Published on Dec 12 2012 3:16 PM in Drinks
A long-standing establishment in Sligo town, McGarrigle’s is innovating the north-west with live music and good food, as Sadhbh Connor finds out when she speaks to proprietor, Tricky.
“It’s like a party in your granny’s living room,” was the praise that most delighted Michael Caheny – better known as ’Tricky’ in Sligo heard when eavesdropping on his customers to gauge their opinion of the revamped décor of McGarrigle’s. Caheny admits that bringing granny chic to the town’s O’Connell Street wasn’t exactly part of the business plan when he took over the bar three-and-a-half years ago, but he’s happy that his regulars like it.
One of Sligo town’s longest-standing pubs, McGarrigle’s passed hands a number of times before Caheny seized his opportunity to take on the place. The first six months of his lease were spent gutting and refurbishing the building. “I had people giving me advice on the décor but I always like the mismatched, eclectic look, it gives the place a bit more character,” he explains. The cosy feel of the bijoux bar, with its squishy mismatched leather couches – and forest green wall paper with a floral print that seems to blossom before your eyes – isn’t quite the style you’d expect from a six-foot-something motorbike enthusiast with six mm gleaming metal plug piercings in each ear. Caheny is both a modern and traditional man. Coming from generations of publicans, it’s unsurprising that he continued in the family trade, but he says, “I wanted to try something different from the family place, I wanted to open a pub that would be live music-orientated.”
McGarrigle’s is establishing itself as an increasingly important stop on Ireland’s alternative music gig circuit, playing host to acts such as Le Galaxie, O Emporer, and Brendan Benson of The Raconteurs fame. The pub hosts live music five nights a week, with bluegrass, trad sessions and spots for local bands who can play on Tuesdays’ Bluestacks Jam Club, with the likelihood of being offered a paid slot on a Friday. This slot combines live recording and videoing of the gig for the young bands to use as promotional tools. McGarrigle’s ethos of nurturing musical talent, “is like Simon Cowell’s worst nightmare,” Caheny laughs. The real craic happens at Sunday MASS though. McGarrigle’s Mad Acoustic Sunday Session is hugely popular, and even spawned The MASS Band. A room upstairs beside the pub’s modest gig venue has been converted from its use as a secondary rubbish facility, to a self-catering apartment which offers playing bands somewhere to stay. “Bands know that if you come and play here we’ll put you up, so it’s cost-effective for them,” he says. He wishes there was more cohesion between publicans in the region in “trying to get bands to breach the Galway-Dublin line.” He collaborates with Gugai of Galway’s Roisín Dubh to offer acts shows between the venues to make it more worthwhile for them. He mentions The Dock in Carrick-on-Shannon and in Letterkenny’s Greenroom as venues trying to work in the same way, in order to bring a bit more noise to the north-west.
Although the menu is currently limited to lunch, the high calibre of food served in McGarrigle’s deserves a mention. Chef and national bodyboarding champion Shane Meehan is the man dishing up top quality, local produce with dishes such as pan-fried hake with slow-cooked leeks, roast tomatoes and parsley oil. Having been offered a position at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck, Meehan plumped for the Cornwall restaurant of Rick Stein, due to the added bonus of good waves. Thankfully for Caheny, his long-time friend Meehan eventually returned to Sligo’s famed surfing shoreline and took to the kitchen.
Innovating in economic conditions like these can be difficult and sometimes fatal for young businesses, but McGarrigle’s is managing it with noisy aplomb.