Tropical Storm Gaston couldn’t stop Rosie Connolly’s, a pub that will soon celebrate its ninth St. Patrick’s Day.
- Who: Tommy Goulding, a man with Irish blood and English heart.
- What: A traditional, old-fashioned pub
- Where: 1548 A E. Main Street, Shockoe
- When: Opened 2005 in the aftermath of Gaston
- Why: To give downtown RVA a pub like one you’d find in downtown Liverpool
- Beer/Dishes: Staples like Guinness, Harp, and Smithwick’s. Also popular mixes like Brown over Bitter (Newcastle and Fullers), Snake Bite (Lager and Cider), and Black & Tan (half Guinness/half Bass).
Entrées include: Lemon Pepper Salmon, Prime Rib, and Steak and Mushroom Pie (braised beef, onions, and mushrooms with a roasted garlic and red wine gravy, topped with a puff pastry and served with mashed potatoes).
— ∮∮∮ —
Many are quick to claim Irish ancestry around St. Patrick’s Day. But Tommy Goulding, the 64-year-old owner and bartender of Rosie Connolly’s pub in Shockoe, just might have everyone beat.
“I never thought I would call any other place home,” Goulding said last week about Richmond between Guinness pours–shamrocks shaped in the head of each pint–during an afternoon funeral reception held at his pub.
Although both sets of his grandparents were Irish, Goulding himself was born and raised in Liverpool, England. As a young man in the late 1960s, he began working graveyard shifts at a nearby Ford manufacturing plant. He did that for 17 years.
In the late 1970s, Goulding’s sister and brother-in-law emigrated to the US and opened Penny Lane Pub.1 Back in Liverpool, Goulding was passably happy at Ford, but Britain’s weak economy stymied any immediate possibilities for career growth.
“There were no jobs,” Goulding said. “I was stuck where I was.”
So in 1980, inspired by his sister’s success in America, Goulding and his wife “filed papers” to emigrate across the pond. But bureaucracy is seldom quick, and years passed with no reply. Goulding and his wife began to forget their pending applications.
In 1985, still “Liverpudlians,” Goulding and his wife agreed to purchase a cute house from a nice old lady down the road. After selling their own house ahead of the purchase, the Goulding’s learned that the nice old lady had sold her house to someone else. With their old house sold, and no new house to move into, the Goulding’s were virtually homeless.
Amid this crisis of homeownership, the couple received a surprising letter: their emigration papers, filed five years ago, had finally gone through.
The Goulding’s moved to Richmond.
For the next 16 years, Goulding was the “night time guy” at his sister’s Penny Lane Pub. During his time there, he drank through the night with Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant, served English actor and singer Petula Clark, and chatted with members of Def Leopard and ZZ Top.
He also became friends with local restaurateur Michael Ripp, whom was planning to open Havana ’59 in 1994 and wanted Goulding to manage the bar. Goulding declined, but the two remained friends.
Goulding did, however, come on board in 2003 when Ripp opened O’Brienstein’s, a concept that fused a Jewish deli with an Irish pub.
“It just never worked,” Goulding said about the combination, although the pub portion was popular. So when Ripp asked Goulding if he would take over the space altogether, Goulding agreed. The pair decided to sign the papers transferring the property to Goulding the week of August 30, 2004. The same week that a tropical storm would devastate Richmond.
“Water went over the top of the roof,” Goulding said, describing damage from Gaston’s downpour–totaling 12.6″ of rain.2 Goulding kept his word nevertheless. He took over the space and spent nearly $30,000 to renovate it.
But after redoing the kitchen, upholstering the furniture, and everything else needed, Goulding was left with a final problem: what to name the pub?
He considered calling it the Yellow Submarine or Noah’s Ark, but one night, he had an odd dream. It was about his mother, Rosie Connolly. He told his daughter about it, and the two decided they would be remiss in not taking it as a sign.
So, in March 2005, mere days before St. Patrick’s Day, Rosie Connolly’s opened its doors.
A bar is a place where you order drinks. But to Goulding, a pub “is an extension of your home…you’re supposed to feel like family.”
He described Rosie Connolly’s as a “downtown London, downtown Liverpool, old-style type of pub.” That doesn’t suit everyone. Goulding said he still sees would-be patrons open Rosie’s door, take one look inside, and decide to pass in the hopes of finding something a bit more Americanized. That doesn’t bother the owner.
“I have the nicest customers, the nicest people that come in,” Goulding said. Unsurprisingly, he claims to know nearly everyone for whom he pours a pint.
Those pints include favorites like Guinness, Harp, and Newcastle, to be sure. But they also include mixes like Pint of Gold (Fullers and Harp), Snake Bite (Lager and Cider), and Poor Man’s Black Velvet (Guinness and Cider).
Complementing the beer is what Goulding simply calls “pub food,” like fish and chips with beer battered Alaskan pollock served with seasoned fries, or beef in red wine with mushrooms over rice.
In celebration of this year’s St. Patrick’s Day, Rosie Connolly’s will host a Weekend Street Party this Saturday and Sunday. Beginning 11:00 AM each day, the pub will feature a beer truck, live music, and outdoor food stations.
St. Patrick’s Day is one of the busiest days for Rosie Connolly’s and for Goulding. But throughout the year, Goulding spends several days each week arriving at the pub around 2:30 PM to clean and ready for the evening, staying until 3:00 AM. “I was always on the night shift at Ford. I guess it’s in my blood,” he said. Others his age (he’ll turn 65 in May) have retirement in mind. Not Goulding.
“I’m not going to retire,” he said, smiling.
But in the coming years, he anticipates he’ll wind down his work weeks. “My plan is to hand [the pub] down to my daughter,” he said. Until then, Goulding will continue to pour pints at Rosie Connolly’s.
“I love doing what I’m doing,” he said, smiling. “I love my work. I love my pub.”
Rosie Connolly’s is located at 1548 A E. Main Street, Shockoe.
— ∮∮∮ —