By Maria Rocha-Buschel
When Paddy Maguire’s owner Patrick Maguire originally came to New York when he was 21 it was only supposed to be for three weeks, but he liked it so much he ended up staying. Since then, Maguire opened up the bar at 237 Third Avenue and the spot is celebrating its 20th anniversary this weekend.
Although he did have prior bartending experience before opening Paddy Maguire’s Ale House at the Water Club, his career change was more drastic than that of most bar owners.
“I was an apprentice jockey for about five years,” he said, explaining that he moved from his native Kilmallock, Ireland to England for the experience. “But I started growing my legs and soon they were three feet longer than they should’ve been, so I said the hell with it. You can only be so tall as a jockey. You either hurt yourself trying or you get out.”
Out of his 12 other siblings, it had been Maguire whose father singled out as the one son who would be involved in horses. But it wasn’t pushed on him. Maguire said that he genuinely enjoyed the experience.
“I loved every minute of it,” he said. “And it was good discipline. They were very strict. It was like being in a convent, to be honest.”
His enjoyment of his previous life is evident in the bar’s décor, which includes a horse head mounted on the fire escape outside, flat wooden horses lining part of the ceiling and a couple of bobblehead dolls of famous jockeys. Horse racing also shares prominent screen time with other sporting events.
“There’s always some kind of horse race going on somewhere,” Maguire said. “This is a huge horse bar. There’s racing almost every day of the year somewhere.”
When the bar originally opened 20 years ago (the anniversary is September 29, Maguire said), he had $22.50 left in his pocket after buying all the liquor he needed. He said that when he originally found the empty space, “it was only four walls. We built it day by day by day.”
Prior to starting the renovations on what became his bar, he worked at another venue on the avenue called Sharkey’s. He said that he had his eye on the vacant space and when it was rumored that his employer was going out of business soon, he jumped on the opportunity to branch out on his own because he had always wanted to open a traditional Irish bar.
“It’s the kind of place where people come in and it’s comfortable, it’s cozy and people love it,” he said.
The bar is also popular among amateur, as well as professional, pool players. While most bars involved in pool leagues will have a team or two at most, Maguire’s has six that are based there and have two shelves worth of trophies to show for it.
Underneath the shelves of trophies, which are hanging on the wall close to the ceiling, are a number of old signs advertising various brands of Irish whiskey. The signs are about 90 years old and they were on the wall the day the bar opened.
“None of these signs are like anything that you could find anywhere else,” he said. “They’re made of wood from old railroad tracks.”
Maguire said that the signs are American-made, found at an auction in Pennsylvania, where they’re “big into Ireland.”
Hanging on another wall in the bar is a poster for the popular Martin Scorsese film “Goodfellas,” the presence of which Maguire said shows how comfortable people feel at the bar.
“This one patron bought the poster but was on vacation at the time so he had it sent here,” he said. But then the customer apparently ended up getting married and never came back to claim his wall art, leaving it to hang in the bar.
This and other loyal customers, he said, is his favorite thing about the place.
“They’re all my friends from the neighborhood,” he said. “I miss them when they go on vacation.”
The festivities for the anniversary start on Friday and Saturday evening at 7 p.m. with a live band playing Irish-American music, which Maguire said is for the younger crowd. The events planned for Sunday include traditional Irish music starting at 3 p.m., geared more towards families and the neighborhood, and Maguire said that members of the NYPD from the 13th Precinct will be coming over to play the bagpipes.
When asked how long the music would last on Sunday, Maguire joked that he’d probably have to kick everyone out eventually.
“They’d stay forever if I let them,” he said. “They’re all old friends.”