“Friendship, Loyalty, Love” was the motto of Murphy’s Restaurant and Pub, and all three were on ample display when the venerable New Paltz watering hole had its final day of operation on Sunday, April 18. Indeed, so packed was the place with longtime patrons come to say their farewells that they spilled out to the outdoor tables, mostly unmasked and elbow-to-elbow as if there weren’t a pandemic in progress. “We probably had 150 people come up from the City, and 50 to 70 State Police last night,” said Jim Verney, surveying the upbeat scene from the sidewalk on Main Street while taking a smoke break.
Verney himself – the father of Kenny Verney, who took over operating the business in 2002 – had come all the way from Florida with his wife Dell for the closing week. “I’m the guy who started this place. I retired years ago,” said Jim. “It’s been a good business. We had great customers.” Many of those regulars were sports fans, as Murphy’s was known for its big-screen TVs, game-night specials, Super Bowl parties and even an annual charter bus trip to the races at Saratoga.
When the popular drinking and dining establishment first opened in 1986, it was known as Foley’s. But the family was legally required to change the name because the state deemed it too similar to Foley Square. So, they chose Murphy, “our father’s mother’s maiden name,” according to Jim and Dell’s daughter Teresa Dones. She and her four brothers, Sean, Kenny, Jimmy and Joey, all worked at the pub doing “a little bit of everything” in their youth, before “we all left and did our own thing.”
Sean, who managed Foley’s in the 1990s, stayed in the hospitality business and is now the area manager for Starwood Hotels’ Swan & Dolphin, a Disney property in Orlando. Teresa became a teachers’ aide working with special ed kids in the New Paltz School District. Kenny, who had the longest run as Murphy’s manager, said that he plans to take some downtime before moving on: “We had a good run. You always want to go out on top. I’ll probably stay in the area until my son finishes college, at Oneonta, and then move down South.”
Murphy’s certainly had a loyal and diverse clientele, with many patrons first coming there as college students and then returning well into middle age. Jim said that he had seen “a lot of old-timers pass away” over his decades in New Paltz. But it was likely a combination of reduced business during the pandemic and a reputation as a place where too many people drank too much and got into fights that made this the right time for the family to hand over the keys to another entrepreneur with a different approach. “With the COVID and the college, everything has changed. Everybody’s got guns today,” said Jim, adding that, “Years ago, people had manners.”
Historically, Foley’s, and later Murphy’s, always stayed open until the legal 4 a.m. closing time, and some late-night patrons were suspected of responsibility for a rash of downtown vandalism in the 1990s, including broken storefront windows. More recently, the 2014 revenge killing on the premises of a Poughkeepsie resident named Ryan Gray cast a shadow over the establishment that was hard to shake off. Lamenting the “backlash,” Teresa said that the family was “so hurt by the negative comments” about Murphy’s recently posted on social media. “It wasn’t always a college bar. It was close to our hearts,” she averred.
According to Teresa, the real “backstory” was quite different when she was growing up in New Paltz. She recalled congregating after school to ride bikes in the parking lots with the children of other downtown business-owners such as Toscani’s, Conca D’Oro and Flowers by Malara – “all the kids who came to work with their parents. It became our playground.”
The “work ethic” of those families created a sense of safety and stability downtown, along with an ongoing good relationship with the local police forces, the Verneys agreed. Jim and Dell set the standard as hardworking immigrants from Ireland, Teresa explained. “My father came on a scholarship to play Irish football at Gaelic Park in the Bronx. He was an accountant before that. He opened a bar called McCaffrey & Burke in Astoria before he came to New Paltz. My mom came with $20 in her pocket. They came here with the American Dream, and I think they did pretty well.”
The new owner of the Murphy’s building, Ed Carroll, is “a very nice guy” who “graduated from college here and now lives on Long Island,” said Kenny. “He’s planning on doing a lot of renovations. It’s going to be an upscale place for fine dining.” Any truth to the rumor that it will become a piano bar? “That’s what I’m hearing, but I can’t speak for him,” Kenny responded.
Per Teresa, another generation of Verneys will still maintain a hospitality presence in New Paltz, however: “My nieces are opening up the Burger Box, up the road.”