When Sean Leonard, night manager at McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon on Bayview Avenue, told me he was a star running back from 1986 to 1988 for Leaside High School’s football team, the Leaside Lancers, I was skeptical. Sure, he’s got the height, but not the formidable build one might associate with a football player. Too slight for the gridiron it seemed to me. When I asked him about this, Sean stated matter-of-factly: “I was faster than everyone else.”
Although lightning quick on the football field, Sean’s ascension from Leaside High footballer to McSorley’s night manager has been more slow and steady. Sean, now 42, moved with his family to Rumsey Road in 1981, after spending his early years in Conception Bay, Newfoundland. He attended Northlea School where he played a variety of sports – from baseball to track and field. Later, at Leaside High, he concentrated on football. In 1991, when McSorley’s first opened its doors, Sean, then 19, was one of the first customers and decided to apply for a job. “They told me they needed staff and I was hired right away,” he recalls. After sweating it out in the kitchen for 13 years, first as a cook’s assistant, then as a full-fledged cook, Sean was promoted to night manager, a position he’s held for ten years. (Today, Sean lives in an apartment above the bar.)
What exactly does the night manager at McSorley’s do? Simon Hanlon, 54, co-owner of McSorley’s, who, with his large hands and big frame, looks more to me like an ex-football player than Sean, has joined us at the back of the saloon. (Simon’s co-owner is John Anderson, 54, aka, ‘Bear.’) Nearby, regulars sit at the bar sipping beer and watching sports on the TV screens behind the bartender. Five feet away, young kids play billiards, while their parents laugh and chat. Simon explains that a night manager wears many different hats. “You oversee the restaurant and make sure that everything runs smoothly. You count the money coming in and balance the budget at the end of the night. Co-ordinate the staff, deal with issues. You’re the boss right?” McSorley’s employs about 25 people; roughly 15 are on duty at night.
One of McSorley’s servers, Patricia Marciniak, 30, better known as ‘Trish,’ has worked for Sean for five years now. When asked what it’s like to have Sean for a boss, she jokes, “Do you want the truth, or … ?” Seriously, though, she says, “Sean is a good manager – he has our backs. He takes care of us, he’s very fair; a really pleasant person to be around. He knows everyone’s name that comes in, knows their children’s names, he even knows their dogs’ names.” Indeed, Sean can often be seen out on the patio or the sidewalk, petting the many dogs that walk by with their owners. In the warm weather, dogs are tied up to the patio railing and water bowls are placed on the sidewalk for them to drink from.
However, when the fellowship and good cheer turns sour, as it sometimes does when drinking is involved (“It can get ugly pretty quick,” Simon acknowledges), Sean knows when to step in. “We have zero tolerance for bad behaviour,” he emphasizes. “We deal with difficulties before they become an issue. We never allow things to get out of hand.” In fact, with his reddish, blonde brush cut, ruddy face and slightly pug-nosed features, Sean bears a close resemblance to an Irish street cop from an old-time American film. Not someone to be messed with.
For Sean, the best part of his job is interacting with the children that come in. Kids are provided with crayons and pads and their drawings are tacked to the walls. Clarke Smith, 48, a local creative consultant, pond and Japanese garden designer and builder, drops by every so often with his two-year-old daughter, Zoey, for a meal. Staff give her the rock star treatment, chanting “Zoey! Zoey!” when she walks through the door. Zoe shares a particularly close bond with Sean. “Zoe loves Sean and always gives him a big hug,” enthuses Clarke. “Plus Sean knows his sports,” adds Clarke, a big football fan himself. Sean points out that his sporting background, dating back to his days as running back for the Leaside Lancers, helps him in his job, given the number of sports fans that drop by the bar.
Like others who work and live on Bayview, Sean is concerned about the economic health of the street. “There are more vacancies now than I can ever recall, even more than in recession years,” he laments. However, because Simon and his partner, Bear, own the building, they don’t have to face soaring rents and can breathe easier than other business people on the street. And, as long as the likeable Sean continues to charm customers with his charisma and knowledge of sports, McSorley’s should be able to thrive for at least another few decades.