By: Janel Spiegel and Joe Scrizzi
Interview with Neville Gardner
McCarthy’s Red Stag Pub and Whiskey Bar
534 Main Street, Bethlehem, PA 18018
McCarthy’s Red Stag Pub and Whiskey Bar is located in the heart of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. It’s steeped in history. The owner Neville Gardner grew up in Northern Ireland. He works hard to bring the traditions, cultures, foods, drinks, a lifestyle from Ireland to the United States. Red Stag was originally Granny McCarthy’s Tea Room and bakery in 1997. Neville decided to move forward with the pub.
It’s a beautiful, happy place where as soon as you walk inside you are greeted. You can sit in a booth known as a “snug” because of its coziness and door that shuts after and before you place an order. It is optional, of course to keep the door open or close it. Myself and fellow Valley Ledger contributor met with the owner Neville Gardner to talk about the pub, the history, food, drinks, and much more.
The food is homemade, the brown bread took Neville on a journey to find the perfect recipe so he could add it to his historical place. It was a full house when we arrived. Neville is energetic and enthusiastic. He talks about Ireland with love, and his appreciation for the United States shines through. Neville is great at what he does. He does a lot of passion, his eyes light up when he talks about certain things. He shared a lot today.
Scrizzi– Hi Neville, were you born here or in Ireland?
N.G. – I was born in Ireland, I grew up in Belfast, and when I was eighteen, I was selected to play field hockey in Ireland. So, I ended up attending university and did a Civil Engineering Degree at Queens University in Belfast. I came to America with a touring hockey team, and I was in Toronto. I met a girl from Bethlehem who was a hockey player. There was a lady’s tournament and a men’s tournament going on consecutively. I met her in Toronto and about three weeks later I was in Montreal, and she came to visit with a friend of hers. We sort of met briefly, and we started writing to each other, and talking. I moved here in May, and we got married here eleven months after we met. I worked here as a Civil Engineer and continued to play hockey. My dad got very sick back in Ireland so, I opened Donegal Square in February of 1985.
Scrizzi– I discovered you guys around 1986 or 1987.
N.G. – We were originally in the little courtyard, and then we moved across the street, and I bought this building in 1996. My father got very sick, and that was the reason I opened the shop. I needed to start my own business. Then a few years later, I got involved with Celtic Classic Festival. My father passed away in 1990, and a few years later my mother passed away. I sold the little house I grew up in and the money was the down payment for this building.
Scrizzi – Is everything imported from Ireland in the store that you have here?
N.G. – Yes, Ireland and Scotland. There are a few manufacturers in the United States. The turf behind you on the wall is four-and-a-half thousand-year-old turf dug out of the ground in Ireland. This is just one product. There are some things that are made in the United States. The majority of our jewelry is made in Ireland.
Scrizzi– I love that.
N.G. – We have a wide range of products.
Scrizzi – Do you still have the sweaters?
N.G. – Yes, we do. This is handwoven.
Spiegel– Neville, what’s your favorite thing in your shop?
N.G. – Probably the sweaters and the handwoven sweaters. That’s part of the reason I opened the shop. The whole thing about bringing authenticity from Ireland to here is because I got tired of people talking about war-torn Ireland so, I thought, okay, they need a bit of an education. We’ve woven together a tapestry of Irish and Scottish items.
Spiegel– What did you think of America when you first got here?
N.G. – I was a bit bored in Ireland, to be honest. I didn’t think things moved fast enough. I was 24 when I came over. I was a little scared and I didn’t know anybody. That was the biggest thing that hit me… I didn’t know anybody. I could walk around here for days on end, and never meet anybody that I knew.
Scrizzi– You do tours and trips to Ireland every year. Do you have people that are not part of the trips that come over and visit?
N.G. – Oh yeah, sure. Friends and people that I went to university with.
Scrizzi– Do you think your family will take over the business?
N.G. – No, they’re not going to take over the business, but someone else will.
Scrizzi– Do you know what the building was before you bought it?
N.G. – It was the PP&L showroom.
During this interview, Neville was gracious enough to give us the grand tour and share some history of the building. He also shared photos from his tours in Ireland.
N.G. – These are snugs, and they are modeled after a saloon in Belfast. (In Reference to the booths/snugs in the restaurant part of Red Stag.)
Spiegel– Why did you use the Red Stag? Is that the family crest?
N.G.-It’s the McCarthy’s code of arms, so, when I changed the name from Granny McCarthy’s. Back in the Middle Ages a lot of people couldn’t read so you would tell them to meet you at a certain tavern, it would be the bull’s head, and there would be a picture.
Spiegel- What do you want to say to the customers that continue to come into McCarthy’s? What do you want people to know from your perspective?
N.G. – People who are regular customers kind of get it so, we’re trying to create an experience. The products and the stories, the authenticity. We’re not just selling a piece of cloth; we’re selling a piece of history. I want to expose my culture to America and expose America to my culture. It’s all about creating an experience.
Scrizzi– The vision to infuse Jamison? Is that all you?
N.G.– My brother-in-law who worked for me, he and I played around with that. He came up with the banana infusion and I thought he was a little off his rocker, honestly, until I tasted it.
Scrizzi– I had the cinnamon one already, and it tasted like a liquid cinnamon stick with a kick.
N.G. – We’re not able to sell it by the bottles so you must come here and get a glass. I’m working with a distillery here in the Lehigh Valley.
Spiegel– Do you have a favorite out of the teas? I love tea and my relatives (The Spiegel’s) would have tea parties and serve tea all the time. My grandfather (father’s father) made homemade tea all the time.
N.G. – So, we kept our roots. We started off as a tea room and a bakery. I like the Cream Irish Breakfast a lot. It’ all propelled by passion. (https://www.redstagpub.com/tea-menu/ )
Spiegel– Thank you, Neville for taking the time to talk with us for The Valley Ledger. It was awesome being here and seeing all the amazing history.
Scrizzi– Thank you, Neville.
N.G.- Thank you both very much.