The renowned Kelly’s Saloon reopened its doors to an eager public on March 17—St. Patrick’s Day—after approximately 11 months dedicated to restoration.
The bar, established by Jack Carr in 1978, suffered extensive fire, smoke and water damage on July 29, 2015 after old electrical wires caught fire during what owner Sarah Dieter ‘11 remembers to be “the hottest day of the year.”
Business from students and the local community has surged since the bar’s revival, according to Dieter, who described the support from the village and Small Business Development Center on campus as “great.”
“It’s been awesome, but it’s been crazy,” she said. “We’ve been understaffed a little bit because we didn’t know what to plan for, but the students have been really understanding and cool about that.”
Nestled between Touch of Grayce and the Genesee Sun on Main Street, Kelly’s has become an iconic feature of the Geneseo community over the years it has been in business. Acquired by her grandparents Kathy and Mike Roome in 1980, Dieter—who began working at the bar during her sophomore year at Geneseo—said she always planned to take the business over.
This process was fast-tracked when the building’s owner contacted her a few months after the fire, asking if she’d like to purchase it—to which she said yes—and she has been rebuilding since, according to Dieter.
“It was really difficult in the construction process because you can never replicate a place like that,” she said. “I always had a plan, but … the people made Kelly’s what it was, and that will come back.”
The building’s interior mimics its predecessor with writing from customers spread across the white walls facing the bar, and the business still uses its original cooler and an ice machine recycled from the now-closed In Between.
“Everyone kept asking me, ‘Are you sure that you want people to write on your new building?’” Dieter said. “I’m going to feel so much more at home when there is writing. That’s what Kelly’s is.”
Lining the upper green walls behind the bar are tin ceiling tiles salvaged from the original space; one reads, “Jack Carr, ’89,” the establishment’s first owner.
New additions include an increase in total square footage—as Dieter acquired the space previously held by HoneyGirl Gourmet—and a basement, rather than the former crawl space. Dieter hopes to incorporate a booth into the bar’s interior layout in the future and to finish the outdoor portion behind the business, making it more homey and comfortable, she said.
“It feels like it’s still the old Geneseo,” political science and international relations double major senior Elodie Jacobson said. “There is so much tradition behind it.”
Jacobson spearheaded this year’s “T.C. Challenge,” which challenges of-age students to drink a Tom Collins at Kelly’s every day beginning the Monday following spring break until graduation—53 days in total. The challenge has given Dieter an opportunity to meet students that were too young to experience Kelly’s before the business burned down.
“My favorite part is already establishing relationships with the locals, as well as the students that come in for the T.C. challenge,” she said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”