Illustration by Mark Wilson
Walk into any Irish pub on St. Patrick’s Day and chances are there will be trays of corned beef and cabbage on offer. Draughts and their drinkers will be lining the bar just a twinkle past noon—if not before. And at least one of your fellow revelers will be wearing a green wig.
P-2’s Irish Pub, in Tupper Lake, has all of that and more at its annual St. Paddy’s Day blowout. What it doesn’t have is any claim to an Irish pedigree. Like most things Tupper, the popular watering hole has French roots—it was founded as Al’s Lounge in 1966 by Joseph Alexander LeBlanc. But when two visitors from the Emerald Isle exclaimed that the place had the same vibe as their beloved public houses back home, the idea tickled LeBlanc’s fancy and he vowed to fashion the joint into a true Irish pub.
Unfortunately, he never got around to it. It was LeBlanc’s daughter, 54-year-old Michelle LeBlanc Blair, who finished the job in his honor once she took the reins in 2006, rechristening Al’s Lounge as P-2’s Irish Pub. The cozy taproom has all the trappings of its Gaelic forebears: a welcoming atmosphere, Guinness on tap, lived-in wood flooring, a stamped tin ceiling and other reminders of years gone by, such as vintage beer ads or LeBlanc’s cigarette burns, still visible at the far end of the bar. And in case there was any doubt, there’s a smiling leprechaun on the sign outside.
Still, the place can’t quite shake off its French DNA. “P-2” is a play on the nickname LeBlanc’s aunt gave him when he was a child, petiot, “little one” in French. No matter. P-2’s still has what it takes to represent the Old Country.
When I visited there last St. Patrick’s Day, the Dropkick Murphys were belting out “A Rose Tattoo” on the jukebox and there was a group of young women in green wigs carousing in the corner. But those details aren’t what makes the joint Irish. It’s on par with all the small neighborhood bars across the pond for one simple reason: an unbreakable bond of community.
That authentic sense of community goes back to LeBlanc’s time, when the place opened at eight a.m. to cater to Oval Wood Dish night-shift workers on their way home. And over the years the local newspaper, the Tupper Lake Free Press, has been littered with thank you notes for LeBlanc’s donations as well as rankings for Al’s Lounge–sponsored sports teams. One year the bar got front page billing, when a GI in Vietnam had his picture taken with a sign asking for a ride back to his favorite spot in Tupper Lake. LeBlanc responded by airmailing a box of cigars autographed by the corporal’s barside buddies.
These days that tradition of giving back continues, along with the tight-knit vibe of P-2’s (out-of-towners are simply adopted into the clan once they cross the threshold). Michelle said the clientele is a mix, ranging in age from 21 to 94—the 94-year-old regular being a gent named “Jim” who was sipping a draught at the bar on St. Patrick’s Day. He and his son Michael had been the first ones through the door at noon. When I asked Michael his last name, he pointed to his father and said, “Same as his.” I had to admit I didn’t know Jim’s full name either, immediately exposing myself as “from away.”
It turns out P-2’s most senior patron is James Frenette, Tupper Lake royalty and eponym for the free recreational trails he helped develop down the road. Meanwhile, Michael is a master carpenter who spent more than a decade rehabilitating Great Camp Santanoni.
I met all sorts of characters that day and soon felt every bit a local. “We’re family in here,” said Michelle. And if that family isn’t technically Irish? Boyo, everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.
Find P-2’s Irish Pub (www.p2sirishpub.com, 518-359-9980) at 31 Main Street, in Tupper Lake. Its “Party of the Year” kicks off at noon on March 17.