorum. Along the same vein, don’t show up at Carroll’s with an air of entitlement. Founded in 1976 by Irish-born Jo Carroll, this place doesn’t suffer pretense. A place can be found among friends, if you mind your manners. (By the way, O’Malley did give the kid back, but only after the lord promised to always set a place at the table for uninvited guests. Five centuries later, legend says the family still honors his promise.)
Barry’s Old School Irish
Mary Robinson (former president of Ireland)
2 W. Main St., Webster
Both politicians and pubs can achieve greatness by inspiring transformation. Mary Robin- son was the first female president of Ireland.As such, she took a more active role than many of the men that came before her, raising human rights to a prominent position on the national agenda. She was the first head of state to visit Somalia after the genocide, as well as Rwanda. Halfway through her term, her popularity rating was ninety-three percent. On a different scale, some say Barry’s has almost single-handedly revitalized downtown Webster. Anyone seeking shelter on a blustery winter night is ushered in with Irish whiskey, live music, Guinness cake, and a rollicking local crowd. The owners, a young husband and wife, have made Barry’s the catalyst of change on an otherwise sleepy corner.
Pete Wayner is a freelance multimedia journalist and the public relations coordinator for the Little Theatre.
(Editor's note: since this article printed, McGraw's Irish Pub in East Rochester has closed. They have been removed from this version.)