A larger canvas
Belfast exiles in America paint on a larger canvas.
None of which seems to give them pause — as I witnessed this week in a 48-hour scoot through New York.
On the airwaves, they’re plugging Terry George’s newest movie, the epic The Promise based on the Armenian Genocide. With Christian Bale in the lead, it opened in 2,000 theatres across the US on Friday. Not bad for a Ballymacarrett boy — or is he from the Short Strand?
From Divis Flats, Geraldine Hughes rose all the way to Broadway (on Manhattan that is, not off the Falls Road) with her inimitable version of the Belfast blues. Geroildeen is a writer, playwright, director and she’s not bad on the boards either. In American cinemas last week they were trailing her new movie The Book of Henry which opens on June 16.
Given that the Irish are blessed with the gab gene, it’s no surprise that they’re also shining in the hospitality arena.
Jim Clerkin, CEO of Möet Hennessy USA, continues to raise a glass to visiting bridge-builders from back home from his headquarters below the High Line.
And on the tip of Manhattan, where the huddled masses from around the world once streamed in to New York, two Belfast boys are causing a stir with their very own Cuban revolution. Having won acclaim for their Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog — annointed Best Bar in the World, no less — Jack McGarry and Sean Muldoon have now opened Blacktail. Imagine a Cuban speakeasy during the Prohibition era, mix in stunning cocktails and delicious dishes and you’ve got it.
The bar also enjoys two of the greatest views in the Big Apple – north towards the Freedom Tower and south towards Lady Liberty. As I sipped my orange juice on Thursday night in the darkened surrounds, I suggested to the boys that they open the blinds so I could enjoy the view as the sun set. “No chance,” said Jack, “you’re supposed to be in Cuba.”
That morning, Jack had flown in from Chicago where he is collaborating with America’s most revered chef Danny Meyer on creating a new drinks menu at his famed Green River restaurant. (Dedicated to Chicago’s rebirth, the restaurant gives more than a nod to the power of the Irish in the growth of the City of Broad Shoulders: “And the Irish-American story was very much a part of that, running through it like a green river.”)
Not that Jack and Sean don’t get home from time to time. Indeed, in early March, CNN flew the pair home to Belfast for a tour of their favourite pubs. It made for a great news segment on St Patrick’s Day and I love the fact that teetotaler Jack has a soft drink in each of the cozy watering holes.
It’s not all one-way traffic, of course. Many’s the New Yorker has made an invaluable contribution to Belfast. In fact, we’ll be celebrating that criss-cross of talent and genius in Pier A itself on 16 June at the eighth annual New York-New Belfast conference.
Bring your paintbrushes and easel; the canvas is already there.