ROCKY SULLIVAN'S GOES DARK
With song, talk, comedy, and plenty of drink, the wake for Rocky Sullivan’s laid rest to a New York City landmark July 28th, last Saturday night. The day’s festivities began with a Radio Free Eireann broadcast, celebrating the 11 year run of this unique haven for poets and politicians. Chris Byrne, co-owner of the bar, regaled with stories of the incredible musicians who called Rocky’s home - such as Joe Strummer, Shane McGowan, Damien Dempsey - who came in to enjoy a quiet pint, away from media scrutiny, and ended up singing in the bar, to the delight of the patrons. Rod Stewart, George Wendt (Norm - Cheers), Pete Hamil, Jimmy Breslin, Malachy and Frank McCourt all called Rocky’s home - as did the friends and fans of Radio Free Eireann, who had the opportunity to share their favorite Rocky’s stories on-air. My wife, Cait Mullen McDonagh, read an excerpt from the late Pete McCarthy’s book The Road to McCarthy, in which he described his experiences reading at Rocky Sullivan’s, during St. Patrick’s week, when the Celtic supporters where celebrating in full force.
At Rocky Sullivan’s, the party continued, as I acted as master of ceremonies for the wake. The song-stylings of Mike Skliar and Ken Ficara entertained the crowd with, among other great songs, a ballad to the demise of Rocky Sullivan’s. Sandy spoke about the many bartenders throughout the years, and Randy Credico gave his last gift to Rocky’s - an hour of great comedy and political insight that kept the audience (except for the drunk and intellectually limited people in the back) riveted to his tributes to the great Al Lewis and William Moses Kunstler. It was particularly poignant, as both Al Lewis’s and Bill Kunstler’s widows and children were in the audience. It only stands to reason that great men would be married to great women - Karen Lewis is a dedicated civil rights advocate, who works to help families from becoming homeless, and continues her and Al’s work with prisoners, through the Al Lewis Lives program on WBAI. Margie Ratner Kunstler is an attorney who has dedicated her life to helping those most vulnerable - now focusing on the fight to free people convicted under the draconian Rockefeller drug laws. Bill Kunstler’s daughter Emily is now working on a film of her father’s life. In my home, both Al and Bill are revered - Al, because my kids had the pleasure of knowing him, and considered their own “grandpa,” and for the lessons he taught us all on how to live a life of justice and political activism. Bill, because he was the consummate trial attorney, who I so respected, and who is a constant source of inspiration to my wife in her legal career.
It is with sadness that we say goodbye to the Manhattan Rocky Sullivan’s bar - home of many defense funds, political debates, poetry, literature, and good music. Chris Byrne is opening a Red Hook Rocky Sullivan’s at Van Dyke Street in Red Hook - He hope to see you there. If you want to listen to the Radio Wake go to http://archive.wbai.org/ and scroll down to Radio Free Eireann Sat July 25 at 1:30