The Gael is gone

Gene Lennon, center, with partners Niall Cunningham, left, and Rory Galligan, who is also Lennon’s cousin. Photo: Jason Cohen
Another popular UES establishment loses its home and shuts down to make way for new development
By Jason Cohen

After nearly 15 years on the Upper East Side, the Gael Pub shuttered its doors Sunday.

Located at 1465 Third Avenue, the bar, along with six adjacent buildings, will be knocked down to make way for new construction. “I am sad to have to announce Gael Pub will close its doors ... after almost 15 amazing years,” owner Gene Lennon announced on Facebook on May 4. “Apparently we can’t stand in the way of progress, as they add yet another high rise to the UES skyline. It’s been a great journey and we must thank all of our customers, most of whom are friends now as a result, for supporting us over the years.”

Lennon, 58, said he realized his business was endangered when the building was sold seven years ago and other buildings in the area were being flipped. “I kind of figured it was going when they were buying up the property,” he said. He continued to ask the new building owners if his lease would be renewed and was told a year ago that it would not.

Customers Became Friends

While this past weekend was the last hurrah for the bar, the last 14 years have been memorable, Lennon recalled. Gael Pub, he said, had become a “community bar,” where the bartenders and patrons knew each other quite well. It held weekly Tuesday trivia nights, featured live music, was a Chicago Bears bar since 2006 and, every February, several customers along with the staff would go skiing in Vermont.

Lennon even attended some of his customers’ weddings and was often involved in charity efforts, including recently, when the bar raised money for a regular who suffered a stroke.

“The fact that it’s such a community here, and we’ve built a lot of good friends and customers here, that for the last 10 days since we announced we’re leaving, it’s just been overwhelming,” he said. “The customers that we have here are very loyal.”

From texts, social media and reminiscing in the bar, it was obvious how people felt about the place, he said.

Lennon told Our Town that Gael Pub was successful because of its staff. He explained that anyone can make drinks, but connecting with customers is what matters. “We hire bartenders based on their personality, not their experience,” he stressed.

In his Facebook post, made a point of “our present staff /partners Rory, Niall, Tony , Joan, Eoin, Ignacio, Conall, Gia, Stephanie and Eva and past staff, which are too many to name for making Gael one of the friendliest bars on the UES.”

A Lifetime in the Business

While Gael Pub may have closed, Lennon’s career as a bar owner is not over. He grew up in Ireland and began working in bars around the age of 13. His uncle, Barney O’Donnell, owned a popular watering hole in Collinstown, County Westmeath, where he would often visit and eventually worked from age 13 to 17.

It was there where he developed his love for the industry. “I looked at how [Barney] did things and how he ran his place,” Lennon said.

From age 17 to 24, Lennon he did an apprenticeship at a bar in Dublin, Ireland. With a goal of opening his own place in New York, he and his then girlfriend and now wife, Patricia, moved to the city in 1985.

He worked briefly at a now shuttered nightclub on 84th Street, and from 1987 to 1994 he bartended at Fitzpatrick’s Bar and Grill on Second Avenue. It was there he developed passion for the UES. “At that time, the Upper East Side was a place where everybody went,” Lennon said.

In 1995 his dream of owning a bar came true when he purchased Trinity Pub at 229 East 84th Street. Trinity actually helped him launch Gael Pub. In 2005, one of his customers told him about a sushi restaurant on Third Avenue that was looking for a new owner. Lennon quickly seized the opportunity and, with partner William Ferguson, turned it into Gael Pub. This past November he also expanded to the East Village when he bought Juke Bar at 196 Second Avenue. .

As he looks to the future, Lennon hopes to relocate Gael Pub to a new location on the UES.

“It’s a question of, if it’s a good deal,” he said. “I’m 58-years-old now, I don’t want to go into something where I’m having sleepless nights. This neighborhood has been more or less my home for the last 30 years.”