Nav, who is originally from Tipperary, Mandy, a native Iowan, and Ryan enjoy a family Saturday afternoon in the Shannon Pot. PHOTOS: PETER MCDERMOTT
By Peter McDermott
The Shannon Pot looks lonely there at the quiet intersection where 23rd Street and 44th Drive meet.
Quiet, that is, when the 7 train isn’t passing overhead.
And, it’s never lonely, not inside.
Most are on a first-name basis with Maureen, who has run the business since 1999.
For most of that time, it was opposite the Court Square Diner and the entrance to the Court Square-23rd St. Station, the third stop in from Grand Central, and the first over ground. But a real-estate deal put paid to its Jackson Avenue block, and with it the Crane Street Studios and the graffiti project on the exterior known as “5 Points.”
The march of progress, however, meant the Shannon Pot only had to move north two blocks under the tracks.
“I took the lights, the chairs, the tables,” said the proprietor, “and this bar.”
“And you took me,” said Patrick, a customer.
“And I took you,” concurred Maureen, who is from County Cavan.
Patrick claimed he’s been a regular since the end of the 20th century, though he doesn’t look old enough to have been drinking that long, and nor is he Irish. His family roots are to be found a few thousand miles east of Ireland.
The Shannon Pot is inclusive, but it’s also, as Monica, a fellow customer from Limerick, declared, “an old-fashioned type of Irish bar.”
Shaun, a Scots-Irishman from the South, said: “Close, convenient, convivial, colloquial.”
He then struggled a bit: “Concise. Conse…”
Maureen and Monica stared at him, believing him to have lost the plot.
The bar gets its name from the spot in Cavan where it’s said the Shannon, the longest river in Ireland or Britain, rises. There’s an Irish-American bar and at least one other that’s Irish-owned on fashionable Vernon Boulevard, but the Shannon Pot stands preeminent, proudly aloof even, three blocks away.
The neighborhood is also home to the New York Irish Center at 10-40 Jackson Ave. and the Noguchi Museum at 9-01 33rd Rd., founded by the sculptor Isamu Noguchi, whose maternal grandfather was from Coleraine.
Its famous Irish connections, though, go as far back as its last mayor, an immigrant who fought in the American Civil War and made some money in California, before involving himself with graft and electoral politics on this side of the country. On May 21, 1901, the New York Times noted his passing with an obituary: “Patrick J. Gleason Dead; Picturesque Political Character Succumbs to Heart Disease. Ruled Long Island City Autocratically Until the Greater New York Charter Went into Force.”
The height of the Tipperary man’s reign in the 1890s coincided with industrial growth in historic Long Island City; today’s transformation in the smaller neighborhood of that name (though still the largest in Queens) is both residential and commercial — the latter notably seeing the conversion of old industrial spaces for 21st-century uses.
The streets that boast MoMA PS1, one of the largest art institutions in the U.S. (housed at 22-25 Jackson Ave. in a former school that Gleason founded), were being talked up for years without anything ever happening. Then during the last decade, they finally took off and the construction hasn’t let up since.
Turn a corner at night and it might seem you’ve found yourself in a brightly-lit plaza in some Midwestern city. But keep walking and soon recognizable glimpses of New York are revealed, whether it’s the Manhattan skyline or a place like the Shannon Pot below the overhead railroad.
The bar and grill is popular with those who travel to Long Island City to work. One staff member came up with what sounded like a list from Shawn: “Construction, the courts, CUNY School of Law, Citibank.”
It’s frequented also by those who work for small firms around the neighborhood and visitors to the city staying at the nearby hostel.
The menu is part of the attraction.
The old location had a traditional bar-restaurant layout, while the new has a generously sized L-shaped dining room off from the bar area.
“I’m not here during the week. I don’t know what specials they have,” Monica said. “But at the weekend the hamburger is delicious.”
So, your correspondent, who is not much of a meat-eater at the best of times, tried the Shannon Burger.
I was won over.
PHOTOS: PETER MCDERMOTT