Patrons, family and friends remember the late Aidan Graham, who brought life and libations to Bristol as the proprietor of the popular Aidan's Pub.
For 30 years, his pub was where Bristol gathered. Here are just a few memories of a few of those who knew Aidan Graham, who passed away last week on Wednesday, March 8.
“I knew Aidan from the time he first came to Rhode Island,” said Dr. Patrick Conley. It was the 1970’s, and Conley, who hailed from the south side of Providence, played on a softball team that would meet at a pub called Bowling Green off Niantic Avenue. Conley met Aidan when the latter, a drummer, was hired to play at the pub.
Richie Corrente also met Aidan at the Bowling Green. “I was about 8 years old when my mother met Aidan Graham, a 40-year-old rock and roll drummer from Ireland,” Corrente wrote in an online tribute. According to Corrente, Aidan was making one of his first attempts as a pub owner, when Corrente’s mother Betty Anne caught his eye. “I think my earliest memory of Aidan is being a kid and playing ping pong with him and my brother…to us he was this real nice guy with big silly glasses, a blonde mullet and the funniest accent I‘ve ever heard.”
Though it took a bit of time, Betty Anne and Aidan eventually began dating. “He made my mom smile,” wrote Corrente. “She really, really loved him.”
Conley moved to Bristol in 1987, though he kept in touch with Aidan. It was not too long after that he said Aidan and Betty Anne began to consider opening a pub in Bristol, and would visit with Conley and his wife at their home while they weighed their options.
According to Corrente, the couple first looked at Gillary’s, but it was the building on John Street — The former Hurricane — that Betty Anne was drawn to. “It was my mother who believed that this was the right location for Aidan’s dream,” Corrente wrote. “They opened Aidan’s Pub in 1992 and forever impacted thousands of lives over the next 30 years,” he said of the establishment where he would one day meet his own wife.
“We started the St. Patrick’s Day breakfast,” said Conley of the years after Aidan’s opening, inviting statewide politicians and other movers and shakers to the event that even attracted Ted Kennedy one year. “George Sisson, Tommy Byrnes, Dale Radka, Peter Church, Halsey Herreshoff…a coterie of regulars would come because of the ambiance.”
For Corrente, these were great years. “We were one big happy family,” he wrote. “Aidan was an awesome guy to grow up with, and working at Aidans was the coolest thing ever. He was like a father to me but he was also my boss…We had our ups and downs but I know it all helped me become the man I am today. When I had a real problem to deal with, Aidan was almost always the person I went to for help and advice.”
Eventually, Aidan and Betty Anne’s romantic relationship would fade, but according to Corrente, they were still a family. “It was just a different kind of love,” he wrote. “It transformed into something like the love that you have for your best friend or your brother. They were genuine soulmates.”
Another longtime patron remembers those early days well. “I would go there at least once a week, usually more,” said Jim Dollins. “The thing is, Aidan really understood what an Irish pub is all about. It’s not a place people just go to drink, but to meet with good friends and family. He understood that.”
“I went on to manage Aidans pub from 2009-2019,” wrote Corrente. “During that time our relationship evolved from a father-son type to more of friendship…we could talk about anything. I think Aidan’s greatest skill was listening. Kind of a strange thing to say about a former rock and roll drummer who was half deaf, but when you talked to Aidan he paid attention and he gave great advice.”
“He built the most successful pub that I know of, and I think it was because he was such a great listener,” said Dollins. “I think the key to his success was that he was very loyal. A good guy you could trust, and a damn good listener.”
“I fondly recall the first Christmas Eve at Aidan's Pub back in '92,” recalled Gary de Blois. “Aidan had just opened that year and I was a bartender at Gillary's, which was right around the corner. It wasn't long before he acquainted himself and became friends with his new neighbors. Gillary's, like most establishments in downtown Bristol, closed early on Christmas Eve and so when we locked up and I started on my way I noticed a soft, warm glow emanating from the windows of Aidan's. I had no particular place to go at the time and was reluctant to call it an evening so I decided to stop in and wish everyone a Merry Christmas.”
“The kitchen was closed and the bar was occupied with a few patrons, Aidan and his partner Betty Anne. Of course I was welcomed in to enjoy a pint or two. And so I did, and so we did, and did again, well into the evening. And as the evening progressed the need to reach into our pockets to pay for the next drink was unnecessary…which was okay by me and to the rest of the guests. Yeah, by that time it was undeniable, we all felt like welcomed guests. At some point in the evening Aidan had decided he had his bellyful and that it was time to ring the closing bell. Obviously some in the company, including myself, were a little dismayed. Our despondency did not escape Aidan's attention.”
“Being the generous and accommodating gentleman that he was, rather than disrupt the general gaiety of the evening, he tossed me the keys and said "Gary...keep the drinks coming and close the place when you're done,” (or something like that anyway). I was a little dumbfounded by the request but any reluctance I may have had if I was straight up sober had evaporated by that time and so I was more than willing to abide by his decree. And so the bar stayed open for the rest of the night and everyone had a grand evening in each others’ company.”
“That was the first Christmas Eve of Aidan's Pub and one of many wonderful evenings for me throughout the years. Of course there are many more stories to share but there will plenty of time for that in the future. Thank you Aidan. You will be missed.”
“Aidan forged an atmosphere where everyone felt like one big family,” said patron Jennifer Nemirow. “This Italian girl always felt at home at Aidan’s, and no more so than when in a deep conversation with Aidan. When I visited Ireland, Aidan said I’d never go to Mullingar (his hometown). I did and we had a great laugh. He will be so missed. Thank you Aidan!”
Patron Tom Mack spent an afternoon at Aidan’s that he will never forget.
“It was just some random afternoon, a couple years ago in springtime,” he said. “And the place was more or less empty, but I was hanging out at the outside bar. It was one of those unplanned things that just happens sometimes in life and ends up being awesome. It was Aidan, Mike Carroll, and Hughie Purcell. It was probably only about 45 minutes or so and I was smart enough to just sit there and shut the hell up. They just had this incredible conversation about when they were young, living in Ireland and trying to be musicians, and all the other jobs they had to do along the way.”
“It was just an incredible day,” said Mack. “And I'm so glad I got to have that experience.”
For Corrente, the last years of his relationship with his longtime father figure were fraught. “We had made plans for me to take over the pub one day but for several reasons it never happened, and I had to make the hard choice to leave Aidan’s and open the Portside Tavern,” he said. “It was very hard on both of us and cost us the last few years of our relationship…Eventually we made peace although it was never the same again.”
“I needed him so many times over the years but I didn’t call him out of spite knowing full well if I just picked up the phone and told him it was important and I really needed him that he would be there for me.”
On the afternoon of Tuesday, March 14, they packed the house that Aidan built, in his honor — his friends, family, patrons and staff from the last three decades, reconnecting with each other and telling stories of a man who will not soon be forgotten.