New restaurant in Mt. Airy's 73-year-old Irish Center

by Len Lear
Posted 2/25/21

The Commodore opened in October (with a “soft” opening).

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New restaurant in Mt. Airy's 73-year-old Irish Center

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The Commodore John Barry Arts & Cultural Center, more commonly known as The Irish Center, was founded in 1958 in a huge complex at 6815 Emlen St. (at Carpenter Lane) in Mt. Airy. The building previously housed The Pelham Auto Club (1905), the Germantown Jewish Centre (1936) and the Commodore John Barry U.S. Navy Society (1952). (Barry, 1745-1803, was the “Father of the American Navy.”)

For more than 60 years The Irish Center has been a members-only club. It currently has about 600 members and would like to have a lot more. In recent years the center has been a beehive of activity with nights of the week regularly set aside for Contra dancing, Swing dancing and Ceili dancing, in addition to performances of Irish music by Irish Americans as well as many renowned musicians who came all the way from Ireland to perform. And there have regularly been weddings, bridal showers and other social gatherings in the huge ballroom. For example, in 1998, on the 50th anniversary of the center, Irish political lightning rod Gerry Adams spoke in the ballroom to an audience of more than 700 people.

As you can imagine, however, the pandemic has pretty much put a halt to all of those activities. “We had a bridal shower right before the pandemic,” said John Nolan, manager of the center, “and the last big event we have had since then was a wedding in November for 40 people with social distancing … We are taking advantage of the pandemic, though, to make some much-needed capital improvements. In June we had the roof expanded and replaced a 14-foot  beam.”

Another major change has been the opening of a new restaurant, The Commodore opened in October (with a “soft” opening) in two huge rooms that would normally be able to accommodate 140 guests but now can seat only 35 because of pandemic restrictions, with lots of room between tables. The restaurant was opened by Mt. Airy residents and business partners Adam Ray Honeycutt, Alex Carbonell and Daniel Gutter, who also run three other restaurants in the city —  Pizza Plus in South Philly, Bourbon & Branch in Northern Liberties and Circle & Squares in Kensington. Emmeline McIlvain, a Roxborough native whose mom, Linda, grew up in Chestnut Hill and attended Springside School, is the charming restaurant manager and bartender. Alex’s father, Mickey, is the host. In addition to the in-house dining, they have been doing a brisk delivery and takeout business.

“This building has had a catering club license for many years,” said Nolan. “The liquor license goes back to 1930, but before we served mostly alcohol with some bar food. We really had no walk-in customers before, just catering, but we want to make better use of the kitchen. We are making a huge investment in this and have a fully-staffed restaurant. We want a wider clientele, not just the Irish community. There is much more outreach now.”

Although takeout and delivery are open to the public, one has to become a member to drink at the center, although a yearly membership is only $15 yearly for one person and $25 for a family. One thing that stands out on the menu is that many of the dishes are available in the traditional way or as vegan dishes.

“We offer vegan dishes in all of our restaurants,” said Honeycutt, “and we know there are a lot of vegans in this area … We want to be as welcoming as possible. The affordable prices reflect that. We could charge more, but we want to be a part of the community, affordable and inviting. We are not only out for profit. After the pandemic, we hope to have live music here as well.”

“We have had a great response from vegans in the area when they found out about our vegan comfort food,” said Emmeline, whose old-fashioned cocktails with fresh syrups and fresh juices, especially the “Boulevardier,” are awesome. “We are working on outside dining. We have a side yard with steps, and we hope to build a deck there … What's Irish culture if you don't share it?”

The Commodore features soups, salads, wings, sandwiches, pizzas and entrees either in-house, delivery or takeout and catering. And customers receive “cead mille failte” (100,000 welcomes).

There is a parking lot. Contact The Commodore at 215-843-8051 or through Instagram or Facebook @thecommodorephilly. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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