by Angelica Niedermeyer & Rebecca Kranich, Contributors
Since its opening in 1991, An Beal Bocht Café, typically referred to “An Beal,” has served the Riverdale community as a local eatery and a center for the arts. Located at 445 W 238th St, An Beal provides a space for artists of all disciplines to share their passions and serves as a casual hangout spot for Jaspers to unwind and share food and drinks.
When the cafe first opened, there was initially a heavier focus on Irish culture and poetry — so much so that a poetry magazine was published out of the establishment, according to the current manager, Keith McDermott. McDermott graduated from Manhattan College in 2005 and has stayed in Riverdale ever since.
As the years passed, the restaurant expanded its music and art endeavors and began to host live music, art galleries, and even a small theater company operating out of the bar. However, when the pandemic hit, the cafe’s operations changed. They had to alter their dining regulations and pause their live musical performances, which impacted the ambiance and artistic feel of the establishment. According to McDermott, live music is slowly but surely returning to An Beal. The pub’s monthly jazz nights may be returning, an event that has not happened since the lockdown.
“We used to do five to seven nights of live music before COVID changed everything, but now we are starting to get back into it again,” McDermott said. “We do everything from traditional Irish music, reggae, blues, singer-songwriter, bluegrass, jazz and more.”
In addition to halting musical performances for a period of time, An Beal had to stop indoor dining when COVID-19 initially hit. This restriction caused fewer customers to come to the restaurant, which impacted their business.
“For the first couple of months we were closed for three months, and it was only open outside and there were a ton of rules and restrictions on everything so you were getting people to come by, but not as many,” McDermott said.
Although they struggled to adapt to the pandemic restrictions at first, the cafe is making a growing comeback — however, they are still hoping to return to how business was before the pandemic started. As McDermott describes, new COVID strains such as the delta variant are keeping some customers away.
“We’ve been trying to get back up to the capacity that we had before, and I know people are still apprehensive because of the delta variant,” McDermott said.
An Beal bartender Caitlin Seward shared that after lockdown, the regular customers slowly started to return to the restaurant. During the 2020- 2021 school year, when a majority of classes were remote or hybrid, there was a significant loss of MC student presence.
“I felt the energy of [the students] here, but I didn’t see them,” Seward said. “Little by little, some of them, in the beginning, were definitely trepidatious, but they started to come back.”
In regards to customers that aren’t students, McDermott notes that a lot of familiar faces are starting to return, but not all.
“It’s a lot of faces we do see, but there are some people that are missing since the pandemic,” McDermott adds.
Although the restaurant had to adapt to COVID restrictions, its warm and friendly atmosphere hasn’t changed. Just by walking into An Beal, customers and employees can feel at home and welcome. As Seward describes, she feels like she can be herself when she comes to work at An Beal. With a friendly staff and a comfortable atmosphere, it’s a prominent location for community members and students to hang out at or grab brunch the next day.
One customer, Kate Pastor, a Kingsbridge resident, finds the atmosphere at An Beal to be one like no other, which is why customers keep coming back for more. “[An Beal has a] great sense of community, lots of live music, and the outdoor space,” Pastor said. “The people who work here are wonderful and the customers — it’s like its own little community.”
Another customer, Nicky Henri, comes to An Beal frequently because of its unique qualities and ability to intertwine numerous cultures and art disciplines.
“One thing that I love about An Beal Bocht Café that is different from most bars is that there is a lot of culture,” Henri said. “There’s an art gallery, theater shows, live music, poetry night, and open mic night. It’s not just come and have a drink. You can come here and see art.”
One customer group that An Beal appreciates is the student body at Manhattan College. McDermott loves seeing Jasper nation frequent the bar, and he hopes they keep returning.
“The students from Manhattan College have been the best group of people,” McDermott said. “They’ve been really good about following the rules and they don’t hassle the staff about any of the procedures that we have to go through. We’re really thankful for them. With that being said we’re being as safe as we possibly can, so if people feel safe and comfortable to come out again please do.”