EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The outside of Skeff’s Pub in East Providence screams fish and chips with a side of Guinness, but this is no ordinary Irish tavern. The inside of the recently relocated bar at 507 N. Broadway has strong sports bar vibes but its fresh, locally sourced menu hollers gastropub.
In 2016, Eileen and Paul Harvey fell in love with a little small-town dive in Cumberland known as Stevie D’s Bar and Grill. They renamed it Skeff’s, a name derived from Eileen’s maiden name, “Skeffington,” whose ancestors date back to Irishman Francis Sheehy-Skeffington in the early 1900s.
Sheehy-Skeffington, a suffragist who was called “Skeff” or “Skeffy” by his friends, was tragically killed during the Irish Rebellion of 1916 by a British officer trying to stamp out the revolt. Captain J.C. Cowen-Bolthurst went “berserk” killing three captives, including Sheehy-Skeffington, according to The Boston Globe.
The captain was court-martialed but only spent a year in prison before he was released and left for Canada. He died in 1966, the Globe reported.
There are pictures of Sheehy-Skeffington around the bar, but there are no rebellions allowed at Skeff’s.
“What really sets us apart, you know if you’ve walked into a lot of neighborhood bars, is we don’t make you feel like Easy Rider,” said Eileen referring to the famous diner scene in the 1969 flick starring Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, and Jack Nicholson. “If you’re an outsider, when you walk in, it’s not like a clique. We put up with zero drama, we don’t put up with customers talking about other customers. We’re here to have fun.”
You won’t find the news on a row of TVs lining the walls, but you can cheer for your favorite New England sports teams.
“Our bartenders are going to treat you the same way they treat someone that they’ve known for years, who comes in every day,” said Eileen, who compares the atmosphere to sitting with friends in your living room. She wants the pub to be a safe and clean place to meet and eat.
When they first opened Skeff’s, the Harveys sat down with regulars to find out what would keep them coming back, and what it would take to get their family or friends in. So, they added wine lists, healthy food options (gluten-free and vegan), and make their menu items with fresh ingredients.
Skeff’s is known for its rotating list of egg rolls handmade by kitchen manager and head chef Tyler Medeiros, who is dating Eileen’s daughter, Shannon O’Brien, the bar’s general manager. Medeiros and O’Brien met while working together at Steve D’s, which was owned by his family.
Medeiros makes his pizzas with dough from Scialo’s County Bakery, the popcorn chicken is made with fresh poultry from Bonollo’s Wholesale Food Service, local produce, fresh dairy, and hand-cut meats come from Avenue N restaurant. Baked goods come from Seven Stars Bakery, and cheese and ice cream are from Narragansett Creamery.
The catch of the day is picked up a few doors down at Digger’s Catch in East Providence.
Medeiros said what makes the egg rolls special is their tortilla shell. Instead of a crunch all the way through, you get a nice crisp outside and a tender inside filled with the flavor of the day They also offer dessert egg rolls with cheesecake and fresh apples.
The Harveys made the difficult decision to depart Cumberland after the crushing effects of the pandemic on the service industry. Skeff’s survived and even profited during the pandemic because of the selfless work of its staff, which offered volunteer hours, and diehard regulars who wouldn’t let them fail.
“Our customers sat in a parking lot in 90-degree heat eating lobster rolls at a camping table,” Eileen said.
Skeff’s received two Payroll Protection Program loans during the pandemic and qualified for commercial lending because of its ability to remain profitable during the COVID-19 pandemic, Eileen said.
Along with O’Brien and Medeiros, the new bar is staffed by bartenders Abigal Skeffington (Eileen’s niece), Sameeta Mohanty, Patrick Hamilton, and Will Pickett. Hamilton is also a cook. Phil Potter, Bill Stewart, Sam Burroughs, and Jenna Smith are new hires, who are lovingly referred to as the “new guys.”
Skeff’s building on North Broadway was built in the 1930s, and has almost always been a tavern. It was previously Pops and Peasies and recently Mulhearn’s Pub. The Harveys stripped the building down to the “studs” and customized it to their needs. (A bigger kitchen, beer hall-style seating, and all new equipment)
The exterior has a familiar swagger with the same yellow and red facade as the Cumberland site, and “SKEFF’S” bannered across the top of the pub in a Celtic font.
Old Mulhearn’s patrons won’t find a pool table, but the white picket fence surrounding a red brick patio is still there.
Skeff’s will host acoustic music on some Saturdays and an Irish trio every Sunday from 4 to 7 p.m. They will book bands that will keep you entertained but the speakers won’t blow you out of your seats.
“If you want to sit at the bar and drink your Bud Light drafts and not mutter a word that’s perfectly fine,” O’Brien said. “You want to sit there and talk about what drink I can make you, we can do that, too. You can come in and read a book and have your dinner. There’s so much to do around here.”
There are 10 fewer taps than the Cumberland pub, mostly stocked with the popular domestic staples. But to make up for the reduced options on draft, there is a full lineup of craft brews in cans. Many come from popular local breweries.
Skeff’s offers something for everyone, including its staff.
“The biggest thing is the owners set us up with a beautiful place with a beautiful kitchen and let us manage, and that’s why I believe the staff stuck with us,” Medeiros said. “They see from the top down how much the owners invested into this place and the equipment. When the employees are in a rut, the owners are here doing dishes. How many owners go back there and do dishes just to keep things running smoothly? All those things add up to this place. We all have each other’s back and we have that family atmosphere.”