Traghaven Whiskey Pub Brings West Cork To Tivoli
One of the delicious burgers at Traghaven.
By Jamie Larson
Traghaven Whiskey Pub & Co. in Tivoli, New York has some magic to it. The pub is transportive, seemingly pulled from another time and place (namely West Cork, Ireland). It’s beautiful in a way pubs can be and the care that owner Gerard Hurley puts into the atmosphere, food and drinks make it feel like a community pub in the truest sense.
“It’s the essential West Cork pub experience,” says Hurley, who hails from Ireland’s largest county. “There are no shamrocks on the wall. You come in and it’s just the real deal. Traditionally a pub serves a community in more than one way.”
You may be wondering if that place used to be that lovable yet problematic dive called The Black Swan. Well, yes — but a lot has changed, aside from the cozy layout and the old black and white photographs that include portraits of President Kennedy and Noam Chomsky.
Hurley immigrated to the U.S. alone at age 17 and bounced around the country working odd jobs, acting, writing and pushing his first screenplay. When the production of his story fell through at the eleventh hour, he moved to Tivoli and figured he’d open a pub, a comfortable place that felt like home, where he could play chess, read a book, drink and socialize. He ran the Black Swan from 2001 to 2004. He then went back to Ireland to make the films The Pier and The Pride. While he was away the Swan was run by a tenant and became notorious as a fun, loud and increasingly grimy place to drink and party. In 2012 the state shut the place down for its, shall we say, liberal ID policy. Hurley had to leave his Irish projects behind to come back to the States and save his business, literally cleaning house.
“If I didn’t come back I would have lost my home and my connection to this place,” Hurley says. “I like and have a lot of respect for the other business owners in town. The difference with this pub, rather than a restaurant, is you can just hang out for a couple hours.”
A regular haunt for locals, travelers and of-age Bard students, the pub’s new draw is the excellent food, prepared by Chef Christopher Murphy.
The bar menu is straightforward but elevated by great local ingredients. There’s an Irish Burger with Dubliner cheese and stout onions ($15), and the Pig Candy Burger with thick-cut bacon, fried onions and BBQ sauce ($15), but there are also vegetarian options and less ordinary sides like a balsamic marinated portobello sandwich with arugula pesto and sundried tomatoes ($13), and roasted Brussels sprouts with pecans and capers. There are also well-executed pub mains like a half roast chicken ($16) and steak frites ($20). Hurley has a few head of cattle on his small homestead farm nearby and all the beef served at the pub is from his herd (really).
A recent tuna special at Traghaven.
“The food’s really simple. We always source local,” Hurley says. “We’re not trying to be something we’re not, but we also refuse to cook out of a box.”
The bar and dining area are warm and welcoming and there’s a large, attractive patio out back. Drink business can get pretty busy and loud late at night, but there’s a mellow vibe at Traghaven at dinnertime.
But this is a whiskey pub and Hurley says he has the biggest selection of Irish whiskey in the United States. (He’s looked into it and says he doesn’t give a s*** if you don’t believe him.) There are 70 options behind the bar and more in a private reserve he’s not allowed to sell. Hurley knows his stuff and is happy to talk at length about the history and tradition behind Irish whiskey, which is in his blood. His father smuggled whiskey through Ireland in the volatile 70s and 80s and his grandmother owned a distillery in Boston, during prohibition, before returning to Ireland to open a pub.
When the weather turns cold, Traghaven is the perfect spot for a hot toddy.
“If someone wants to talk whiskey, I will,” says Hurley, who has a deep knowledge of the spirit’s history, “but we’re not snobs. I love turning people on to whiskey who don’t know they like it.”
For the uninitiated he usually recommends Greenore for women and Concannon for men. Traghaven uses Clontarf as its main whiskey, though they’ve got Jameson’s if you want it. Hurley also loves pushing his hometown’s own West Cork Whiskey.
And there is beer, too. In the Irish style, it’s kegs and pints rather than bottles, and all the beer is either from Ireland or NY State.
Hurley says that unlike scotch, which has a narrow flavor profile, different kinds of Irish whiskey lend themselves to a wide swath of mixed drinks, and Traghaven has come up with some seriously good cocktail specials and mainstays including the Boulvardier made with Power, Campari and sweet vermouth ($11); the Gingeroo with Devlin whiskey, ginger, ginger beer and crystallized ginger ($10); or the Whiskey-rita with Paddy’s, triple sec, fresh lime and hot sauce ($10).
What’s not on the menu is how the place makes you feel. What Hurley has done with Traghaven is not unremarkable. It’s a gathering place now, a lively, sociable community hub. There’s regular live music, karaoke, quiz night and television for important political and soccer-related events. This is a pub at its best and an elegant merger of what’s good about West Cork Ireland and the Hudson Valley.
Traghaven Whiskey Pub & Co.
66 Broadway, Tivoli, NY
Hours: Tuesday—Sunday, 5 p.m.—1:30 a.m.