By Harry Keaney
Midtown Manhattan’s Empire State Building draws tourists from around the world, many of them throwing their heads back as they gaze skyward at the 1,362-foot, 110-story landmark. But now, in its shadow, two young Dublin men have created a diversion.
For some weeks, people walking by 325 Fifth Avenue have been stopping and staring at what they, initially, think is a new Irish bank under construction. After all, the exterior sign says "The Irish Bank."
"It’s not a bank," an Asian man hollered at another as they argued outside the bar’s red-painted exterior last week. "It’s an Irish bar, an Irish restaurant," he declared with animated insistence.
Chris Martin and Rory Connolly have heard it all before. They even have New York’s telephone directory service confused, so much so that some of Allied Irish Bank’s calls have been directed to "The Irish Bank."
Martin, who’s 32, and Connolly, 33, first encountered the name problem four years ago when they opened a bar and restaurant in San Francisco. "We had some antiques that came from banks and we were located in the heart of a financial district," Connolly said. "Hence our decision to call the bar Bank of Ireland."
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But officials of the real Bank of Ireland at headquarters in Dublin were far from impressed.
"They looked for an immediate injunction to shut us down and cease the use of any name with connotations to the bank," Martin said.
A judge in San Francisco gave Martin and Connolly two months to change the name and, in the end, allowed them use the name The Irish Bank.
Two years ago, Martin and Connolly opened another bar and restaurant, called The Irish Bank, in Portland. Ore. They are now in the process of selling this business while opening their latest in midtown Manhattan.
But the issue of the name still hounds them. In New York, they first realized there might be a problem when their lawyer, Robert Ferrari, said he thought there could be a possible conflict with the state’s banking laws.
When Ferrari applied to file the name The Irish Bank with the New York State’s department of state, he was told that the word "bank" in the assumed name required the consent of the New York State banking department.
The response from the New York State banking department was swift and terse. "Please be advised that the policy of the banking department is that use of the word or a derivative of the word "bank" generally will not be approved except for use by a commercial bank or thrift institution in the absence of special circumstances. Moreover, the proposed name violates banking law 132. Accordingly, your request is denied."
"As you can see, the New York State banking department applied a strict interpretation of the relevant provisions of law resulting in a denial of our application to use said name in conjunction with the restaurant," Ferrari said.
"We had the option to fight it," Connolly said, "but we didn’t see the sense in doing it. There was no logic in getting involved in another protracted legal battle."
Connolly and Martin, who, with a third partner, trade as Irish Treasure Inc., have now decided to call the new Fifth Avenue bar and restaurant The Irish Treasury.
"We still maintain the theme," Connolly said. "And we hope to maintain the good will that comes from San Francisco. There is a lot of feedback between the two communities.
The Fifth Avenue premises is packed with bric-a-brac and old award-winning photos from Ireland. It comprises a downstairs bar and snug as well as an upstairs mezzanine and an area based on a likeness of an old Irish shebeen.
Martin and Connolly have known each other since they were children in Dublin. About seven years ago, they began working as painters in San Francisco. "We needed something to keep us going when work was slack in the winters," Martin said, "and we thought there was an opening for an authentic Irish bar."
This month, they expect to open their latest endeavor, beneath New York’s Empire State Building.
"It’s the ultimate urban experience," Connolly said.