Monday, December 31, 2007

Hear Jim Guinan Sing "Danny Boy" Live

Several folks have had the foresight to record recent sessions of Irish Night. Bryan Merdler graciously edited and compiled many tracks from Nov. 29th so we all can hear them now, and forever.

I can't think of a better way to ring in 2008 than with Jim Guinan singing "Danny Boy." (After you click the link, make sure you hit "Open" to download and hear the song.)

Anyone interested in a copy of this song and other Irish Night recordings on CD can email Bryan directly at lgrthnmst(at)gmail.com. Discs are free; shipping is $2. Thanks goes to Bryan who says, "Being able to share these songs with people who enjoy them as much as I do is payment enough."

Bryan also took these pictures of Guinan's during the Dec. 29th session.

Meantime, another CD is being put together featuring Jim singing in a studio. Here's to a healthy and safe 2008--and don't forget to visit your chapel, wherever it may be.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Ode to Guinan's: "Between the River and the Rails"


Andy Revkin is not only a star New York Times columnist with a well-received new blog called Dot Earth, he's also a Guinan's regular and songwriter with his band, Uncle Wade.

Andy and his crew wrote this tribute to Guinan's. It's called "Between the River and the Rails." As soon as there's a digital recording available, I'll post it here. Meantime, the lyrics go like this:


Sometimes when I’m so low that road-kill looks lucky,
This happens more times that you might like to hear.
There’s one destination that makes me feel better.
Down where the tide flows by just like the beer.

Between the river and the rails,
In the room behind the store,
Fireplace roaring, Guinness is pouring.
How could you ask for anything more?

Cops and stockbrokers, writers and loafers
All flock when that shamrock of neon does glow.
Toss all your worries, slow down there’s no hurry.
Come down to Guinan’s, some peace you will know.

Between the river and the rails,
In the room behind the store,
Fireplace roaring, Guinness is pouring.
How could you ask for anything more?

On the first Thursday just past the full moon,
Musicians they gather from far and from near.
Settling down for a long night of tunes,
Wild Rover and Danny Boy, jigs, airs, and reels.

Between the river and the rails,
In the room behind the store,
Fireplace roaring, Guinness is pouring.
How could you ask for anything more?

Irish Night, Dec. 27th, 2007

Last night was Irish Night -- and Jim Guinan's 82nd birthday. The joint was mobbed from early in the evening well into the night with folks spilling out of the store and onto the front porch.

A few songs were recorded from the evening; I'll try to post them when they are available. If you'd like, you can listen to a track from the November session here. (Make sure to click "Open" when asked.)

Around 10 p.m., everyone stopped the session and sang Happy Birthday. He was presented with a very cool cake that featured a photo of him from the early days at the pub.

There was a poignancy to the evening; many folks knew this might well be one of the last Irish Night (a.k.a. "Rising of the Moon) events that started several decades ago. Even after living in Garrison for six years, I still marvel every time I pull down the river landing on the first Thursday after the full moon each month and see it lined thick with cars from all over the region. So many people willing to make the trek to this tiny spot ... even on a work night.

A CD will be released soon with tracks from the musicians and Jim singing several of his best songs. I'll post a few song clips here. Meantime, here's a recording from a session two years ago. Stay tuned ...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Photo Tiles -- Last Minute Holiday Gift


If you are still looking for a last minute present (or just something cool and unique for yourself), a photographer/artist named Russ Cusick a terrific collection of signed prints and Photo Tiles -- many of them focused around Hudson River Valley haunts. (He took the one above just a few days ago.)

I own a few; and if you purchase them down at Guinan's, a portion of the proceeds go to the store. Russ will be exhibiting the tiles and images at the store over the next few days. I've got two in my house, and everyone comments on how unique and beautiful they are.

He works from his Cold Spring, N.Y. studio, In Focus Designs. While he's very busy, he occasionally does custom Photo Tile work as well.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Got Guinan's Photos? Please Share Them

Folks often email me photos of their "Guinan's Trip." I think Jim Guinan now rivals Britney Spears for most photographed celebrity, and if you've heard him belt out "Danny Boy," you know he trumps her for vocal skill.

I noticed on flickr that a few far more resourceful folks than I have been posting and tagging (think: labeling) their photos of the little chapel. Kelly Guinan's shot of the pub's old red Coca-Cola cooler is particularly lovely. And Guinan's regular Christine Ashburn took this striking violin shot at the last Irish Night.

