Coming to America: The glamorous Irish who are taking NYC by storm
Far from being gone, never to be seen again, today’s Irish emigrant to New York comes home for weddings, birthday parties and summer holidays and welcomes a steady flow of Irish visitors at their door. Ireland is home, but NY is where they are making their lives, and it's where they’ve found their passion, these four emigrants tell Chloe Brennan - in bars, in business and in creating events. And while they agree that there’s no place like home, there’s no place like the Big Apple, either.
Originally from Slane, Co Meath, Angela moved to New York four years ago and hasn't looked back since. "I find myself heading back to Ireland a lot for weddings, especially in the summer, which is nice to keep in touch with family and friends, but I love the crazy life in New York," she says.
How does she escape the hectic New York lifestyle? "You have to have a good balance between work, fitness and the inevitable partying that happens when you live here," she says. "I like to run along the East River to get a bit of headspace, away from the craziness. It's important to take time for yourself or you will get worn-out so quickly in this environment."
Before moving abroad, Angela worked in marketing for 98FM and she was captivated by the media industry. "I love the variety in working in media and its fast pace and exciting environment," she says. "I couldn't imagine sitting in an office doing the same job every single day."
Angela is the events and partnerships manager for DailyMail.com in North America. When I meet her in the busy East Village, she tells me that she had a 5am start that day for an exclusive shoot.
"You're never off the clock - it's too fast-paced. When you walk out your door every day, you don't know what's ahead of you, or what way your day will go. It has that magic spark to it," she says. Angela travels a lot for work, as she oversees all of the media site's event partnerships. "We have had the likes of Martha Stewart and Lindsay Lohan at our events, which is really exciting," she says.
Thanks to cheaper transatlantic flights, Angela welcomes lots of visitors from home these days. "People's work can sometimes land them in New York for a few days, too," she says.
Married to Rob Mahon (pictured below), Angela was born for the New York lifestyle, and while she doesn't rule out moving home, she can't see it being any time soon, saying, "I love the energy, the excitement and the endless possibilities. There is something going on all the time."
Rob - who was born in New York to Irish parents, John and Geraldine, but raised in Dublin - began his career as a finance broker. He compares his time in that high-powered profession to The Wolf of Wall Street: "It was like what you see in that movie," he says. "It's very intense, and you're sitting at your desk for 6am every morning. You can do what you want, just as long as you're making money." He fondly recalls his time as a stockbroker, but seems more content with his current role - taking over Manhattan, one bar at a time.
It's a family affair dating back to the late 1960s, when Rob's father, John, pooled his tips with the late Pete McGee, and they opened their first pub in New York, the Pig 'n' Whistle.
Fifty years later, Rob is continuing in his father's footsteps. Along with his father's long-term business partners, Rob knows how to successfully operate bars and restaurants, and has 13 of them under the Pig 'n' Whistle group. Twelve are in Manhattan - including The Flying Cock, PJ Moran's and Foxy John's - while Kennedy's Bar and Restaurant, primarily run by his brother John, is on the corner of Westland Row in Dublin. They seem to put everything into each new venture they take on. Since taking over Kennedy's two years ago, Rob says they have doubled the trade.
Last August, Rob married his long-term girlfriend Angela (pictured left) in the small village of Mougins, just outside of Cannes, surrounded by 150 of their closest family and friends. "The venue was beautiful, a small castle on the water," Rob says. "It was more of a three-day affair!" The Cote d'Azur holds a special place in both Rob and Angela's hearts, as it's where Rob proposed the previous year. Now, they live in a penthouse in midtown Manhattan.
Rob credits the prime locations of the bars - think Times Square, the Rockefeller Centre and Wall Street - for the success of the group, but an entrepreneurial nature and the ability to bring unique angles to the fiercely competitive New York hospitality scene are vital elements of that success. "You need to differentiate yourself, and stand out from the crowd," he says. "There is a saturation of Irish-style bars in New York, so we have decided to go down different routes." He provides a day-time burlesque show to the workers on Wall Street in his new Mexican-themed restaurant, Toro Loco, and he hosts private events for clients in Broadstone, his three-story American-style bar and kitchen on the corner of Broad and Stone Streets.
As well as regulars and tourists, some well-known faces have passed through the doors over the years. "Last year, we welcomed Leo Varadkar to PJ Moran's, one of our pubs near the Rockefeller Centre, for breakfast on St Patrick's Day. Muhammad Ali stopped by Langan's any time he was in town, and Liam Neeson and Jimmy Kimmel have been in, too," Rob says.
Rob shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. He spends some of his weekends in the summer relaxing and catching up with friends in Montauk, and playing GAA in Brooklyn.
