SULLIVAN’S ISLAND, S.C. — Could there really be a Red Sox bar in this speck-on-the-map, in a red state where “Yankees” most often refers not to a baseball team but to those who live north of the Mason-Dixon line?
The first clue is the neon Red Sox sign in the window of Dunleavy’s Pub. The second is the guy behind the bar wearing a navy polo shirt with the Boston “B” just above his heart.
That would be Jamie Maher, the operating partner of Dunleavy’s on Sullivan’s Island, a part of the world with great beaches, sunsets, shrimp ’n’ grits, and the added benefit of Charleston just a few bridges away.
“I was born into it,” says Maher, 46, of the Red Sox. He smiles as he shakes hands with me, maybe because I’m wearing a Red Sox hat and tee. Or probably because the Sox beat the Yankees the night before. “Papi hit a blast last night,” he says.
Maher grew up in West Haven, Conn., which he calls “the demarcation line between Red Sox and Yankees fans.” Half the town, he says, roots for the Yanks, the other half for the Sox.
His family fell into the honest camp. His parents, now divorced, are both huge Red Sox fans. In 1992, after her children graduated from college, Patti Dunleavy Maher moved to South Carolina and opened the pub with her brother, Bill Dunleavy, also a Sox fan. She retired but Bill is still involved with the business. Both live nearby.
“It’s a little slice of New England down here,” Maher says of the pub. He graduated from Assumption College in Worcester, tending bar on Block Island in the summer. In 1997, he joined his mother and uncle, moving to Sullivan’s Island to work at Dunleavy’s, whose menu cover bears the words “Cead Mile Failte” translated right below: “One Hundred Thousand Welcomes.”
The place is wall-to-wall sports memorabilia from teams all over the country. “This is 22 years worth of stuff brought in by customers,” says Maher, referring to the hats, mugs, photos, jerseys and license plates that line the walls and shelves.
But a special corner behind the bar is reserved for a framed photo of Ted Williams, a “Ted’s Root Beer” sign and a Virginia license plate with GO-SOX-4 on it. Of course, Sam Adams beer is on tap.
People hear about the pub’s Red Sox vibe or they’ll notice the Sox sign in the window and come in. “Down here, there are a lot of [Atlanta] Braves fans,” Maher says, “but I do get very local Red Sox fans in here. Last year, when we won the World Series, we were packed.”
The pub is also packed on every Opening Day at Fenway Park, when Maher gives out popcorn and offers specials on hot dogs and Sam Adams. He subscribes to Major League Baseball on Comcast, so that his customers can see every single Sox game, and they always sing “Sweet Caroline” with the Fenway crowd, down to the “so good, so good, so good” chorus.
Even his bartender is from Boston, or at least his parents are. “A Sox fan since birth,” declares Brian Howlett, who moved to nearby Mount Pleasant 7 years ago. He’s been to Fenway, “but not nearly enough.”
Maher has been to Fenway just once, as a boy living in West Haven. He remembers that “Yaz was on his way to his 3,000th hit, and the game was against the Orioles.” His family sat in the bleachers: “Al Bumbry was right in front of us.”
Occasionally, his family would go to dreaded Yankee Stadium — but only when the Yanks played the Sox. “The Bronx was closer than Boston,” Maher explains.
Jamie Maher (above), a Connecticut native and Red Sox fan, says of Dunleavy’s bar (in a painting below), opened by his mother and uncle, ‘It’s a little slice of New England down here’ in South Carolina.
Last year, he finally returned to Fenway. It was an overdue, if circuitous, trip. Dunleavy’s was one of 15 Charleston-area bars that participated in a Pop-A-Shot tournament sponsored by Sam Adams. A Dunleavy’s customer won and got a free trip to Boston — flight, hotel room, tickets to see a game at Fenway, brewery tour. The sponsoring bar got the same deal.
Maher, who occasionally lets a “y’all” or “yes ma’am” slip out in conversation, chose a Yankees game, and last Sept. 14, attended the second of a three-game series — a sweep by the Red Sox. “I picked it because that’s my wife’s birthday,” he says.
And she’s a Yankees fan. Yep, Maher is in a mixed marriage. His wife, Jennifer, who is also from Connecticut, loves the Yankees.
“Her entire family are Red Sox fans, but she went to Fordham in the Bronx, and became a Yankees fan in college,” he says. Not to worry. All three of their children are Red Sox fans.
The rivalry hasn’t affected their marriage; Maher says he’s used to Yankees fans. “Growing up in Connecticut, my best friend was a Yankees fan.”
This year’s lame Sox season hasn’t been good for Dunleavy’s, either: “Most of my customers are diehard Sox fans. They live and breathe with the Sox, good or bad. The fair-weather fans we see around the World Series years, and when it comes to a season like this, we don’t see them.”
Still, Maher, like all longtime Sox fans, remains philosophical. “It’s hard to be upset because they’ve won three World Series in the last 10 years. That’s more than I saw the entire time growing up.”
And, like any diehard Red Sox fan, he repeats the mantra: “There’s always next year.” (Not that he’s given up on this year . . . yet.)
As I leave, the last thing I see is a sign above the pub’s doorway: “Gone to Fenway.”Bella English can be reached at email@example.com.