John Keogh of Amity Hall Talks Beer, Jager Bombs & Being Irish on St. Paddy’s Day


Amity Hall, the latest addition to a group of bars owned by two brothers from Dublin, Mark and Martin Whelan, quietly opened its doors just a few steps from its sister establishment, The Half Pint, late last year. Bartender John Keogh, who also hails from the Emerald Isle, is gearing up for a day of festivities as he celebrates his homeland’s patron saint with his colleagues and customers. Of course, he won’t be the only Irishman in the bar today.

So, what is happening at Amity for St. Paddy’s Day today?

We’re going full scale with Irish music and everything. You know, bringing something different to the West Village. We’re serving traditional Irish fare — Irish Lamb Stew, Corned Beef, Bacon and Cabbage, and Irish Breakfast all day. The Irish music session goes from 6 till late.

Do you miss Ireland on St. Paddy’s Day?

Not really. I’ve been in New York eight years, but in America for 18 years — 10 years in Miami. I’m so lucky that I get to live in the center of the world. The pub scene in Dublin is an amazing scene, but I do live in New York City and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

What’s it like to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day in New York City?

Well, let me tell you: I’m very proud to be Irish because everyone wants to be me today.

You haven’t really lost your accent.

No, I haven’t.

Does it help with the ladies?

It’s worked for 18 years. You know, I’m not the prettiest boy around. But with these American girls, I’m like Brad Pitt with this fucking accent. And, yes, I’m single.

What’s the secret to pulling the perfect pint of Guinness?

To pour the perfect pint of Guinness is to take some time. The system we have here at Amity is amazing. We have 40 draft lines — 20 stable brands that don’t change and 20 rotating brands, so it makes it very easy to pour a perfect pint. We have some great breweries from around the United States and they’re changing all the time. As they say, variety is the spice of life.

Do you have a favorite?

We have a local brewery called Otter Creek (from Vermont). Their Helles Alt is one of my favorite ones. It’s very hoppy, very spicy. Right now, we have the Abita brewery’s Andygator (a Helles Dopplebock), which is doing pretty well.

What’s your favorite part of working with beer?

I love that there’s so many varieties. I wasn’t so much of a beer geek. I used to sell beer for a living for a brewery from the U.K. But ever since I got to work for this company, I’ve had to learn about so many brands so that I can talk about them to the customers. So, I get to try a lot of beers.

How do you gauge someone’s taste when they clearly know nothing about beer?

You try to help them. First question I always ask is what they like. Then you can try to find what they’re actually looking for. Usually, they want guidance. That’s why it’s so important that bartenders are knowledgeable. The customers appreciate your help when you can figure out what they do like. And they usually agree with [your suggestion]. What’s the worst trend in bars you’ve seen in New York?

I hate the whole Jager Bomb thing.

Do you have a favorite hangover cure?

Another drink.

Where do you like to drink when you’re not at your own bar?

I’m always going to new places. I’ve just been recently to the Breslin. I like going to gastropubs, I like going to all the new hot spots. I’m not so much a club person. Definitely more into bars.

What do you do when customers get too rowdy, which may very well happen today?

We try to be very conscious of who we’re selling the beer to and when it’s time to cut them off. We try to be responsible in the community for that, because when they’re drunk in the bar, they’re drunk in the street. So, most of us have had training in how to assess the situation. Instead of just cutting them off, you try to talk them into have some water or something like that.

What else is coming up at Amity after today’s festivities are done?

I gotta plug the March Madness, which is going to be amazing here. And we’re going to be gearing ourselves up for the World Cup, as well.

Sounds like the next few months will be busy. I better wish you luck for today and let you get on with it.

Yeah, thanks. Now, you better come down for a drink. It’s fucking St. Patrick’s Day, for fuck’s sake.