Will he ever return to Ireland? "I wouldn't rule out moving back," he says, "but the ideal scenario would be commuting between here and Ireland every few weeks."
Patrick, from Carraroe in Sligo, is the average person's key to gaining access to Manhattan's most exclusive clubs.
Like many Irish 20-somethings, Patrick moved to New York on the J-1 graduate visa, after completing his master's degree in e-commerce in DCU. During his first few months, he found himself socialising in the same Irish bars every other weekend. The so-called 'city that never sleeps' wasn't living up to his expectations. He says he "Googled 'best clubs in New York' and I got myself and a few friends on the guest list for 1 OAK nightclub [famous for its celebrity clientele]. I realised that being on the guest list doesn't really get you anywhere, and it was still $100 to get in.
"I was working in a bar at the time, and I made a contact one night with a promoter from that same club we didn't get into - 1 OAK. He said if I started sending people down from the bar, he would pay me. So I had some business cards made and I started sending people down to him."
Although Patrick was getting paid to send crowds to the club from the bar he was working at, it didn't work in his favour at the time, and he got fired the week before Christmas.
"From then, I had no job apart from promoting," he says. "So I had to go out into the Meatpacking district and get people into nightclubs as my source of income. My Irish accent was definitely an advantage, and it kept me going, but I was living from pay cheque to pay cheque."
In the meantime, he landed a job as an intern for an ad agency called The Mill. "I was on an intern's salary earning 15 bucks an hour, which doesn't get you far living here, so I kept up the promoting on the side, usually on Fridays and Saturdays," he says.
After just a couple of months, Patrick's promoting gigs took off: "Things started going hell for leather and more venues started to reach out," he says. Now, under his PR and Events company, The Greene Room, he works for the biggest nightclubs in New York, holding events seven nights a week, with Saturdays and Sundays amounting to 14-hour days. The company covers everything from restaurant venues to rooftops and brunch parties to nightclubs.
So how does the average person get entry to these parties, without having to fork out thousands for a table? "In a nutshell, there are 55 nightlife venues [in New York]competing for the best crowd," he explains. "If a club has a client paying several thousand for a table, they don't want to sit in an empty club. They want to be surrounded by a fun and energetic crowd. My job is to bring that crowd. We bring out up to 500 people a week."
The Greene Room was hired to promote a party for a Prince of Saudi Arabia, who throws an exclusive party in a bowling alley every other year. Patrick and his friends were playing pool, when they were interrupted by a guy asking if he could he play next. "When I looked over, I saw it was Leonardo Di Caprio. He invited us to join him and his friends in a nightclub after. That was definitely a cool night."
They have also had members of the Dublin hurling team, the Irish rugby team and cast members from Michael Flatley's Lord of The Dance when they were on Broadway. "I want to try to be a link between the Irish here and the Irish at home and build a community spirit in New York," Patrick says.
Is moving home on the cards in the near future? "For the time being, New York is where it's at," he says. "We are looking at growing and maybe hitting up Miami or Vegas. But no, we aren't thinking about going home - we are thinking about going bigger."
In 2010, in the midst of Ireland's recession, Elaine graduated from Trinity College Dublin, followed by a three-year stint working in KPMG before becoming a qualified accountant. With the world at her feet, Elaine embarked on a new life in London, where she met her husband, Craig.
Elaine is adamant she wasn't forced to emigrate. "A lot of people don't think there are many opportunities in Ireland, which I think is sad," she says. "It wasn't that I thought there weren't opportunities for me at home. I left because I was looking for different opportunities, and to broaden my horizons. Ireland is the centre of so much in the business world and I'd go back in an instant if there was the right opportunity."
Having asked herself, "What would I like to do in finance in an industry that's interesting to me?" Elaine went to work for L'Oreal, one of the world's biggest beauty brands.
After a year in London, Elaine and Craig, who had recently tied the knot in Stellenbosch in South Africa, decided to move to New York. "We both got really lucky," she says, "One of the things that has always been important to me in my career is global mobility. Thankfully, both of our companies supported our move. Craig works for Goldman Sachs and their headquarters is in New York. L'Oreal has an office in New York, too." Elaine says that being flexible on the role made her transition to the States easier.
Elaine's commute to work is slightly different to most New Yorkers' typical fraught rush-hour journey. "I live in the Meatpacking District, and my daily commute is a one-mile walk on the High Line - the most beautiful walk in the city," she says. The High Line is a public park built on a historic railway line above the streets on Manhattan's West Side.
Elaine has no plans to move home yet. "Ireland is always home," she says, "But I always want to go where the adventure is and explore. I'm Irish, Craig is South African, we met in London, and now we are living in New York - who knows what the future holds?"
Photography by Daragh Cogley
Sunday Indo Living