Celtic Charm in the Big Apple
The Playwright Irish Pubs
If you are a tourist, a sports fan, a city resident or simply looking for a good place to get a drink and a hearty meal in a convivial atmosphere, you might want to check out the Playwright Irish Pub chain in Manhattan. There are three locations in total: the Playwright Irish Pub, the Playwright Celtic Pub and the Playwright Tavern. While each facility is slightly different, all offer the same spirit of casual comfort and hospitality.
“Everybody is welcome here,” says John Doherty, manager of the Playwright Irish Pub.
In addition to his managerial duties, Doherty is a partner in the group that owns the Playwright Irish Pub and Playwright Celtic Pub. The same ownership team operates the Playwright Tavern although Doherty is not involved with that venture.
Doherty describes the Playwright Pubs as “big Irish sports bars, for all types of sports – UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship], boxing, NFL, hockey, baseball, soccer. They’re sports bars.”
The Playwright Irish Pub is located at 27 West 35th Street, in Midtown Manhattan near the Empire State Building, Macy’s, Penn Station and other major destinations. It offers hardwood floors, brick walls, comfortable couches and wooden chairs, a second-floor private party room and a welcome mat for sports fans.
“In this place, I have Real Madrid supporters. They all come here for the games. I have Iowa Hawkeyes for college football; they all come here Saturdays for their games. I have the Washington State Cougars; they’re also American football. They come for the games, and I have the Dallas Cowboys come in September,” says Doherty.
Real Madrid is a powerhouse soccer club based in Madrid, Spain. As Doherty notes, the Dallas Cowboys Fan Club of New York City now makes its home at the Playwright Irish Pub. The pub is also home turf for The 7 Line Army – fans of the New York Mets.
There are plenty of excellent things to eat and drink at the Playwright Irish Pub. It features a wide range of beers, including over two dozen rotating types of draught. And of course, Guinness is served. For those who do not like beer, wine and cocktails are also available. The Playwright Irish Pub prides itself on having a lively happy hour, and like its sister locales, it is open seven days a week until four in the morning some nights.
The Playwright Irish Pub offers a variety of meal and snack menus. The pub has typical pub fare such as Buffalo wings and nachos as well as popular Irish entrées such as Celtic-style bangers and mash (Irish sausages and mashed potatoes) and fish and chips. There are meals for children and a brunch which, among other meals, has an Irish breakfast with sausage, Irish bacon, Irish beans, black and white pudding, mushrooms, eggs, roasted tomato and toast.
In addition to serving the public, the Playwright Irish Pub offers space for private parties and special events, from birthdays to corporate gatherings.
The Playwright Celtic Pub is at 732 8th Avenue, between 45th and 46th Streets, in the Theatre District, near Times Square. Needless to say, this venue that can hold up to 450 people on four floors is perfect for families or groups coming or going from Broadway shows. In addition to tourists and locals, sports fans also gather at the Celtic Pub to take in football, baseball, hockey, ultimate fighting or basketball on high-definition flat screen televisions.
For those who like fresh air along with their sports and brew, the fourth floor offers a rooftop beer garden complete with outdoor televisions. A disc jockey kicks out the jams on Friday and Saturday nights and the weekend also features a brunch.
The Celtic Pub can host theme parties, corporate events, charity events and more. If that is not enough, the pub has its own online store, selling Guinness-themed hockey jerseys, key rings, beer mugs and similar products along with Irish tin whistles, compact discs of Irish and Scottish music, plus Celtic jewelry and clothing.
Doherty describes the furniture in both pubs he co-owns as “tables and benches and chairs, moveable stuff.” The emphasis is on coziness and comfort, not high-gloss nightclub fixtures.
The Playwright Tavern is found at 202 West 49th Street Manhattan, also in the Theatre District. It is near other New York City landmarks such as the Rockefeller Centre and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Unlike the pair of pubs Doherty runs, the Playwright Tavern has live music on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The Playwright Tavern was the first establishment in the Playwright Pub network and was founded in 1995. Its second-floor, wood-paneled dining room contains a collection of Broadway memorabilia and images of Irish writers/playwrights. The windows in the tavern look out onto 7th Avenue, making it a perfect ‘people watching’ spot.
The focus of all three Playwright Pubs has changed somewhat over the years. Ironically, fewer Irish tourists are coming in the doors these days.
“The tourists have changed. The Irish tourists are not coming as much. The economy for them [has downturned], and the exchange rate is different. I see very few English or Irish coming over. They all head to Spain, or in that direction,” says Doherty.
“We are based in tourist spots pretty much, but we have tons of regulars as well. There are tons of hotels around us. We get sports people [and local workers]. We attract everybody,” says Doherty of the current clientele. That said, “We’re always looking for new customers.
“I do a lot of Canadian tour groups. I’ve done loads of groups from Canada over the years. Go West Tours, Bonjour Tours – all out of Canada. They attract people from Belgium and France through Canada. The Canadians never leave anything on the table and never complain. They eat and say thank you and goodnight,” states Doherty.
Not surprisingly, Doherty’s own background is as a bartender. “I saw an opportunity to manage and own. How to run a place properly. That was pretty much it,” he states. And part of running a place properly involves the maintenance of strong employee relations.
“I try to keep [my staff] happy. I have good conversations with them, get to know their family members, make them feel special, send them nice messages. I have meetings with them. I don’t make them my best friends, however. They’re my employees,” he states. All told, the three Playwright Pubs together have around 150 personnel.
When it comes to hiring new waiters and waitresses at his places, Doherty is all about, “smiles, service, ‘How are you?’ ‘Goodbye.’ ‘Can I get you something else?’ We give good service – service with a smile. [And I tell my staff], ‘Stay off your cell phone.’”
Quality and cleanliness are two other preoccupations. In addition to top-notch service, a successful pub has to have great food and drink and a reputation for spotlessness. “I have a good eye, me and my manager. We keep things clean … the staff cleans up. We always want to get that ‘A’ in the window from the health department. We run a tidy, clean place. People can see that with their eyes,” says Doherty.
This eye for quality extends to suppliers of food, drink and other products. Doherty says he only wants to work with suppliers who offer “good service and relationships. Someone who can help us out when needed.”
Given there is no shortage of Irish-themed pubs in North America, what makes the Playwright Pubs special? “We’ve been around a long time and we keep it simple,” Doherty is quick to respond. “Our prices aren’t through the roof. Our pubs are good; our beers are cold; our systems are pretty modern. People know us,” he states.
Each pub in the Playwright chain has its own website. To promote his own pubs, Doherty also uses social media, including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Playwright personnel sometimes take part in food industry trade shows, and occasionally, Doherty takes out newspaper advertisements which are usually to highlight special events.
Doherty says his biggest challenge is competing with “up-and-coming new places and staying on top of what we have. Staying up to [date] with drinks and what kids are looking for, music-wise and other things.”
At the moment Doherty has no plans to open any new pubs in Manhattan or elsewhere. Nor do his partners in the ownership team he belongs to. “My guys own twelve places altogether. I don’t think they want to open any more. This business has gotten so tough with labor laws and everything,” he states.
Doherty does, however, have some big ideas for the Playwright Irish Pub. “I might be putting two more floors into this place, add a rooftop maybe with an Empire State Building view. So that might be down the line,” he says.
Asked about his overall ambitions for the next five years, Doherty replies with a dash of Irish charm. “Staying afloat, staying ahead of everyone else, keeping what I have, keeping going and keeping my employees smiling,” he says.