Tavern lore: McGillicuddy’s brought life to once-troubled storefront

Left to right: McGillicuddy's owner Brian Keenan, Samantha Post, Rich Oeleon, Gabby Blinderman, Rich Formby and Kristin Smith. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Left to right: McGillicuddy’s owner Brian Keenan, Samantha Post, Rich Oeleon, Gabby Blinderman, Rich Formby and Kristin Smith. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

In terms of historical bars in New Paltz, McGillicuddy’s Restaurant & Tap House is a youngster. The building at 84 Main Street is also relatively new — built in 1945.

But despite its relatively brief history, 84 Main has housed a horde of businesses. Mostly, that’s because it struggled to find a use that fit it early on. Turnover was fairly constant. At one point, prior to McGillicuddy’s coming in, people were uncertain that anything could thrive there at all.



Before there was “Cuddy’s”

In an earlier life, where McGillicuddy’s sits now, was once one of New Paltz’s most well-known landmarks — the hotel. Started in the 1820s, the hotel went by a few names over its history. It was Steen’s Hotel when it was owned by William Steen. It later became the Tamney Hotel, after its new owner Warren Tamney.

The hotel was large. It encompassed what is now the Ariel Dental Care and Starbucks building — along with the McGillicuddy’s building.

As we previously noted in our Tavern Lore entry on P&G’s Restaurant, the old hotel was at one time a prime drinking destination. During the trolley car era, people used to dance and flirt at The Casino (in what’s now P&G’s) and cross the street to drink at the hotel.

Even back then, there was a lot of interplay — as there still is — of people crossing from one side of Main Street to the other.

But according to local historian Carol Johnson, who is also the coordinator of Elting Memorial Library’s historical collection, all of that changed in the 1940s. Wrecking crews tore down the hotel to make way for the new.

One side of the lot became a gas station — where Starbucks and Ariel currently sit. And during the final year of World War II, a new grocery store opened on the other side at 84 Main Street in a brand-new building — Schaffer Store Super Market.

That use as a store stuck for a few years, but it would continue to change hands. Schaffer’s soon became Empire Super Market in early 1946.

In the 1960s, the McGillicuddy’s building housed the New Paltz Factory Outlet. But that soon made way for Harris’s 5 & 10 — a five-and-dime that stuck around until it too closed in 1973.

It was during the 1970s that 84 Main’s use switched to a restaurant — somewhat similar to McGillicuddy’s today.

The Olympic Restaurant replaced the old five-and-dime, and it served up Greek and Mediterranean foods. It lasted from 1973 until 1977.

Cosmos Inn replaced the old Olympic, but it too was short-lived. It only lasted into 1978.

In 1981, what we now know as McGillicuddy’s was an Irish bar of another name. It was J.K. Boles Restaurant.

In 1988, according to the Huguenot Herald, the building changed again and became the Village Diner & Restaurant.

By 1992, when musician Willi Amrod bought the place, he named it The Cosmos — in honor of the old Cosmos Inn. He fashioned it into a venue for dinner theater, also including a bar and dance floor.

By the 1990s, the idea that 84 Main Street was doomed to forever be closed or, at least, not house a long-lasting business had cemented. A Huguenot Herald article from February 1992 quotes then-Mayor Thomas Nyquist, who called the building “an eyesore.”

“That building’s been closed for years,” Nyquist told the paper in 1992. He went on to say that the plans for The Cosmos made him happy, because something new was coming into that troubled spot.

The Cosmos too didn’t last. By late 1994, Heart & Soul Café had become the new storefront at 84 Main. It billed itself as a restaurant with jazz music.


McGillicuddy’s moves in

In the late 1990s, business partners Brian Keenan and Craig Gioia owned the precursor to McGillicuddy’s Restaurant as we know it now.

It was a small bar in Poughkeepsie called McGillicuddy’s Ale House. But they were looking for change.

“We were looking at a few different locations in New Paltz. And we had heard this location was available — and it had been just a bunch of different things. None of them ever worked,” said Keenan, McGillicuddy’s co-owner. “Everyone said it was a really bad location. And when we realized it was right in the center of New Paltz, we knew it wasn’t the location.”

Despite warnings of a building cursed for business, the men saw potential. Keenan was used to the bar business, since he had also owned the old Legends bar on Route 32.

“We had heard you couldn’t get a liquor license here. So we kind of took a chance,” he explained. “We got the building relatively cheap. We bought it almost without coming in and really taking a look at the place.”