Renovations are underway at The 1840 Tavern at Clarksville Inn in West Nyack on Thursday, August 29, 2019. (Photo: John Meore/The Journal News)

By Robert Brum | Featured in LoHud.com

WEST NYACK

One can feel the ghostly presence of innkeepers past as one descends the steep steps into the centuries-old cellar.

The glass door bears an inscription of the tavern’s name, Clarksville Inn, over the words “kept secret.”

Kieran O’Gorman is hopeful the ghosts are friendly and the inn’s latest revival won’t be kept secret for long.

O’Gorman, a resident of Sparkill by way of Limerick, Ireland, is the latest proprietor in the fabled inn’s history. Since February, he and his wife, Kim, have been restoring the wood-and-brick interior into what shall become the 1840 Tavern at Clarksville Inn.

The O’Gormans hope to have the two-room tavern serving burgers, shepherd’s pie and Guinness draught come early October — the first time it’s been open since a New Year’s Eve 2017 fire destroyed the kitchen area and caused smoke damage elsewhere.

“It’s a great location and I’ve been meeting so many people, they’re kind of crying out for this spot to be restored,” Kieran O’Gorman said one late August morning. “People come from far and wide …It’s legendary.”

Historic Corner

A gentleman named Thomas Warner is credited with erecting the Clarkstown Hotel in 1840 on the site of a former distillery. It became a stopping place for stagecoaches, a hub of social life and hosted farewell balls for recruits during the Civil War.

Although legend has it that Martin Van Buren and Washington Irving were once guests, historians now cast doubt on that part of the story.

Sometime in the 1850s, it became Knapp’s Hotel, part of the bustling Clarksville Corners that came to include stores, wheelwrights, blacksmiths, a butcher and a harness shop, according to historical accounts.

Known more recently as the Clarksville Inn, the property at the intersection of Strawtown and West Nyack roads was restored in 1957 by Stephen Leeman.

The O’Gormans are the latest in a lengthy line of restaurateurs to take over, the most recent of whom have tried their hand at upscale, family friendly, continental, Asian fusion, New American, and half-restaurant, half cafe.

Kieran OÕGorman, photographed outside The 1840 Tavern at Clarksville Inn in West Nyack on Thursday, August 29, 2019. (Photo: John Meore/The Journal News)

Renovations are under way at The 1840 Tavern at Clarksville Inn in West Nyack on Thursday, August 29, 2019. (Photo: John Meore/The Journal News)

Renovations are under way at The 1840 Tavern at Clarksville Inn in West Nyack on Thursday, August 29, 2019. (Photo: John Meore/The Journal News)

Renovations are under way at The 1840 Tavern at Clarksville Inn in West Nyack on Thursday, August 29, 2019. (Photo: John Meore/The Journal News)

Renovations are under way at The 1840 Tavern at Clarksville Inn in West Nyack on Thursday, August 29, 2019. (Photo: John Meore/The Journal News)

Brick and stone

One recent morning, Kieran O’Gorman showed a pair of visitors around the unfinished bar and dining room and talked about why he’s decided to step out from his role as bartender at such establishments as Biddy O’Malley’s in Northvale, New Jersey, and Emma’s Ale House in White Plains.

“The great dream, especially being in Ireland as well, is to own your own place, and it seems to finally have come along, and to come along to such a historic spot is really exciting,” said O’Gorman, who arrived in the States 25 years ago and still carries a brogue.

His regard for the inn’s past includes highlighting the age-old brick and stone walls, and restoring a painting depicting a time when wagons, not SUVs, rolled past the doors.

Joe Schleimer, who has owned the three-story building that includes the tavern since the mid-1990s and ran the restaurant for a time, also is reopening an art gallery in the building next door.

Marianne Leese, senior historian at the Historical Society of Rockland County, was pleased to hear about the O’Gormans’ role in breathing new life into the old inn.

“They are preserving a part of the former hostelry’s history, hopefully for years to come,” she said.
And those ghosts of the past?

“They’re welcome to a little whiskey after we leave every night,” Kieran O’Gorman said with a laugh. “We’ll be friends with them, too.”

Twitter: @Bee_bo