So I added a few of my own pictures recently to flickr. And I encourage anyone who's visited Guinan's (that includes book clubs) to help complete and preserve this digital scrapbook. It's easy and free to sign up for a flickr account and only takes a few minutes to upload photos. When you are asked to "tag," please try to include some of the following phrases so they'll show up in searches by others:

guinan
guinans
pub
garrison
little chapel
little chapel on the river
small town

Meantime, if you've been posting photos anywhere else, please let us know here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Why Is Guinan's Closing?


The better question, perhaps, is why is Guinan's still alive?

If Guinan's had followed the path of most mom and pop joints across America, when mom or pop died, the business would have soon followed. Peg Guinan died in 1988. No matter how great a man or presence Jim Guinan is, he and Peg were a team. They needed each other. The store needed both.

Yet a miraculous things in the annals of commerce happened: into the void left by a parent, stepped the children, and then the grandchildren. At first it was Jim's youngest, Christine, and her husband Mike. They upgraded fixtures, expanded inventory, doubled the store's business and gave hope. Later it was the oldest, John who sacrificed every early morning in recent years to be there for the 5 a.m. commuters, handing them umbrellas and tossing smiles and quips long before light hit the Hudson. After John got sick, came his daughter Kelly, who has put in long hours after her regular graphic design job, giving up weekends with her boyfriend and almost all personal time. Pinch hitting through the years were Kelly's brothers Sean and Casey and her uncle Jimmy wise-cracking and slinging beers when he came to town.

But above all, the backbone since her mother's death has been Jim and Peg's first daughter , Margaret. Despite a Teflon tough shell, Margaret's kindness and devotion to her family is the main reason we've had all this borrowed time. She is the why we got an extra year last January. She is the one who stepped into her mother's shoes and has kept her father healthy and in his home for so long. And she is the one who must make this final, painful decision to close the store because the time commitment is just too much.

I cannot speak for the family and of course, wish this day would never come. Perhaps some miraculous solution will appear. But I absolutely understand the Guinan children and grandchildren need and deserve their lives back. A place like this cannot run well without full-time attention. There has been so much incredible "human duct tape" of friends stepping in to help, but in the end, as I wrote in Little Chapel, "If there's not a Guinan here, well then ... yes, well then...."

It is extraordinary that three generations have stepped forward to give what they have. Rather than question why it's ending, let's spend the upcoming weeks thanking them for what we've had.

Your Chapel: Mooney's Pub, Brooklyn, N.Y.


I got an email recently from Jody Kuh, one of the riders on Braking the Cycle along with Team Guinan. (Our adventures are chronicled in the Advocate magazine.) Jody wrote to say her "local" -- Mooney's Pub in Brooklyn, N.Y. -- is poised to close like Guinan's.

"The neighborhood is definitely gentrifying but Mooney's has generally managed to negotiate the gentrification nicely - there's an incredible mix of the young and old there who all blend together and talk (much, seemingly, like Guinan's).

It really is like losing a family member. We're all a bit dazed and trying not to make it one long funeral. The good news is that they were to be out as of November 30th, but there's been a reprieve for the moment. I'm sure they will close but it's not clear when. I'll keep you posted if you'd like."


Please do. The New York Times published a nice piece recently about this Brooklyn relic, and reading it, I was struck by the similarities to Guinan's. Said one regular: “This was a very gentle place. It really was a true pub.”

Everyone in the NYC area should try to visit Mooney's soon. I know I will.

(Pictured above: Mooneys bartender Ben Carlin and regulars Mike Morgan (left) and David Sheets (middle)

Reader Letter: Cadet William B. Hoelscher III

Cadet William B. Hoelscher III (pictured left)

October 20, 2005


I am probably the last demographic you and your publishers thought they would hit when you released your book. I am a Yearling at West Point and I turn 21 on November 2nd of this year. I was at home in North Carolina this past weekend, and we celebrated my birthday when I was home. I received an autographed copy of your book as my present from my parents. My grandparents moved to Garrison in 1970 and lived in an old farmhouse on Albany Post Rd. They are now buried at St. Philip's. I spent a lot of time there when I was a young. I was very close to my grandmother, and I have many great memories of Garrison from when I was younger. My mom told me that she and my dad used to buy their New York Times in Guinan's on our many visits to Garrison and had they known that they could go there for beers they would have spent a lot more time there.

