How New York’s Blarney Stones got their start

Dimly lit, very smoky, and smelling like cheap beer, Blarney Stones used to be all over New York City—hideaways for working men who wanted to drink, and maybe catch a ball game and have a corned beef sandwich.

They were the brainchild of Irish immigrant Daniel Flanagan, whose first Blarney Stone opened on Third Avenue and 44th Street in 1952.

“Mr. Flanagan would generally bring in a new partner in each bar and grill, share in the development, and then move on to another,” reported The New York Times in Flanagan’s 1991 obituary. “At his death, he was directly involved in the ownership and management of three Blarney Stone restaurants.”

At one time, there were 34 Blarney Stones in Manhattan, according to this AMNY article.

“Generally blue-collar, working man’s bars, the Blarneys were known for their traditional Irish food, cheap prices and tight-knit community,” writes Tim Herrera. “Most patrons were tradesmen, and few women entered.”

“But as the leases on the original Stones ended in the 1980s and ’90s, the owners sold them off, and today there are about five left in the city,” he adds.

This one, on Ninth Avenue in the 20s, appears to be going strong, as is the Blarney Stone on Eighth Avenue near Madison Square Garden, sporting the neon sign at the top.

And a few of its imitators—Blarney Cove on East 14th Street, I’m looking at you—are also still pulling in drinkers.

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29 Responses to “How New York’s Blarney Stones got their start”

  1. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    The Blarney Stone in the Wall Street (I forget which street, just a block or two from Wall) had two floors, a bar downstairs and a bar upstairs, where you could drink for hours. This always led to someone tripping down the stairs, and in the condition they were in, there’d be many tumblers. I wonder if it had something with its closing, someone going down the stairs?

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen that one, but there’s a knockoff called the Blarney Rose or something like that in the Financial District. Or maybe it’s no longer there….

  3. Dave Says:

    Hello. I’m a big fan of the blog. This post reminds me of a debate a group of friends of mine just had…maybe you could weigh in.

    Basically we want to know how Irish bars can to be so ubiquitous in NYC and ultimately the United States. I’m sure the stereotype of Irish drinking culture, and the large wave of Irish immigration has a lot to do with it, but it doesn’t quite explain why the “Irish Bar model” has been used so frequently, and in sometimes hilarious ways (thinking of all the puedo swanky midtown spots that feel inclined to hang an Irish flag up and pour Guinness even though the owners are far from Irish themselves).

    Might be a throw away question, but thought you might have an interesting story to tell. Regardless, keep up the great work.

    Dave

    • wildnewyork Says:

      Thanks! I’ve wondered this myself, especially as I walk up Second or Third Avenues on the East Side, where there are some hilarious imitations of so-called authentic Irish pubs. I have no special insight other than what you observed, that they are born out of some nostalgia for Irish pubs that existed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when Irish immigrant men really did drink hard at very masculine type corner taverns. Read Pete Hamill’s a Drinking Life to get a sense of it.

    • WHAMMO! Says:

      Because more often than not stereotypes have a lot of truth to them.

  4. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    I don’t think it’s there any more, this was in the 70s, it was on Beaver Street, long gone

    http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&safe=off&q=hanover%20street%20nyc&psj=1&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.,cf.osb&biw=800&bih=461&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wl

  5. Joe R Says:

    Not too many years back there seemed to be a few small chains of bars that are all now gone. I remember the White Rose and Martin’s bars, each with several locations. Downtown, there must have been maybe ten or so McAnn’s Bars, all pretty similar to the Blarney Stone: a long bar with cheap drinks, a steam counter for sandwiches, etc., and a condiment stand where you could take as many pickles and pickled green tomatoes as you’d want. Re the Financial District comment above, I don’t know of a Blarney Rose but there is a Killarney Rose on Pearl Street.

  6. Nathan Says:

    I’m pretty sure the place you guys are talking about in the financial district is the Kilarney Rose (complete with two floors ripe for a tumble). It’s has doors on Pearl Street and goes through to Beaver Street?

    In the late 80’s, I was working on “State of Grace” and we were supposed to shoot a 1/2-day scene in one of the Blarney Stones (9th Ave. in the 40’s). I’d show up in the morning with the crew to light it and have it ready for the shooting crew to show up in the afternoon and we’d go ahead and hang lights while the regulars went from pleasantly buzzed to … uh…unhappy bastards. And then we’d get a call saying the crew was going over schedule at the morning’s location so they wouldn’t be making the move. So we’d pull the lights down and leave.

