Little pub in Garrison, big impact on author
Barbara Livingston Nackman
28 June 2005
The Journal News (White Plains, NY)
(c) Copyright 2005, The Journal News. All Rights Reserved.
Bar and its regulars inspire a newcomer
Barbara Livingston Nackman
The Journal News
GARRISON - There's always time for one more story - and another beer - at Guinan's.
This time the talk is about Jim Guinan, his home and pub in a stucco building tucked along the Hudson River near the Garrison station train tracks.
Guinan emigrated from England and County Offaly, Ireland, with his wife and four children, 5 years to 5 months old, in 1957. A carpenter by trade, he has been the pub's host since 1959.
"A welcome. That's what it's all about, luv," said Guinan, 79.
To newcomer Gwendolyn Bounds, the homey feeling was as intoxicating as a cold brew, which is the only alcoholic libation here. No wine, whiskey or mixed drinks. It's beer in a chilled bottle or can.
Bounds, 33, came to the hamlet after the 9/11 attacks, which sent her scrambling from her soot-filled lower Manhattan apartment. She is settled into Philipstown, saying she is more comfortable with rural life than city excitement, which in 1993 had inspired her to move from North Carolina.
A Wall Street Journal columnist, she has written about Guinan's in "Little Chapel on the River: A Pub, a Town and the Search for What Matters Most," published by William Morrow. It will be available today. A "Guinan's Day" will be held Saturday and a book signing at Merritt Bookstore in Cold Spring on Sunday.
Local residents said Bounds had captured the essence of their river sanctuary.
"She's done a good job, I think. Don't you?" said Guinan himself before Irish music night, held monthly on the Thursday after a full moon.
Before 9/11, Bounds had never been to the Hudson Highlands.
"That day we were all changed," she said. "I was one of the luckiest people. I was down there, very close ... and got out."
By November 2001, after visiting a co-worker in Garrison and experiencing the pub's easy camaraderie, she bought a house.
"These places hold the history to a town in a way a Starbucks or TGI Friday's never can," Bounds said.
She does concede she's one of the few women who call Guinan's their second home.
"This is sort of a men's place," said longtime customer William Fitzgerald, a retired federal marshal and 27-year Garrison resident. Here he is known as Fitz.
"Everybody comes in here, some more than others," he said. "She made a place for herself by listening and watching."
Bounds, who is called Wendy, is a slim blonde who writes about small business and entrepreneurship for The Journal. She first joined the paper about a decade ago to cover the fashion industry.
Fitzgerald, who is mentioned in the book, agrees it was well-done.
His favorite parts are Bounds' references to her grandfather.
Guinan's bar consists of a few stainless steel stools with tattered covers at the back of a convenience store. Police and fire department patches from many states and local towns decorate a large mirror behind a wooden bar, where usually a Guinan family member is serving beers. Corner windows give spectacular views of the river, Garrison docks and West Point.
On Fridays, Guinan said, cadets come in to change from their uniforms before catching a train to the city. He said they used to cram into a men's room to don casual gear, but he offered his living room and it's now a tradition.
Two of Guinan's children, John and Margaret, both of whom have full-time jobs and families, spend a part of each day helping their father with the business.
Feeling the effects of diabetes, the elder Guinan has feet and eye ailments. His wife, Peg, died in 1988.
John Guinan, who works for a Cold Spring tree service, shares tasks with his sister Margaret, a Yorktown police detective.
The front of the store is busy early mornings, as commuters hustle for $1 cups of coffee or a 50-cent bagel, while local residents stroll in for some essentials.
Newspapers are labeled for regulars. An aide to Garrison resident Gov. George Pataki stops in for two copies each of The Journal News, The New York Times, New York Post and Daily News, said John Guinan.
"So many people want (the pub) to remain," he added. "This is the little town of Garrison, and my dad is sort of its mayor."
The pub is the highlight of the Guinan enterprise. No one seems to know, or more likely, wants to reveal, how many beers are sold every day, week or month.
"I don't count that," said John Guinan, 53. Cases of beer line the walls and coolers are full at the beginning of Irish night. The most popular brands are Harp Lager, Coors Light and Bud Light, says John Guinan. Coors sells best in the summer, Guinness on Irish night and Budweiser on weekends, he explains.
For Dan Donnelly, a 33-year Garrison resident and aviation attorney, it is not about beer. He drinks Pepsi.
"It's roots. I'm from an Irish-Scottish family," he said. "And there's no pretense here."
At home, he'll take a scotch, gin or Baileys, he said.
"At the end of the day, this is a good place to be," said Ed Preusser, 35, a real estate broker. His family has lived in Garrison since before the American Revolution.
Standing at the bar last week, Bounds said the people and the river views hit her to the core.
"Where else would an author want to live?" she said. "I love this place. It is the unifying factor for all the characters. I wanted to share their stories."
And she tells her own tale of moving on after 9/11.
Reach Barbara Livingston Nackman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 845-228-2272.
From "Little Chapel on the River"
"This is the story of a place, the kind of joint you don't find around much anymore, a spot where people wander in once and return for a lifetime.
For most of its days, the place billed itself as a country store, but its true heart was the adjacent pub. There was a rusty horseshoe posted above one door and a gold shamrock embedded, slightly off center, in the fireplace hearth. The floor slanted toward the river, and the men returned to the same seats every Friday. Most people called it Guinan's (sounds like Guy-nans) after the Irish owner, Jim Guinan. Some called it the bar. One regular patron christened it his `riverside chapel,' which seemed to me to fit best because for most of these guys, coming to Guinan's was something of a religion, with its own customs, community and rites of passage."