McGraw’s plays to its own tune with Irish tradition

Source: Bethany Young,

Thursday, 01st Sept, 2011

When John McGraw of Penfield opened McGraw’s Pub in East Rochester last December, he set out to bring the sights, sounds and tastes of Ireland with him. But more than beer and traditional Irish fare, live music has been a key part of this venture.

“It’s all my father’s fault,” he joked.

From left, McGraw's Irish Pub owner John McGraw, his father Ted, and manager Paul Frederick. ©

His father, Ted, has been playing Irish music for decades and even has his own Celtic radio show on WXXI every Sunday. Both he and his son have been involved in the local Celtic music scene since Ted helped found a Rochester chapter of the Irish Musicians Association in 1986, called Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in traditional Gaelic.

The venue itself is home to live music almost every night of the week, as well as Irish dance classes and film screenings, and Tuesday Trivia Nights.

In addition to booking live acts to play at the pub, John produced “Irish Rochester,” last year, a compilation of songs by 75 local artists.

Both men also enjoy playing music themselves, with Ted on button accordion and John on tin whistle. The pub is not just a venue for expert musicians, with a piano, guitar, fiddle and accordion at the small stage area for anyone play at their leisure.

This has led to many jam sessions and pleasant surprises, John says.

“I’ve had people show up and ask if they can play, and one woman played piano and sang for three hours,” he said. “It was great.”

The pub is known for its Irish fare and atmosphere, but it wasn’t always that way. When the owners first gave the restaurant a makeover, they had to paint over red and black leopard print on the walls. Now the walls are pale green and covered with original photographs of the Irish countryside taken by McGraw himself.

McGraw, who used to design kitchens and bathrooms, now works alongside manager Paul Frederick and co-owner Tom Benner.

It’s become a meeting place where guests sit, stand and sing along to whoever takes the stage. The signature dish is Guinness garlic chicken wings to go along with shepherd’s pie and Irish stew, along with burgers, sandwiches and Irish food and drink.

“It’s a community service kind of thing,” said John, as his father added, “You don’t have to be Irish.”


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