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Family Tradition at Casey Finn’s

March 14, 2012

by Siobhan Gervasio

Gary Finning, owner of Casey Finn’s Pub and Grill, has ended up right where he began. And that’s the way he likes it. In fact, the bar at 507 Yates St., is in the same building where Finning was born and raised.

“I was born in the apartment upstairs,” said Finning, who remembers the strong sense of community that existed in the neighborhood during his youth. “It was all families then…now it’s changed a lot.” Finning’s school days were spent like many in the Pine Hills area, complete with stops at Vincentian Institute (which closed after Finning’s first year), at the former St. Teresa’s and Albany High School.

Casey Finn’s Pub and Grill on Yates St. / Siobhan Gervasio

For Finning, the nights felt different then, too. “Growing up when I was 16 or 17, there were five bars in the area and it looked like New York City from ten o’clock until five in the morning.” Although Finning, 36, now lives in Guilderland with his wife, daughter and younger brother, he is hoping to bring back that old-school sense of community to his customers.

Finning is much like the bar he operates – quiet, understated and comfortable. He doesn’t like to talk about himself, preferring instead to focus on his customers, which, in many ways, are an extension of his family.

“Everyday is like ‘Cheers’ here,” said Finning, who has worked hard to create a pub-like feel to the bar, right down to the family-like banter that often ensues. “Everyone is always arguing about the same things – religion and politics,” said Finning.

This recipe has been a successful one since Casey Finn’s boasts a loyal customer-base that is an interesting mix of older, neighborhood types, as well as students from Sweden, England and Ireland.

“Gary is successful because he treats his customers like family,” said John Bryce, a long-time customer, who also appreciates the eclectic crowd at the bar. “It feels like the old days here,” said Bryce.

“You can sit here and have a conversation,” said Finning, who believes that the international students appreciate the mix because of their experiences at home. “They like the older crowd. They are used to sitting in pubs,” said Finning. As a tribute to his young European patrons, the bar displays a variety of flags and signs that the students have given to Finning whether it is a road sign from Tipperary that hangs over the bar or a Stockholm flag that flies in the corner.

Finning puts in long hours arriving at the bar by 9:30 each morning to start cleaning and sometimes staying until 2 a.m. during the weekends. He is used to the tough schedule since he has been in the business for as long as he can remember.

In fact, Finning’s purchase of Casey Finn’s in 2007 can be looked at as a return to the family business. His grandfather, Jack “Putzie” Casey, originally bought the bar in 1973 when it was called “Stacks” and renamed it “Putzie’s”. Laura Gagnon, who now works for Finning, also worked for Finning’s grandfather at Putzie’s.

“I’ve known Gary since before he was born,” joked Gagnon. She remembers Casey as a tough taskmaster, not known for the even temperament that Finning often displays. “Gary is easier,” Gagnon said. Part of this is because of his patience in dealing with customers, something that Gagnon admits can be a struggle for her. “Gary has more patience than I do. I don’t put up with anything. I always tell (customers) that I will use the fire extinguisher on them,” Gagnon said.

Although Finning agrees that it can be a tough part of the job, it is one that he embraces, “I like dealing with people,” said Finning.

This connection to camaraderie has sustained Finning throughout his career, which has included working as a bartender for his grandfather and practicing his first love – cooking. At 16, he worked at Pizza Hut and then Papa Gino’s before landing at Beff’s in Delmar for a 12-year stint in the kitchen. “I always liked being a cook because you are constantly surrounded by other people,” said Finning.

Although he is modest about his culinary skills, customers will tell you that Casey Finn’s offers some of the area’s top pub grub. “They have the best burgers,” said Bryce.

In addition to burgers, Casey Finn’s offers a range of homemade soups, stews and sandwiches. “We do a great food business,” said Finning who naturally deflects the credit to Gagnon. “I think people come here because of Laura’s cooking.”

Although his grandfather passed away in 1991, in many ways, his presence can still be felt at the bar. Casey’s picture as the 1986 St. Patrick’s Day Grand Marshall still hangs on the wall and you might even find of few of his regulars still raising a glass among the crowd.

In fact, his grandfather’s first customer in 1973, Jack Murphy, came to the bar everyday until he recently passed away. Murphy used to help Finning clean, but would refuse any payment. “He only wanted two Coors Lights. If you offered him money, he wouldn’t talk to you for two weeks,” Finning said smiling.

Finning’s grandfather can also be felt in the charitable traditions that Finning keeps alive. Gagnon remembers the big Christmas parties at Putzie’s when all of the neighborhood families would come dressed in the costumes that Finning’s grandmother made. “Santa Claus gave each kid a present,” said Gagnon.

Even though Finning realizes that having those types of family-friendly celebrations at a bar are of a thing of the past, he still finds a way to continue the Christmas spirit. Customers bring in money, clothes and gifts for a family that the bar adopts each Christmas. Last year they raised $1,500 in cash according to Finning.

Although it doesn’t leave Finning much time to spend at home, Finning still keeps his focus on family. It was his wife who convinced him to get back to his roots and purchase Casey Finn’s. “My family wanted me to do this,” said Finning, who thought that the opportunity might not come around again. “I figured, in life you have to take a shot and do something.” -30-


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