“Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name… and they’re always glad you came!”
There aren’t too many bars on the peninsula that give you that feeling of stepping onto the set of “Cheers” like Healy’s Pub does. Besides the weekday happy hours, frozen mugs to keep beers chilled, live bands or DJs that have people dancing into the night on weekends and extra large frozen drinks like creamiscles all summer, there’s something else that has kept the pub located on Rockaway Beach Drive between Beach 108th and 109th, running successfully for nearly 50 years.
“Everybody knows each other here. It’s like Cheers, everybody knows your name and if you come in and people don’t know you, they make you feel comfortable,” former owner Tom Healy Sr. said. “It has a welcoming atmosphere. It’s like Cheers, where you walk into a place and you run into somebody you know that’s probably gonna make you laugh,” Tommy Healy said. “Everyone feels like they’re welcome and if someone ever needs something, they know they can come to us. People can come and feel like they’re friends with the other customers and the people working behind the bar and the owners,” Kevin Healy added.
As Rockaway’s longest-running business to be owned by one family, Healy’s Pub has always kept it in the family, not only through ownership but in the way in which customers are treated like relatives. And it’s been that way for nearly 50 years.
On April 23, 1968, Healy’s Pub opened its doors, replacing the previous watering hole, Morrissey’s. George Healy had spent many years working in the hotel business, from bellhop to general manager. “He was bellman for 26 years and the Tishman Brothers hired him to staff their new hotels. He would staff about seven hotels and he became manager of them. Then they wanted him to act as chief of security along with being manager, but they didn’t want to pay him extra. He didn’t want to do it without being compensated,” Tom Healy Sr. said of his father. Coincidentally, at that time, the bar near Beach 108th was up for sale and George decided to take a risk in another aspect of hospitality—the bar business. With the help of his mother, Sarah and sister, Helen, George pinched pennies and was able to strike a deal with Paddy Morrisey for the bar.
Ever since then, Healy’s has been passed down, generation-to-generation, Healy-to-Healy. In 1985, Tom Healy Sr., along with his brother Jimmy, took over the taps from their father and became owners. Over the past decade, another generation of Healys has claimed ownership, with Tom Sr.’s sons, Tommy and Kevin running the show. “I passed it on to them because they’re a lot like me in certain ways and I knew they’d keep the traditions of the bar going,” Tom said. His sons credit their father with making Healy’s what it is. “Throughout the last 30 years, our father has been the most instrumental figure at the bar. He’s done the most work there and he’s one of the most important reasons the bar was as successful as it was and continues to be,” Tommy said. In the years that the Healys have been running the bar, they’ve found that the business is in their blood, in more ways than one. “After doing it for so long, it becomes a part of you. It’s in your blood. I know people throw that phrase around loosely, but it really does become a part of you and I’m proud and thrilled to still feel this way after all these years,” Tom said.
In its 50 years, Healy’s has also become a big part of the community. To many, Healys is a place of special meaning. “We’ve met a lot of people over the years and a lot of them have come in here and told me they met their significant other people or they got engaged here,” Tom said. Some may also remember that Healy’s was the place that brought the original Irish Festival to Rockaway. “We started the Rockaway Irish Festival and ran it for about 25 years before the Ancient Order of Hibernians picked it up again,” Tom said. But most importantly, Healys is a place that has been there for the community. “We’ve always helped support the community in times of need. You have to help people, you can’t just take,” Tom said. “If there was something someone needed, my father has always been the first to offer. He’s the first guy to send flowers to someone’s mother’s wake, the first to hold a fundraiser,” Kevin said. The owners and staff also treat customers like family. “Some of the faces, you see here day in and day out, and to some of them, we are their family. Some people come from outside of New York and don’t have anyone else. For holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, we always serve food so our customers that don’t have anywhere to go, can be with us,” Kevin said.
That family feeling not only comes from the men that run it, but the bartenders who make customers feel at home, like Virginia Connolly, Johnny Mack, Mike McGee, Sue O’Shea, Danny Powers and more. “Our bartenders aren’t just employees. They have a genuine interest in the bar and its customers,” Kevin said.
In April 2018, Healy’s will celebrate its 50th anniversary, which is a big accomplishment for any business. “We’ve been very fortunate to have a community that supports us like we support them for the past 50 years,” Tom said. “I don’t think anyone else on the peninsula, and not even that many bars in the city, can say they’ve had a bar in the same family for 50 years. It’s a great accomplishment for our family and our customers,” Tommy said. “Being in business for this long says a lot about the family that runs it. It’s not always easy running a business with family, but the fact that we can do it and get along shows how solid of a business it is,” Kevin said.
“We’re blessed to have gone this far. I don’t know what we did to make it this good but now that it is good, we wanna keep it this way,” Tom said.
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