West Side Rag » The Dublin House Harp shines again


Posted on March 6, 2022 at 7:33 p.m. by West Side Rag

The moment of enlightenment. Photograph by Margie Smith Holt.

By Margie Smith Holt

“Sounds good, doesn’t it?” Dublin House owner Mike Cormican asked moments after the vintage neon sign above his bar – a 12ft, one-story green Irish harp – lit up in restored glory.

It’s certain.

Photograph by Margie Smith Holt.

About 75 people — regulars, passers-by, some of New York’s bravest — gathered on the sidewalk of 79th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam on Saturday night to see the illuminated sign, providing an impromptu countdown that was lightly delayed when Cormican came out and joined the crowd to watch, forgetting that he was the one who was supposed to flip the switch.

Mike Cormican. Photograph by Jay Potter.

“It’s Mike!” laughed bartender Nicola Cusack, adding, “It’s spectacular. It’s great to see him shine again.

Cormican, from County Galway in the west of Ireland, started running a bar at Dublin House in 1993. In 2006 he bought the place. One of New York’s iconic Irish pubs – Guinness and Harp on tap, Irish-born staff pouring the Jameson, the occasional session of traditional Irish music out the back – the UWS institution has just celebrated its 100th anniversary. Step inside its dark, wood-paneled interior, and once your eyes adjust, you might think you’ve traveled back in time (like Amazon’s scouts The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel discovered.)

Midge Maisel and Lenny Bruce at the bar. Photograph by Lulu Vision.

The Dublin House opened as a speakeasy in 1921. (Fun fact: according to the New York Times, the townhouse was once owned by Emily Post. Was the etiquette queen aware of the illicit consumption?) The neon harp, aged just 89, made its first appearance in 1933, at the end of Prohibition. The bar’s original owner, Dublin-born John Carway, was apparently set to advertise. Designed by EG Clarke Inc. of New York, the original sign read “restaurant” where it now reads “tap room”. The harp, when fully lit, can be seen a few blocks away.

“It’s so old, it’s so old,” Cormican said. “We are one of the oldest brands in Manhattan. So it’s a great thing to have.

2019. Photograph by Carol Tannenhauser.

The sign had fallen in bad shape, but with the recession, COVID and a high price, there was no money to fix it.

“It’s super, super, super expensive,” Cusack said.

Enter Tribeca studio maker Jeff Friedman Let There Be Neon (portrayed by the Guardian as “New York’s go-to lifeguard and custom neon maker.”) He hosted a GoFundMe to raise money for the restoration.

“It really is a special piece,” Friedman said. “You have a combination of letters…and an absolutely beautiful graphic design of this harp that is very reminiscent of the design and style of the 30s and 40s. It goes back very clearly to that era.

“He said a lot of people wanted the sign to keep working,” Cormican recalled. “He said, ‘Don’t worry about that. We will set it up.

The goal of $15,000 was exceeded in 24 hours.

“It was all him,” Cusack said. “It would never have been possible. We never even thought about it.

She interrupts our interview to challenge the customers.

“Thank you very much guys!”

Mike and Nicholas. Photograph by Jeff McNerney.

They are so grateful for all the support, she said.

“I just want to reach out to everyone and say thank you very much. This wouldn’t have been possible without the people who helped out with the GoFundMe and passed through with donations. This would never have happened without Jeff from Neon… We are so grateful, so very happy. I did not expect this kind of participation. »

“We are really proud and humbled that we are able to bring the piece back to life. Important things tend to disappear before you even realize it,” Friedman said. “I wish another 100 years.”

Neon lights are said to be bright on Broadway, as the song goes, but Times Square these days is adorned with less lyrical LEDs. Vintage neon lights like Dublin House harp fade. New York neon author Thomas Rinaldi writes in his blog of the same name that 3,400 permits for illuminated signs were issued in Manhattan in 1933; the Dublin House harp is one of three surviving signs.

(Be warned: if you’re a history buff, you can easily spend an entire afternoon going down the rabbit hole of New York’s vanishing neon masterpieces. It’s best to do over a pint of Guinness at the Dublin House bar, as this writer can attest.)

Known for its Guinness. Photograph by Margie Smith Holt.

Here on the UWS, however, at least one sign of the past shines, attracting thirsty travelers and offering, as one might say in the old country, a thousand welcomes.

Cusack thinks it’s also a good sign for the future. It’s been a tough few years, not just at Dublin House but across the city.

“It’s just a good new start for us, you know?” she says.

“Get me a good handwriting!” Cormican urged, as he welcomed new guests and cleaned up after the others. “If you can send us a few people, I’ll be happy.”

Ended. Slainte!

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Raymond I. Langston