According to DonalDennehy, owner of the Carmine Street Irish bar Mr.Dennehy’s, the pubwas not namedafter the person you’d assume. Its moniker is actually a tribute to“The Jackie Glesaon Show”: In the final sketch of every episode, Joe the Bartender could be found chatting up an unseen saloon customer, who went by“Mr. Dennehy.”
Like Gleason, Dennehy is a quick-witted Irishman from humble beginnings. He left Cork, Ireland, in 1984, at age 21, to visit a cousin earning her master’s at Hunter College and living on 120th and Amsterdam. It was supposed to be a short vacation;Dennehy had only a few hundred dollars in his pocket, as well as a return ticket, and a gig hosting a popular rock-and-roll radio show back home. But something life-changing happened during one of his first nights in the city: a beautiful blonde at the end of the bar sent him a cocktail. The gesture may seem unremarkable to most New Yorkers, but Dennehyhad a different perspective. “Irish women don’t make the first move,” he explained. “Never mind, buy you a drink!” He called his buddies back in Ireland the next day with an urgent message: “Get over here now. I’ve found paradise.”
Twenty-five years later, Dennehyhasn’t left. Difficult economic times notwithstanding, he considers New York City today’s ancient Rome, and the West Village the epicenter. He lives in Bay Ridge with his wife and two kids; Carmine Street has been home to his pub for the past six years. Dennehy has made a real connection with West Villagers during that time, and found loyal customers in employees of Saatchi & Saatchi and RXP radio, as well as the Carpenter’s Union, all based on Hudson Street. He uses security guards at the door only one night a year, Halloween, and otherwise is astounded at how well his patrons of different backgrounds intermingle. “In Belfast there’s still a 20-foot wall dividing Catholics and Protestants,” Dennehy said. “Here, I’ve seen a three-time Academy Award winner sitting at my bar next to a construction worker—and everybody just gets on.”
When it comes to his celebrity patrons, Dennehy refuses to name names. He forbids his staff to take their pictureor talk to the media about them. “I think the reason [celebrities] keep coming back is because it’s their ‘local pub,’” he said. “You have to treat them the way you would want to be treated.” Dennehydid cop to a friendship with the Counting Crows, but that’s only because they autographed a guitar for him that hangs prominently behind the bar. He also recalled Dennis Leary bringing in the cast of “Rescue Me” for a Hurricane Katrina fundraiser, noting that this was already publicly documented.
Charity work is a subject Dennehy is much more apt to discuss. He had a big fundraiser this fall for the Downtown United Soccer Club, and is passionate about its mission to bring soccer to inner-city schools. A player himself throughout college in Ireleand, Dennehysponsors his own league, Mr. Dennehy’s Football Club (MDFC), and keeps their cluster of trophies on display.
Mr. Dennehy’s, with its nine plasma-screen TVs, of course isn’t reserved for soccer-game spectating alone—the bar has a huge NFL following and shows as many as six games simultaneously during football season. Nor is the pub just a place for boozers, as anyone who’s tried the burger or dined in the outdoor café by the Seventh Avenue entrance—cheekily labeled “Mr. Dennehy’s Backside”—will tell you.
In addition to soccer, Dennehy has a passion for music that helped launch his career in the saloon industry. During his early days in New York, as a bartender at McGee’s in midtown, he managed to quadruple the pub’s profits by bringing in live music acts, tapping contacts that traced back to his radio days in Ireland. Bigger opportunities followed from there.
At one point, Dennehywas approached about turning Mr. Dennehy’s into a national franchise. But he’s been hit hard by the recession. Now,it’s possible that not even the current location will survive. “Business has been very, very challenging,” he said. “You have to do whatever it takes to keep it going.”