Earlier this year, many in Rockaway were alarmed when one of the neighborhood’s oldest buildings, Schilling’s Roadhouse (later, The Irish Circle), at Beach 102nd Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard, was put up for sale. Dating to 1893, the structure survived Superstorm Sandy, but there were rumors that it would be demolished. Well, the site was saved from the wrecking ball by new owners, Kelly Brook and the Joseph family, who have renovated the space and reopened it as the Comm(Unity) House restaurant.
The much-anticipated opening of the space has occurred. The usual maiden week kinks have been worked out, and the place now seems to be going strong. I visited on Monday, August 10, and was pleasantly surprised that the present owners created some striking new features, while keeping the best of what the Irish Circle formerly offered.
When you walk in, the configuration of the front bar is the same, but the flooring and seating are more contemporary. Upholstered banquettes on the right look like a comfy place to snuggle up and share a drink with someone you love! Walking toward the back, the main dining room is larger, because the second bar, where Richie (RIP) ran things for years, is now outdoors.
The outdoor patio where many teachers used to crowd in on the last day of school has been enlarged into a spacious bar area with equally large tables, more cushioned group seating sections and romantically soft evening lights.
I make it a practice to avoid reading Yelp and Facebook reviews of restaurants I already know, as they are often ridiculous, even sometimes amusingly ridiculous! I was a regular at the Irish Circle in the first decade of the millennium, so being there again put me in nostalgia land, recalling friends from past and present, some of whom have died or moved away from NYC. Food was never the prime draw at the Circle for me–it was always a place to see friends and have a drink and a snack together.
By the way, that was true from the beginning, when the place was called Schilling’s Roadhouse. I try to imagine the early 1900’s, when benefit card parties were held there to raise funds to build the Rockaway Beach Hospital, and the Rockaway Beach Founders Club met for dinner. The space was a central neighborhood gathering spot. In light of that history, the choice of a new name for the restaurant–Comm(Unity) House–was inspired, in my opinion.
After I stopped in, I heard comments from friends who had been there for the opening, and I think every problem with the food or service was pretty much smoothed out when I got there. My waiter (and the young woman shadowing him so she could learn), were fine. The food was excellent. THANKS for the hand-cut potato chips at the tables, which were always my favorite snack to order at the Circle. The grilled vegetable flatbread served on a wooden paddle was even better than the grilled veggie wrap that was my go-to Circle sandwich order. It’s more like a yummy mini-pizza.
Congratulations, Kelly and company, on restoring and re-imagining this favorite space of Rockaway Beach. See you for live band karaoke on Sunday evenings!
Text and photos copyright 2015 Vivian R. Carter.