I have been an avid reader ever since I was a little kid. Your book gave me a flood of memories and emotion that I had never experienced from a book before.

It reminded me that there is still something pure, and good, and alright in this world. We look around and we see all kinds of evil around us everything from Abu Ghraib to people telling me that I am a bad person for doing what I am doing. I was 16 when September 11th happened, turned 17 in November and enlisted in the NC National Guard in December because they were the only branch of the military that would take a high school junior. Since then I went to basic training as a private, West Point Prep School and now West Point. The entirety of what little adulthood I have under my belt has been spent in uniform during a time of war.

Because I was going to West Point, I was left behind when my unit deployed to Iraq; something which has haunted me ever since. I have no regrets about joining the military and I love it Sorry for the life story, but I figured that you would be able to understand me better if you saw where I was coming from…

You captured the spirit of "home" which is something many of us have been looking for. Durham is my home, and your book brings me home.

On November 5th, because I can't get out of here for a drink until then, I will be in a car with two of my best buddies heading over to Guinan's for my "first" beer. If you are around, maybe I will see you there.

Respectfully,
CDT William B. Hoelscher III
USCC, Co. C-2
2008

Author Note: CDT "Brad" indeed made it to Guinan's and has been a familiar face since. He graduates this May.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Video: The Last Time Guinan's Tried To Close



Last year about this time, we all thought Guinan's nearly 50-year run had come to an end. Ads were placed in the paper announcing its closing. A final party was planned.

But a turn of fate, and generous change of heart by Margaret Guinan, Jim's eldest daughter, gave us all one more year. This lovely New York Times piece by Peter Applebome chronicles how events unfolded.

So the finale party became a celebration. Here's a video shot that night from a user named "fosterhere" an posted on YouTube. It's aptly named: "Guinan's: Not the Last Night."

Your Chapel: The Happy Hooker, Ft. Morgan, Alabama

Dear Wendy,

... Even though I live in a small town in North Alabama, technology and travel have, at times, drowned out the important parts of life--like sipping a beer at a place called Guinan's and sharing life with the characters around you.

We have a vacation home on a peninsula off the Alabama Gulf Coast known as Ft. Morgan. It has been, until now, a relatively undiscovered jewel on the Gulf Coast inhabited strictly by locals--very few tourists come through. At the tiny Ft. Morgan Marina was a bar called the Happy Hooker (double entendre intended) that became my sanctuary on my trips to the coast. Wanda and Fred (a female "Fred") tended bar and kept us "part timers" up to date on what was happening while we were gone. The locals--Cajun Dave, Crazy Jerry, Normal Jerry, Dirty Dan and Fast Eddie--lined the bar every afternoon to discuss politics, sports (southern football, of course) and the evils of real-estate development. They adopted me several years ago and now refer to me as a "semi-regular."

Sadly, the Hooker never made much money, but it sat on a prime spot overlooking Mobile Bay. As surely as the Redfish feed off of "Dixie Bar," we knew it was just a matter of time. And sure enough, the Hooker was recently sold to a developer who is going to tear it down to build condos. I tell you all of this because when I tell others how deeply saddened I am by this, they simply don't understand. They don't understand how it felt to walk into the Hooker after being home in North Alabama for two or three months and having Wanda or Fred immediately reach into the cooler and hand me a cold Heineken before they even say hello. Or to have one of the bar regulars introduce me to visitors as "one of them." Or to share the sad news of an illness that had befallen one of the locals. They were my family, too.

... I only wish I could visit Guinans. I was actually across the Hudson at West Point on a trip with my fourteen year-old son last year. Had I only known!! Maybe I will make the trip again. Who knows--maybe we could share a beer and a story. I have told my friends what you said in your "Author's Note"--"To anyone who has ever known a spot like this, a spot that makes you feel more at home sometimes than home itself.....go there if you still can. And don't wait for tomorrow. Go today." Profound words.......

Thank you for sharing your story, and that of all the regulars at Guinans. If you get a chance, tell them there is a southern fellow who lifts a glass and thinks of them often.....just like family.

Calvin Brown
Decatur, Alabama

UPDATE: As of this posting, Calvin reports: "The Happy Hooker has not closed yet. The developer who bought the property has given them a little longer to operate. Thankfully, the place is staying true to its roots and the regulars are maintaining the joint as they always have. I haven't been down to the beach in a couple of months, so I am overdue for a visit."