How Jimmy Neary, Irish Pub Maestro, Spends His Sundays

How Jimmy Neary, Irish Pub Maestro, Spends His Sundays

In a small building on East 57th Street, nestled among residential towers and far from most of the area’s commercial bustle, is an escape hatch from New York strife called Neary’s. Inside this upscale Irish pub is a peaceful cove of red banquettes, white-haired bartenders and an unchanging menu of conventional surf and turf.

Jimmy Neary, who opened the pub in 1967, divides his life neatly between a home in Demarest, New Jersey, and a studio apartment near the restaurant that bears his name. Though small in stature, he is the biggest personality at Neary’s, even when former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, now running for president, is dining there, which is often.

Born in Ireland nearly 90 years ago, he still has a musical lilt to his voice, and wears a suit and tie every day, all custom made. He is always moving. If you think you see him sitting down, that’s not Jimmy.

A VISUAL GUY I’m up at five to 6 a.m. every morning, because that’s when I wake up. I wish to God it was five minutes to 7, but it’s five minutes to 6. I watch the news from 6 to 7. And then I watch “Animal Planet.” I also love “Aerial America.” They fly over different states every day. I learn more from watching that than if I had 25 professors.

I remember what I see, not what I read. If you said to me, “Do you read the paper?” I’d say, “I read the first paragraph and the last.” If there’s nothing interesting in those two paragraphs, there’s nothing interesting in the rest. I’m not a reader. Mary Higgins Clark, she has me in 21 of her books. I’ve never read one of them.

MASS AND CARBS I shower and shave and visit the graveyard where my late wife is buried. Then I go a block and a half to go to mass at 9:30. I do the reading every day, seven days a week. At 10, I go to a coffee shop or a diner. Some days I have pancakes, some days I have a danish or something like that. There’s a great bakery in Tenafly, Miller’s Bakery. They make great cakes. I have my coffee and read my sentences. I get in the car and I’m at the restaurant between 11:30 and noon.

SAME OLD I check the receipts from last night, because they have it all piled up for me in the morning. I tell you, there’s not much taken in any more, because it’s all credit cards. You don’t have to worry about much cash. That’s a thing of the past. I’m shocked. I check with the chef in the kitchen. He’s been with me almost 10 years. This is the third chef in 53 years. We have the same customers here. Some come in seven days a week.

WORK I’m all over the place. I clean the tables, I bring out the food, anything. I set up the tables. They don’t want me to do it. Well, I can’t stand around doing nothing! I have to keep moving.

REST My daughter Una got me a studio apartment over here on 59th Street. I walk up there sometimes, and sometimes I fall asleep for a half-hour, an hour, and then I come back. And if it’s on a Wednesday, I watch “Blue Bloods.” It runs all day on Wednesday. My dad was a policeman in Ireland. My brother was a policeman here in New York. My son’s an ATF agent.

BACK ON THE FLOOR I talk to everyone who comes in here. I miss nobody. I’m not a big eater of anything. I’ll have dinner sometimes at 6, sometimes 10, sometimes 11. I like chicken potpie; sometimes lamb stew; sometimes corned beef and cabbage.

SEASONAL DÉCOR We put up the decorations the night before Thanksgiving. You see where the clown statue is there? That is removed and he goes down in the basement until after the sixth of January. We used to give up a table in the back for the Christmas tree. One night, the comedian Henry Morgan came in from doing the Johnny Carson show. Some guy came in and never saw the Christmas tree and he knocked the thing over onto Henry and his wife. Henry said, “What the hell are you putting the Christmas tree there for? People fall into it.” I said, “Well, where should we put it?” He said, “Put it in the corner where that clown is.”

HOLIDAY VISITORS I leave at 11. My restaurant is closed Christmas Day. My wife made sure I’d get that day off. Everybody in my family comes to my house. You couldn’t get a cup of tea in my house the rest of the year. They cook the food at the restaurant and bring it over. But let me tell you, the turkey here is fabulous, and the ham. Then they all go home and the next day I go back to work.

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