If there’s a Mecca for Irish bartenders, it’s probably New York. And Rory Farrelly is among the newest kids on the block. But one would never know it.
Enter Rocky Sullivan’s, on Lexington Avenue, between 28th and 29th streets, and, if Farrelly’s met you before, he’ll likely remember your name. Order a pint, and he’ll amble toward the tap to pour with the confident ease of a pro.
“I think the easiest part of being a barman is the physical work,” he said. “The hardest work is talking to people. You could have one guy crying at the end of the bar and a group at the other end laughing. It’s important to be able to listen to people.”
If Farrelly has his way, Rocky’s patrons will be laughing thanks to his seemingly endless stream of jokes. “Did ye hear the one about the . . . ” is usually an introduction to not just one Farrelly joke but to a succession of them, all told with accents and mannerisms appropriate to the tale.
“Since I became a bartender, I have made a point to remember them,” he said. “It’s a tool of the trade.”
Rocky Sullivan’s is a place where Farrelly’s storytelling skills will be appreciated. Owned by journalist and documentary filmmaker Patrick Farrelly (no relation) and Chris Byrne of Black 47 and Seanachaf fame, the bar boasts an array of cultural and literary activities, from Irish language and music lessons to readings and, of course, music and song.
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Like countless immigrants before him, Farrelly, a 26-year-old native of Ballymun, never planned on coming to America.
“I had three sisters in Jersey and one applied for the Morrison Visa for me and I got it,” he said. “I thought it a shame not to use it and I came here in September 1993.”
His first job was with a foundry in Bloomfield, N.J., making aluminum molds. “It was nice work, we had a severe winter and it was warm in the foundry. The money wasn’t great, so I went into the truck driving business and warehousing, and then full time into driving.”
As a subcontractor for United Van Lines, he drove throughout the Northeast of the U.S. “I earned good money but it wasn’t much of a life, I was a lot of time on the road,” he said.
In September last year, he broke his ankle and, while recuperating, spent a lot of time with friends in New York. One of them, another Dubliner, Danny Doran, from Finglas, a barman in McCormack’s on Third Avenue, between 26th and 27th streets, persuaded him to go into the bar business. In Rocky Sullivan’s, Farrelly got his start.
“I said I’d give it a chance and I was surprised I was as comfortable as I was, I am enjoying it,” Farrelly said. “A good bunch of characters come in here, that’s what makes it interesting, to say the least. And . . . the Celtic Supporters Club, they took good care of me.”
In addition to working in Rocky Sullivan’s, Farrelly works as a doorman at the Bank Cafe bar and restaurant on Third Avenue, between 30th and 31st Streets
If there is one thing Farrelly misses about Dublin, it’s hurling. In Ballymun, he played with the Setanta Club, founded in 1981. Now, it’s not only one of the best hurling teams in Dublin, it’s also on the verge of breaking into the senior ranks.
“I played hurling for a short while with New Jersey, now myself and Danny are planning to make a comeback on Dublin football team,” he said.