The century-long story of the Ryan family business.
By Brian Anderson • Photos by JPG Photography (jpgphotography.com)
When you walk into Ryan’s Pub, you might think to yourself, “This place seems like it’s been here forever.” In some ways, it has. Being behind the bar is a tradition for the family behind Ryan’s Pub.
It all began 110 years ago when the patriarch of this bar-owning family, Joe Ryan, opened his first bar in 1908. Of course, Prohibition was a hiccup in the family business, but the Ryan family found its way back and continued success over six decades — starting with the the second family-owned bar, Smokey Joe’s, opened by Joe’s son, Paul, in 1952. The bar remains on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus, now operating as Pennstitution.
A few generations and a handful of successful restaurants later, Paul, along with his nephew, Sean, lead the opening of Ryan’s Pub in the heart of Main Street in 2017.
“It’s a family heritage,” Sean said. “It’s passed down from generation to generation. It’s in our blood. We’re the next step in the linage.”
Inside Ryan’s Pub, you’ll notice everything about this bar is quintessentially classic. It’s long, mahogany bar invites you in for a drink. The menu has all of the standards of whatever you’re in the mood for, from burgers to sandwiches, salads and snacks. And of course, you can get any drink you desire from the extensive craft beer list to the traditional cocktails. When the large, folding windows are open, Ryan’s Pub is a siren for thirsty visitors.
“You can sit outside, enjoy the nice weather and still catch the Eagles game,” Sean said.
The Ryan family owns multiple bars, including sister pubs in West Chester and Phoenixville. Sean has been in the family business his entire career and has worked nearly every job in the bar, from an unassuming bus boy to general manager with his cousin, Paul Ryan Jr., at Manayunk’s location. He still bartends there once a week.
So, why the expansion to Manayunk? Sean explained that Manayunk is synonymous with a thriving nightlife with plenty of foot traffic on Main Street almost every night. In other words, Manayunk is a destination throughout the year.
“It’s not just a college town,” Sean said. “There are families and businesses — it’s a really nice dynamic.”
Ryan’s Pub offers everything from daily happy hour specials, to quizzo and live music throughout the week, and Sunday brunch. Chef Pat O’Donnell keeps the menu fresh with daily specials and late-night food options.
Prior to opening Manayunk’s newest pub, Paul Jr. learned that the building at 4301 Main Street has a storied history of serving residents and guests of Manayunk. Like his own family, the building has a legacy of housing a bar. He explained the treasures he discovered after demolishing a dividing wall — some of which include old moonshine bottles and copies of The Inquirer from the 1920s. That history has inspired the decor inside of Ryan’s Pub. For new or returning customers, be sure to keep an eye out for the old-school cash machine, the bare brick backing, and the vintage art along the walls.
Despite the vintage look, “We did a lot of work to make it our own,” Paul Jr. said.
One of the small details that truly signifies the sweat and elbow grease Paul Jr. and Sean have poured into Ryan’s Pub hangs on the rafters. It’s a small, wooden sign with GPS coordinators that point right to Ryan’s Pub: 40° 1’ 33.6036” N 75° 13’ 23.1996” W. But certainly, pay attention to the long, wood bar. It’s what caught the attention of another seasoned member of the family, Sean’s father, Pat Ryan — calling it, “timeless.”
“It’s a long bar, everyone can see everyone,” Pat Ryan said. “And it has a good flow to it. That’s important, because you can walk in the front door and see the whole bar.”
But change is constant, too, and the Ryan family has seen tastes and habits change throughout the years. No one uses cash anymore, Paul Sr. said with a laugh, “and everyone’s looking at their phone.” For Sean, the seismic shift in the industry is summed up in three words: “craft beer revolution.” It’s apparent that the family has adapted as the extensive beer menu has a style for every palate.
“I remember when Blue Moon was the craft beer,” Sean said. “As a bartender or server, you have to be a lot more knowledgeable. The whole game has changed in the past 10 years.”
Today, Ryan’s Pub has a handful of craft beers on draft at all times and an extensive bottle list. Beers rotate in and out — often depending on the season — and according to Sean, many guests come in expecting a new selection every few weeks.
Paul Sr., one of the veterans who helps run the family’s Manayunk business, said the location of the pub can really help draw a crowd.
“I love the corner location and I love to be in the center of town, where people are out and walking,” Paul Sr. said of their location at Main Street and Roxborough Avenue. “It feels like a welcoming spot.”
His son, Paul Jr., echoed the sentiments.
“We want it to be the neighborhood bar,” Paul Jr. said. “We wanted that great mix of people. Anyone can come in and feel comfortable. It’s everyone’s bar.”
What’s the key to success for the Ryans? It all goes back to family and the staffs at each Ryan’s Pub, Sean said.
“The staff all becomes like family,” Sean said. “We’re extending the family through our staff.”