    I think we prepped that bar 4 or 5 times before we ever got around to shooting the scene. The regulars hated us.

    Then again, I grew to hate the smell of corned beef and cabbage on the steam table, so turnabout is fair play.

    • mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

      You’re absolutely right, Kilaraney Rose! Whenever I walked in and headed for the 2nd floor never looked at the name of the place I just wanted a drink with a beer chaser. Aww, still can taste it….

  7. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    Marty had a great piece today on dying bars in NYC

    http://www.trippingwithmarty.com/almost-live-from-new-york-city/2012/3/12/ghosts.html

  8. BabyDave Says:

    Thanks very much for the post. I had not realized that the Blarney Stone heyday was such a relatively short period of time.
    And ah, yes — McAnn’s, Whie Rose — thanks for the names, Joe R. I had not realized Martin’s was a chain, although it makes a lot of sense. The only one I remember was on Houston Street pretty much oppositte the Film Forum. It ran through to Downing Street.

  9. rocco dormarunno(akafivepointsguy) Says:

    I work right around the corner from the original Blarney Stone on 3rd and 44th. But now I’m confused. This post said it was opened in 1952 but, clear as day, the sign outside the bar says “Est. 1925”. Either the sign painter had too many cocktails or was dyslexic (or whatever the numerical equivalent is).

  10. wildnewyork Says:

    I wonder if the bar went by another name until 1952?

  11. rocco dormarunno(akafivepointsguy) Says:

    wildnewyork: I agree–that must be the only explanation: It must have been something else until 1952.

    mykola: It’s still The Blarney Stone.

  12. Ria Says:

    Many years ago, probably 1975, when New York City was in the midst of it’s worst financial crisis and crime was rampant, I stopped for an early supper with some friends at the Blarney Stone at Third and 34th Street (I believe this was the location, our apartment was across the street). I had just arrived in New York and worked in a publishing job that did not pay well, so money was tight. Certainly the Blarney Stone lacked P. J. Clarke’s “class” but it was cheap and satisfying. After dinner we left and I returned to my apartment. Later in the evening I realized I had left my purse full of cash from a recent paycheck at the Blarney Stone. Needless to say I was quite upset, it was a lot of money for me. I raced out the door, ran down the block to the restaurant, walked in and would you believe there was my purse still resting on the banquette where we had been 4 hours before. Nothing had been touched, cash was still there. I think this says more about the crowd the Blarney Stone attracted, a drinking crowd that hugged the bar. But I love to tell this story because it was so unusual for the time when most stories of NYC were about mugging victims.

    • mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

      That’s a beautiful story. As a real New Yorker, having lived there for over 50 years (though I don’t live there anymore), I’m very proud that such a thing could have happened, that amidst all the crime, carnage and waste, these little stories come out in all their lovely splendor. Thanks Ria, and thanks Ephemeral NY for giving it room to appear.

  13. petey Says:

    there was one on 3rd between 84th and 85th. now a health food shop, which doesn’t serve hot greasy pastrami on rye.

  14. get it right Says:

    the blarney stone at 710 third ave started in 1952 .they were great bars run by great
    Irish men ,who were very successful and owned the real estate in most of those bars.while you were drinking they were going to the bank.the guy who purchased the place in the early 90’s who is not Irish put the 1925 sign up.

  15. fmcg Says:

    1925 would not have been a good time to open a bar in the United States, but a great time to open a speakeasy. I think Manhattan speakeasies were usually on side streets rather than avenues.

  16. Peachy Regan Says:

    My father had a speakeasy on 3rd ave and 76th Street.

  17. Johnny Mo Says:

    My father owned the Blarney on 34th near 8th avenue
    Great memories such as Rangers winning cup in ’94, Big East Tournaments, Grateful Dead, Kiss, Bruce
    Always a good crowd and the regulars were good people

  18. fivepointsguy Says:

    Now the Blarney Stone on Third Ave between 44th and 45th is closed.

  19. Dougaloo Says:

    I worked nights at the GCT post office in the late sixties to pay my way through college. Every payday at the end of our shift, my co-workers and I would rush over to the Blarney Stone on Third Avenue to cash our paychecks and get a beer and a corned beef sandwich. Sad to see the Blarney Stone is gone, like my college days.

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