When Garvan McCloskey opens his new restaurant “Garvan’s” later this month, “It’s going to be a nice place with super service and a nice Irish welcome,” he says. And that doesn’t mean shamrocks everywhere and crocks of gold. “It’s going to be Irish in the way that it really means. I want people to feel comfortable, like they’re in my living room. Anybody who knows me as a host from Shea O’Brien’s knows I love my job and I love meeting people.” Garvan’s is opening at 215 Huguenot Street in the circa-1759 building that most recently housed Rock & Rye Tavern. When that establishment’s owners, Cassie Fellet and Sue Biolsi, learned about the abrupt closing of Shea O’Brien’s last October, Fellet reached out to McCloskey. She was planning to move on and do something different, she told him, but feeling very protective of her customer base, she wanted them to be well taken care of by a new proprietor. She asked McCloskey, a regular customer and good friend, if he was interested in reopening Shea O’Brien’s in the historic site adjacent to the New Paltz Golf Course.
“Absolutely not,” he told her; a regular “Main Street” Irish bar/restaurant like Shea O’Brien’s would never work in the location. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t interested in the property. “I had an idea for it for myself. Here is this beautiful home built before America was even a country; the rooms here are spectacular. It already has a nice tavern going and I have a connection with the place; it’s an old house like in Ireland.”
Initially McCloskey thought he might keep the name Rock & Rye. “Because I liked the place so much. But when all the messages starting coming in — literally hundreds of messages from people that I was missed, and where was I, and what happened and all the rest — I eventually got confident enough to say, ‘Well, maybe the place will stand on its own as Garvan’s.’”
This will be McCloskey’s first restaurant of his own. “I was the front house guy at Shea O’Brien’s, but everybody thought I was the owner because I worked as if I was the owner. That’s just how I work; if I was washing dishes, I would wash dishes like I owned the place.” Garvan’s wife, Leonie, will be his partner in the new venture and has had a fair amount of influence already on the menu, he says, particularly in its inclusion of vegetarian dishes.
The menu at Garvan’s will feature “New American” cuisine — a modernized take on already charted waters — along the lines of what Rock & Rye was serving, but with a little Irish twist. Executive chef Josh Paige will draw from his background at a number of different dining establishments around the country, adding some Jamaican and Mexican accents to the food. “Josh is going to be our linchpin,” says McCloskey. “He’s highly experienced and he’s going to be very hands-on; customers are going to be meeting Josh, as well.” As much as possible, Garvan’s will put an emphasis on supporting local producers of food. “It’s hard this time of year, but we’re going to use local produce as much as we can. The chicken will be local and we’ll serve wild-caught fish.”
The plan is to open Garvan’s in time for the Valentine’s Day weekend. The liquor license is still pending. In the meantime, some TLC is being applied to the dining rooms in preparation; new carpeting and window treatments and fresh coats of paint applied to the walls in warm, welcoming colors. A wood-burning pellet stove in one room will warm things up further. And the front room off the bar will be converted to a gastropub, with a handful of high-top tables and a separate menu with fare upgraded from the usual pub offerings.
The gastropub will be known as “Liam’s Rakin’ Room” — in honor of McCloskey’s 83-year-old father, Liam — setting the tone for what McCloskey envisions the space becoming. A “rakin’ house” in Ireland, he explains, is “a house where it’s known that you and all the neighbors could go to for a bit of fun. There’d be a bit of storytelling going on there, there’d be always tea being made, music, a bit of dancing; nothing to do with drinking. Rakin’ in Ireland is an art; that’s storytelling and fun. Because that’s what we want people to do here; to come in as strangers and leave as friends.”
The music will be kept low in the pub and if there’s a TV put in, it’ll just be on for very occasional use, he adds. “And I’m going to encourage people not to use the phone so much; we hope people will meet each other here and just talk, like at a pub in Ireland. Very much a casual place where people can hang out and have a beer or two.”
Garvan’s will be open six days a week from noon to 10 p.m. (closed on Mondays). Liam’s Rakin’ Room will serve lunch and offer happy hour Monday through Friday from noon to 6 p.m. Dinner will be served in the dining rooms beginning at 4 p.m. The bar will not be a late-night affair — open until just 11 or 12, McCloskey says — putting the emphasis on fine dining in the restaurant and conviviality in the pub.
The restaurant also has a room upstairs intended for private gatherings of 20 or so people that may get pulled into use for an overflow of dining guests, too, if necessary. There are two outdoor spaces, as well, seating another 50 or so guests when the weather warms. “Can you imagine a nice May evening out here?” McCloskey notes, the wheels clearly spinning in his anticipation of what’s to come.
Over time, he plans to renovate the 150-person-capacity pavilion on the grounds in order to host weddings and large affairs. The pavilion has a service bar and prep kitchen already, so it’s really just a matter of fixing it up nicely, McCloskey says, and he envisions building a picturesque gazebo on the lawn for outdoor ceremonies and photographs. The view from the outside of the building offers the ideal backdrop for that, he points out; a picture-perfect sight of the Shawangunks in the distance behind the scenic greens of the golf course.
An active member of the New Paltz Rotary Club, McCloskey is known for his efforts raising money for local nonprofits. Two years ago, he ran the Boston Marathon and raised more than $12,000 for Family of New Paltz. He intends to continue that focus on the community through Garvan’s, donating ten percent of the food take from every Tuesday and Wednesday in equal parts to four charities close to his heart: Family of New Paltz, their Washbourne House women’s shelter, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and Sparrow’s Nest, which provides meals to the families of caregivers diagnosed with cancer. “I’m delighted to give away the money,” McCloskey says. “Our family in Ireland always worked closely with charities and I’m very happy to do that. I’ll review it at the year’s end with a view to do more, if I can.”
As for Shea O’Brien’s, he says, that’s in the past and done with. “My big intention for Garvan’s is just to enjoy it; it’s what I love doing. This is a good opportunity for Leonie and I. And what has given me great confidence is the amount of support I’ve gotten from the local community; if half the people come here who say they’re going to come here, we’re going to be busy.”
Reservations are recommended; call (845) 255-7888.