Oldest Irish pub feted

Michael Prendergast Jr. has spent the majority of his life behind the counter at the Jolly Tinker, which his father opened in 1969.
Photo by Ben Kochman

The Bronx’s last Irish pub standing hit a major milestone this month.

Though now Bedford Park’s The Jolly Tinker—which turned 45 years old last week —stands in a neighborhood that hasn’t been Irish for decades.

If 45 years doesn’t sound like that long —well, it isn’t, by New York City standards. Some Irish pubs in Manhattan date back to the mid-19th century.

But a quirk in the Bronx’s unique history, in which Irish families have moved every few generations, taking their beloved pubs with them, means that the Jolly Tinker is the boroough’s elder statesman of local Irish pubs.

“We’ve figured out how to navigate through the decades,” said Michael Prendergast Jr., the pub’s current manager. “And I’m proud of that.”

Awash with green flags

Prendergast’s pub, on Webster Avenue at Bedord Park Blvd., is a relic of an era when Bedford Park was packed with Irish immigrants. Back then, Webster Avenue was awash with the green flags that today hang from storefronts further north on Katonah Avenue in heavily Irish Woodlawn.

Many Irish families moved into the Bedford Park area with the extension of the Third Avenue elevated subway line, which from 1955 to 1973 ran from the 149th Street Hub to Gun Hill Road, said Borough Historian Lloyd Ultan.

Among those fresh off the boat was Prendergast’s father, Michael Prendergast Sr., who opened the Jolly Tinker’s doors on Feb. 8, 1969 after coming from Ireland’s County Waterford.

A meeting place

As more and more Irish families came over in the 70’s and 80’s, the Jolly Tinker was an essential meeting place for those just putting roots down in a new city.

“People would come in still carrying their suitcases from the trip,” said Prendergast Jr., who worked behind the bar while he was still in high school. “And all they had was a note with the Jolly Tinker’s address on it.”

But the days when the area was affectionately nicknamed “Little Belfast” are long gone. Many of the families that frequented the Jolly Tinker in the years after it has opened have since migrated to other areas of the Bronx or out of the borough entirely.

“A tavern would open up, and as the population aged, the kids moved someplace else,” Ultan said.

The Jolly Tinker has stayed at its corner perch through that change, open 8 a.m to 4 a.m seven days a week.

Only once, in 1985 when a fire hit part of the pub’s yellow brick exterior, did the bar close for a few hours.

But by later that night, the Prendergast clan got the place back up and running, serving up suds to its diehard customers.

Reach Reporter Ben Kochman at (718) 742–3394. E-mail him at bkochman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @benkochman.

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