An Beal Bocht: The Poor Mouth Bar Rich in Arts and Spirits

An Beal Bocht, which translates to “The Poor Mouth” in Irish Gaelic, was founded in 1991. ADRIANNE HUTTO/THEQUADRANGLE

By Adrianne Hutto, Production Editor & Lauren Raziano, Multimedia Editor

This slice of Ireland tucked among community spaces and delis is a gem of the Bronx. A popular bar among locals, undergraduates and graduates, this Riverdale icon supplies the neighbors with beer, poetry and live art. Clad with wood benches, images of Irish literary greats on the walls and of course lots of Guinness.

An Beal Bocht, which translates to “The Poor Mouth” in Irish Gaelic, was founded in 1991 by Irish immigrants and enthusiasts seeking to create a space where their cultural heritage could thrive. Keith McDermott, a previous manager, graduated from Manhattan College in 2005 and has stayed in Riverdale ever since.

Two locals sit at the corner of the bar, sharing laughs and hugs. When the Quadrangle asked them how they knew each other, they explained they had known each other for years. Though you get the sense they met at a bar like Beal, which is the name affectionately used by regulars.

Maureen is one of the locals and is seen regularly in the bar, floating from table to table and speaking to and dancing with anyone within reach. When asked what her favorite drink is, she said assuredly, “tequila.” 

“It’s a very community space, It’s a public house,” Maureen said while seated at the bar with her go-to drink. 

Having lived in the Bronx for 30 years and with no intention of moving, Maureen has an avid understanding of the local bar scene. “It’s a space to be comfortable,” Maureen said. “I love their music and I love the people.”

Cassandra Sawyer, or “Cass,” one of the many recognizable faces at Beal, has been a bartender for enough years to have seen the ebb and flow of Manhattan College students for generations. Trained as a sommelier, she has chosen an Irish pub to take her talents because she prefers a friendly and welcoming environment. 

During her years here, Sawyer has watched many generations of Manhattan College students come and go. She explained that it is one of the amazing things about the job. 

Another of the faces behind the bar is Ryan Banger, who explained that the interactions between locals and students are just as interesting as the college students themselves.

 “I get a lot of intergenerational conversations going on here, and it’s funny how much people agree with each other,” Banger said. 

Prior to working here, Banger had been coming to the bar for 20 years. Once given the opportunity to bartend at Beal, he happily took the chance. He is still a regular at the bar on his days off. 

“People tend to stick to their tribe,” Sawyer said. “Writers with writers, musicians with musicians. But here, when you walk in the door, that veil crumbles. Because here people are just friendly, and it’s reminiscent of that culture, that ambiance that comes from Ireland itself.” 

 As Sawyer says, Beal radiates warmth, which is a key factor in bringing people back repeatedly. 

“Being able to walk in and open that conversation with someone like, Verizon Mike, who tells old fishing stories, and Brota, who’s been working here since she was my age,” Sawyer said. “People appreciate community, and that’s why I think we have that foundation where people have a good experience.”

Banger, carrying the same amicable attitude he talked so highly about, gestured to another regular who was sitting drinking whisky while silently reading a book; he referred to him as one of the smartest people he knew. As the regular said his goodbyes, he waved by calling Banger by his first name. 

“It’s good work and people need that release and you get to help them do that,” Banger said. 

Beal hosts a plethora of events, with poetry or live music happening almost every night. Sawyer explains that having this space for the arts is unique these days. 

“I think places like that thrive because of creativity, because we are open to allow that,” Sawyer said. 

Sharing the same appreciation, Banger emphasized his love of live music at Beal, explaining that he occasionally performs with his band. 

With a dedication to preserving the arts through community events, the pub has poetry nights, where the entire bar is engaged and enthralled with entertainers. Trivia also takes place on the first Wednesday of the month, with open mic nights popularly held on Mondays. 

To promote and preserve Irish traditions, the pub continues to host the longest-running traditional Irish music session in the Bronx. This session takes place every Sunday from 4pm to 7pm and is currently run by Lindsey Céitinn and Michelle Bergin. 

Ciara McGinty, a 2023 MC alum, frequently participates in the trad sessions with her singing and violin talents. McGinty and her roommate, Mairéad Fee, started attending these trad performances together while in college and have continued to post-grad.

“Throughout our time living in Riverdale, myself and Mairéad would attend the open mic nights and traditional sessions that take place in An Beal,” McGinty wrote in an email to The Quadrangle. “Mairéad and I have both played and sang in the sessions a few times this year and I have loved the inclusive nature of it. I love singing in the sessions at An Beal with people who create such a welcoming atmosphere.”

Another annual event at Beal that is special to the Irish traditions is a pantomime show known as “panto” in Ireland. 

“Another way An Beal Bocht fosters Irish artistic tradition is by hosting a pantomime show around Christmas time every year,” McGinty wrote. “Often referred to as a “panto” by people in Ireland, attending one around Christmas is a tradition carried out by many. The show usually tells a fairytale while incorporating comedy.” 

Regulars share that walking into An Beal feels like a warm embrace from a relative during the holidays. 

“The patrons of An Beal Bocht are so friendly, every time I walk in I am welcomed by people coming up to me and saying hello,” McGinty wrote. “Especially Edna, who welcomes everyone with a hug.” 

Beal’s comforting atmosphere invites patrons to interact with each other and fosters a space of encouragement. 

“While I was at an Irish trad session, a couple came up to me after seeing me sing a few weeks prior, and asked me to sing again,” McGinty wrote. “It was such a nice feeling to be welcomed into the session by both the patrons and musicians alike. Personally, I think that the music thoroughly enhances the atmosphere of the bar/café and contributes greatly to the sense of camaraderie amongst its patrons.” 

With a fresh-poured Guinness stout in hand, recent MC alumni Claire Vredenburg detailed that her favorite aspects of Beal’s culture are the best local and national bands that come and perform. 

“Honestly, if you are looking for local music, you will find some of the best musicians at Beal,” Vredenburg said. “SmokeyO, we call him the ‘White Plains cowboy,’ and the Dusty 45s are the best musicians that come to the Bronx with no cover charge. [The Dusty 45s] come from Seattle once a year and light their instruments on fire; it’s an experience.” 

As a previous college student who has stayed in the Bronx, Vrendenburg feels like An Beal is where locals and students have developed great relationships. 

“You always want to talk to people here because they always have some advice to share. This place loves Manhattan College and Manhattan College loves An Beal, it’s a great relationship they have,” Vrendenburg said. 

In Pete McCarthy’s book McCarthy’s Bar, he explores the unique community that exists in the Irish pub. “Always stop at a bar with your name on it,” McCarthy writes. While a few Annes may identify with this, An Beal Bocht is a bar with everyone’s name on it.

*An update was made 11/17/2023 to clarify Keith McDermott’s role at An Beal Bocht