Making the Perfect Corner Pub in Woodbridge

Holidays loom large in the tale of Jim Geary and the Woodbridge Pub, an eating and drinking establishment he is working to open on Trumbull at Merrick.

Geary moved to Woodbridge on Thanksgiving Day in 2000 and bought his first fixer-upper, his home, on Devil's -- er, Angel's -- Night in 2003.

If you query him as to when the pub will open -- something I'm sure he gets asked all the time -- he has an answer ready. "Christmas of last year -- if not that, St. Patty's Day," he laughs. "I stopped making targets when those two passed, but soon. I'm not going to open until everything is right."

Getting things right is important to Geary. It's how he pays the bills: "Home restoration, painting, that kind of jazz," he says. And now, his skills are being put to perfect use at his own establishment.

The bar itself is unquestionably the centerpiece of the pub. It looks like it came with the place, and Geary hopes people think that is the case -- but the reality is that he built it from 1890's wood salvaged from a church.

He fashioned bare bones light fixtures from plumbing pipes and constructed the illusion of skylights in the restrooms -- the men's fits cleverly in an old meat locker. The tin ceilings have been painstakingly restored, and the walls are a couple of lovely shades of green.

The pub will have seating for 60 and fare that is healthy: nothing deep-fried and lots of vegetarian options. "The whole idea is to have a place that people are walking and biking to," he says. "It doesn't make sense to feed people fatty food when the whole idea is to get them out and about."

Along the way...

When Geary initially decided to open a pub, nothing really happened quickly. He looked at buildings for a full nine months before settling on a location. The building had to be re-zoned, a process that he bluntly characterizes as "a nightmare." Obtaining the liquor license, with the help of an attorney, was a relative breeze.

Next steps: Health Department, then Buildings and Safety Engineering.

"It all took some time," he says. "But once you know what you're supposed to do...if I were to do it again, it'd go a lot faster."

When he was fully-permitted, Geary went to work full-bore. "That's when all the real magic started happening, in October," he says. "Since then, it's been all good."

Woodbridge benchmark

So what exactly inspired the handyman to turn pub-owner?

"Ever since I was 20, I set a new goal for myself every time I reached an old one," he says. So, after buying his house, he set a new benchmark of owning something else -- a business of some kind.

"A restaurant and pub seemed like the most needed thing in the neighborhood -- we're under-served in Woodbridge as far as anything to eat or drink," he says. "We didn't need another party store."

The building the Woodbridge Pub occupies has been unoccupied for years, but when Geary started working on it, elements of a party store -- bulletproof glass, dropped ceilings, thin carpet, zero windows -- were exactly what he started with.

In fact, installing windows that stretch nearly floor to ceiling across two sides of the building is arguably the strongest statement that the corner pub makes. It is remarkable how simple glass can transform a building from a cinder-blocked fortress to a beckoning oasis.

The windows, and the fact that they open the building up to the neighborhood, are important to Geary. "People ask me, 'Why would you want to do that -- there?'" he says. "There's a simple answer: I live here, my family lives here, and I want to live in a nice place. Maybe it takes someone to make a bold statement -- like windows -- that this is a nice place to live."

Geary has thought long and hard about what kind of place he wants the Woodbridge Pub to be, and he is able to paint a picture of what that is. "My idea for a vibe is really simple: comfortable…you belong there, no weirdness, it feels like the right place to be," he says. "Good food, good atmosphere, clean, friendly, nice, not too expensive or pretentious -- it's supposed to fit in with the neighborhood."

Kelli B. Kavanaugh is Development News editor for Model D and a conoisseur of fine pubs.

Photographs by Marvin Shaouni
Marvin Shaouni is the managing photographer for Metromode & Model D.

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