Cheers to the Future of Connolly’s

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 Mike drop! A changing of the guard has taken place in Rockaway Beach. Despite many fears, Connolly’s isn’t going the way of the bars of Rockaway’s past. Under the ownership of local hands with long history and big investments in the neighborhood, the beloved bar is here to stay thanks to Mike Reinhardt and Mike Kololyan of Locals Surf, and their families.

When the Mikes first learned Connolly’s was up for sale for $6M, at first, like many in the neighborhood, they joked about buying it. But as young natives and locals, who already had several established businesses in the neighborhood, including Locals Surf School and Locals Collective café, as well as rental properties, their experience, and the thought of losing their beloved summer bar to developers, gave them the motivation they needed. “We had to do it,” Mike Reinhardt said.

“When we saw it for sale, it almost seemed out of reach and such a novelty to be curious about,” Reindardt said. “But we explored it more seriously. We grew up with Connolly’s and we’re so happy and grateful to take on the responsibility of maintaining the heritage and history of this bar. Rockaway has a lot of new vibrancy and growth, which we also appreciate, but at the same time, there needs to be some respect for the old guard and Connolly’s is an institution in Rockaway. In an era when there are so many properties being developed and turned into condos, it would’ve been a shame to see that happen to this property. Now we hope everyone is excited as us to know it’s going to be taken over by a group of local people that intend to preserve Connolly’s and honor its traditions. We’re very grateful that Jeff was happy to pass on the torch to us.”

For Reinhardt, making and preserving Rockaway history is in his blood. “I’m happy to honor my family tradition because through one branch of my family, we’re fifth generation here, with family dating to the early 20th century. They had opened the Palace Hotel in the 1920s in Far Rockaway, when Rockaway was still the Irish Riviera and it was almost like the Hamptons of the city before the Hamptons became what it was. The Hotel no longer exists but it feels good to be a part of that Rockaway history and honor it,” he said.

In doing that, Reinhardt, Kololyan and their families, intend to preserve Connolly’s history and carry it into the future. Perhaps nothing was more indicative of that than seeing them put back up the Connolly’s sign last week, after it had been put in storage for winter. “Our slogan is—Keep Connolly’s, Connolly’s,” Reinhardt said. That means the beloved bar is here to stay, with very few changes. “Everyone’s been expressing to us, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.' The only thing we gotta change is the bathrooms,” Kololyan said. “Which I don’t think anyone would have a problem with.”

In addition to the bathrooms, the Mikes intend to take advantage of more of the outdoor space surrounding the bar, adding additional seating outside, bringing more light to the basement bar that’s enjoyed in the summer. “Not everyone wants to be indoors in summer, so we’re going to make a super nice outside area, nothing big, but just enough that it gives everyone a little bit more space,” Reinhardt said. They may also expand the drink offerings. “We may add some new drinks, new liquors, new fun wines, but we’re not taking away anything,” Reinhardt said. “We’re gonna keep the piña coladas, the Guinness, the Bud Lights, the Sol,” Kololyan said. Food offerings may also be in the future, after they get things running smoothly.

Will they take the many photos of bargoers' past down from the walls? “Hell no,” Reinhardt said. “It’s like we’re adapting a museum. We’re not touching anything,” Kololyan said.

Overall, the Locals guys intend to bring new life into the things that were lacking at the bar over the last few years. Nighttime hours will return, with Connolly’s open seven days a week in summer, with a 4 a.m. closing time. Special holiday openings will return from Halloween to Thanksgiving Eve, New Year’s, Rockaway St. Patrick’s Day and more. And long-gone traditions may make a comeback. “Don’t be surprised if some version of the bikini contest comes back,” Kololyan hinted. And they’re open to ideas. “We’re very interested in bringing back whatever event the community wants here, including some of the musicians that have a reputation here and a lot of the same staff that have history here. We want this to be a community place,” Reinhardt said.

Despite owning other businesses, the Mikes say they intend to keep Connolly’s its own entity, separate from the Locals brand. Though, they may refer surf students to the bar after their sessions. The guys say their existing businesses have given them the experience of dealing with all different kinds of customers, plus they even have some experience selling alcohol, holding a liquor license at Locals Collective. “We’ve all worked in bars too, so we’re not entirely green to this,” Reinhardt said.

The Mikes know they have their work cut out for them and big shoes to fill, but overall, they’re stoked to add bar owners to their resume. “I’m excited. I know it’s going to be a lot of work and sometimes be stressful, but it’s going to be so fun. You’re ushering in good times to people and it feels great to provide that and be a part of it,” Reinhardt said. “It’s a new venture. I’m sure it’s gonna be really fun and also scary, but ultimately, it’s gonna be a great time,” Kololyan said. "We're here to sell happiness to the community, and now we get to drink piña coladas forever.”

As tradition stands, the frozens will start pouring at noon on Friday, May 27, to kick off Memorial Day weekend. Head to 155 Beach 95th Street for all the fun this summer, and don’t forget the floater.

By Katie McFadden

 

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