“It’s déjà vu all over again” — as Yogi Berra would say — as the new Shea O’Brien’s opens its doors at 127 Main Street in New Paltz. Those who haven’t been in town for a while might assume it’s the same place reopened after a brief hiatus. After all, the name and location are the same as the original restaurant and bar, and there have been only minor changes made in menu and decor. (And there is that banner over the door that reads, “We’re Back.”) But while the new Shea O’Brien’s will still be an establishment centered around Irish hospitality, the new owners have their own ideas about what they’d like to bring to New Paltz.
A few words of explanation might be in order. Many people in New Paltz thought Garvan McCloskey was the owner of the original Shea O’Brien’s, and have either assumed or been told, according to him, that he’s part of the new operation. In reality, McCloskey worked for the original owners as manager and host, developing a loyal following in the neighborhood. When the first incarnation of Shea’s closed its doors suddenly last October, McCloskey moved on, opening his own restaurant, Garvan’s, on Huguenot Street next to the golf course. As he stated in a letter to the editor last week, he currently enjoys a thriving business and has no connection at all to the current Shea O’Brien’s.
Shea O’Brien’s is now a business owned by three brothers: Owen Mahoney — who will take the active role, managing front and back of the house with assistance from niece Kelly Mahoney — and two of his older brothers, Mickey and Timmy. Mickey is an original owner of Mahoney’s Irish Pub in Poughkeepsie and later part owner (along with Timmy) of the original Shea O’Brien’s. (Scorecard, anyone?)
“This time it’s just our family,” Owen says. Kelly, the daughter of Mickey’s twin, Patrick (there are eleven kids altogether in the Mahoney clan) has been in the U.S. working in restaurants for the past seven years. “She’s been doing a fantastic job for us,” says Owen, who has himself racked up 14 years of restaurant and bar experience in the Hudson Valley since he moved here from Ireland.
With the new restaurant making a fresh start under new ownership and management, one might reasonably wonder, “Why keep the same name?” As it turns out, the brothers have a very good reason. O’Brien is their mother’s maiden name, and Shea is a tribute to the late Joe Shea, fondly remembered as manager in the Poughkeepsie Mahoney establishment.
Walking into Shea O’Brien’s today, one notices the familiar details first. The mural depicting Irishmen drinking in a pub and the bar made with a single slab of maple mounted on stone are still there. But moving into the main dining room, a Celtic tree of life has been installed on the ceiling, running the length of the room. Its twisting branches, artfully arranged, are adorned by twinkling lights. (In Celtic lore, the tree of life can represent the link between heaven and earth, symbolized by its branches reaching skyward and roots growing into earth. It can also symbolize the life cycle, with a tree losing its leaves in fall and experiencing dormancy over the winter before rebirth with new growth in the spring.)
Shea O’Brien’s opened quietly in late July. “We’ve noticed we’re getting a little busier every day,” Owen says. “We’re always going to be adding to it here and there, but it’s coming together. We need to take it a step at a time so that everything is done 100 percent right and to the standard we want.” Down the road they plan to bring back the Sunday brunch, and catering on-site will also be available.
An official opening celebration will be held this Friday, August 12 beginning at 6 p.m. with complimentary hors d’oeuvres. The McKenna Band will play upbeat Irish music later in the evening, and radio station WPDH 101.5 will be on hand giving away two tickets to see Don Henley at Bethel Woods in September (the winner must be in the restaurant between 9 and 10 p.m. to collect).
Service will be a top concern, says Owen. “From the moment a person opens the door, their experience starts there. And we’re going for an older clientele here, not a college bar,” he adds. “We want to have a nice atmosphere, where people can just come in and relax and have a nice meal, a nice cocktail, and talk. The music is not going to be loud and you don’t need to pay an arm and a leg.”
The original Shea O’Brien’s menu has returned, with the dining casual and the price range moderate. There are places more and less expensive in town, Owen says, but “We’re not competing with either. The food we’re offering is fine dining quality at a more moderate price. We have a nice selection of traditional Irish fare, like Shepherd’s Pie and a Guinness Beef Stew when the weather turns wintry. And our chef has worked on perfecting these dishes to the point where this is something you would eat in Ireland. I feel, when I eat these meals, This is something that I would eat at home. And I’m very happy with that.”
“Home” is a small village called Augher in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. Although tiny, Augher has its own castle, of which a photograph can be found on the wall of Shea O’Brien’s along with a large photo of the Mahoney clan.
That family feeling in the restaurant extends to the list of specialty cocktails named after the women who married into the family. Irish maiden names weren’t too difficult to work into the Irish theme, says Owen, but what to do with an Italian name in the midst? Find out with a seat at the bar. Shea O’Brien’s opens daily at 11 a.m. More info is available by calling 633-8222 or visit www.sheaobriens.com.