At McDwyer’s Pub (East 204th Street), little has changed since it opened its doors in 1966. The pub is owned by Eamonn McDwyer, and for decades, he’s been the familiar face of the pub. He is working his bar for some 50 years now from early morning to late afternoon, so Mr. McDwyer will probably still be the one who’s greeting you when you enter the pub. Eamonn McDwyer has run his Irish Pub since 1966 but now is close to ending his business.
Mr. McDwyer remembers very well that more than twenty-five years ago, Norwood’s streets were packed with all sorts of Irish pubs. He can (without any problem or hesitation) name more than 20 of these unique pubs, from the Bainbridge Cafe and Murphy to Maloney, and as McDwyer recalls, in those days, they were always full, all of them. These days, his bar is the only one left: McDwyer’s Pub.
McDwyer’s Pub became the last surviving Irish bar in Norwood in 2011, when McMahon’s, located just down one block on East 204th Street, poured its last pint of Irish Guinness. As the neighborhood of Norwood changed, the Irish residents were moving out and the Irish bars went along with them.
One at a time, the Irish pubs folded up, remembers McDwyer, who is now almost 80, and the rents had gotten too high as well. Business has become hard. The Jews and the Italians that were all there in McDwyer’s youth, have moved out as well and were replaced with newcomers from countries in Latin America and Asia, and even Eamonn McDwyer has bought a house some years ago across the New York City line, in Yonkers.
On Bainbridge Avenue, close to East 204th Street, a part of the Bronx that at one day was housing many purveyors of Irish beer, chocolate, and soda bread, new business owners are now hawking plantains or fried chicken, alongside subscriptions to Pakistani and Bangladeshi television channels.
McDwyer’s Pub, along with its crusty clientele and its crumbling faux-brick facade, has turned into an Irish relic, but it remains to be a fine and safe haven for a constantly decreasing number of longtime Norwood and Bronx residents.
Billy Gallagher, a 60-year old retired scaffolding worker, says McDwyer’s Pub is like a sanctuary. He says he can come here and feel at ease. at home, he’s by himself, and here it feels like home too. The Irish history of Norwood goes back to the early 1900s when Irish immigrants went this way north for the construction of the New York Botanical Garden, just a few blocks away.
A second surge of Irish immigration happened during the 1980s and the early 1990s when the American economy was booming and the Irish economy was sagging. This relatively small influx, though, was obscuring the fact that the Irish population in Norwood had already been in a steady decline since the middle of the 20th century, says Lloyd Ultan, a well-known Bronx Historian.
The 1980’s – 1990’s Irish revival was, however, very short-lived. Around the mid-1990s, the Irish economy bounced back and exploded. The ‘Celtic Tiger’ was on the loose and many of the new immigrants returned home, back to Ireland, and their absence from Norwood was clearly visible.
U.S. Census data are showing that in Norwood the number of residents with Irish ancestry had in the period 1990 – 2000 declined from around 6,000 to just over 2,000. The American Communities survey by the U.S. Census Bureau is showing that in 2010, that number had dwindled to less than 1,400.
Most of the young Irish people went back to Ireland, and that transformation went pretty fast, says Ultan. And when they were gone, it became all too evident. Everybody asked ‘Where are the Irish?’ These days, there still some Irish people that live here, but their number is nowhere near any number of Irish that lived here before.
Yet, Eamonn McDwyer holds his grounds. In 1959, he emigrated from Ireland and started to work in restaurants in Manhattan. Then in 1966, McDwyer says, he bought the ‘Gay Doom’ for $21,000.
The ‘Gay Doom’ was a bar on the corner of Hull Avenue and East 204th Street, and he renamed the bar McDwyer’s Pub. Today, some five decades later, he is still around, pouring drinks behind his bar and mixing cocktails that come with equal parts of profanity-laced humor, irritation, and alcohol.
A couple of years ago, says McDwyer, his very last original customer, a man named Paddy Brennan, passed away but that, even now, he still has a bunch of regulars who will show up for every Friday night’s karaoke, or who come in to watch a game of football on weekends.
Today, African-Americans and Puerto Ricans may just as well sidle up to his bar, where just one Irish beer is on tap: Guinness. McDwyer says that to him, the demographics of his clientele make no difference at all.
McDwyer’s Pub (now Closed)
331 East 204th Street, Bronx, NY 10467, Phone: 347-427-0519
On Tuesday, November 29, 2016, Eamonn McDwyer made the final toast with some friends. He said, “It’s rather sad for me, but things are okay. It’s just sad to have to close up after 50 beautiful years…”