Capital's pubs see a green future

Annapolis

January 17, 2007|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,Sun reporter

Irish eyes are smiling in Annapolis.

Local Irish pub owners predict that Martin O'Malley's presence as governor will enliven the state capital's social scene, raising spirits and boosting business. There are, after all, at least three such taverns a short walk from the governor's mansion.

O'Malley has ties to the city's Irish establishments: He has been spotted sipping a Guinness at one, Galway Bay, and he learned the finer points of Irish music from the owner of another. His former band, O'Malley's March, also performed often in Annapolis.

The outgoing Baltimore mayor said Friday, half in jest, that he expected to find Annapolis' atmosphere convivial outside the wrought-iron garden gates of his official residence.

"If you measure the quality of a city or a civilization by the number of its Irish pubs, then Annapolis is doing pretty well," he said in an interview.

Fintan Galway, a co-owner of Galway Bay, said, "We love the fact that the governor's Irish and his name's O'Malley and he celebrates being Irish."

"It can do nothing but enhance," Galway said, adding that outgoing Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is "more inward, and O'Malley's more spontaneous."

O'Malley may not have decided whether to relocate his family of six from Baltimore to Annapolis, but he already seems to feel at home at Galway Bay, located between the State House and the U.S. Naval Academy. The cozy Irish restaurant is frequented by lawmakers and was once visited by President Bill Clinton.

At the end of last year's General Assembly session, an upbeat O'Malley was spotted enjoying a lunchtime pint of beer with a group of supporters.

In recent days, O'Malley and his inner circle -- incoming Chief of Staff Michael Enright, Deputy Chief of Staff Matthew Gallagher and other top aides -- have stopped in for a beer or a meal.

It was, staffers said, a sign they intend to be a visible part of the life of the city.

"We're out here collectively," Enright said. "That says something."

Irish politicians have long celebrated their heritage, either by breaking into song or visiting a neighborhood pub.

President John F. Kennedy's grandfather, Boston Mayor John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, was known for winning over voters with his version of "Sweet Adeline."

President Ronald Reagan famously raised a beer at a Boston-area Irish pub in 1983, and then-House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill paid a visit to TV's fictional Cheers pub the next year.

O'Malley went one step further than his famous predecessors, making the rounds locally for years as the lead singer and songwriter of his own Irish rock band.

"I find Celtic music therapeutic," he said. "In high school, I read every book on Irish history I could get: perseverance, struggle, and the freedom of the human spirit. Music tells that story."

When O'Malley, 43, publicly laid down his guitar to wage his gubernatorial campaign, one of his final stage appearances was a sell-out gig on a snowy night at the Rams Head Tavern on West Street.

"I miss playing music," O'Malley said. "I'd like to find a way to continue to play music in four months, after the [General Assembly] session is over. Right now, I have more important things to do, getting my sea legs first."

Among O'Malley's aides, there's a sense that an Annapolis venue might be the right place for the music to start again, now that the fall campaign is behind him.

"Picking up a guitar is part of his DNA," Rebecca Mules, his director of scheduling, said. "It makes him hum."

No word on whether O'Malley plans to join the Saw Doctors, an Irish band, when they perform at his inaugural gala tonight. But when the new governor is ready to play, the door is surely open at Castlebay pub on Main Street. The owner is a Dubliner who mentored O'Malley years ago in the ways of Irish music.

Vincent Quinlan, a singer and performer in the Washington area, got to know O'Malley when Quinlan was playing Irish bars such as Murphy's in Alexandria, Va., and the Four Provinces in Northwest Washington. O'Malley grew up in Montgomery County.

Surrounded by framed photos of poet William Butler Yeats, playwright George Bernard Shaw and novelist James Joyce, Quinlan spoke of the aspiring young O'Malley he knew.

"He was 17, putting his own songs and band together," Quinlan said. "Methinks he'll socialize more around town and make it more vibrant."

"Being Irish, we'd like to see a fellow Irish compatriot do well," he added.

At Galway Bay, O'Malley has been known to kick around questions of the day and matters closer to home.

"He feels like he's at home. There's no pressure at his corner table," Galway said. "The Irish don't bother people."

Pam Finlay, proprietor of Sean Donlon's, another watering hole on West Street, said amid a noisy dinner crowd, "Irish pubs mean warm, inviting, friendly. Hopefully O'Malley will bring that to his government."

An infusion of the old country's culture is what O'Malley says he seeks either in Baltimore or, now, in Annapolis.

For years, as a regular or band singer at Mick O'Shea's on North Charles Street in Baltimore, he made life interesting, co-owner Stephanie Niehenke said.

Said Niehenke: "It's always fun to have a singing mayor."

jamie.stiehm@baltsun.com

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