New Yorkers in Profile

Peter Cavanagh Serves the Arts on the Stage and Behind the Bar

November 28, 2011 Written by | 4 Comments

Framed black and white portraits of dead writers watch over diners at candle-lit, wooden tables. Book shelves line the exposed brick walls while olden day lamps hang dimly below them. A rugby ball lies on one of these shelves like a makeshift book end and high chairs sit at a bar under a banner of mini world flags a few feet away. The Dorian Gray Tap and Grill on 205 E. 4th St. reflects the many facets of its owner, Renaissance man Peter Cavanagh.

Irish bred, New York City native Cavanagh, 46, has a plethora of lifetime achievements. Turning a year old in January, the Dorian Gray is just one of them. But the bar he calls his “home base” is more than his latest project. It’s an homage to his roots in the arts as a musician, actor and author, but most of all, to his distant relation, Irish writer Oscar Wilde. It also resembles Cavanagh’s own candid nature, classic and rugged all at once.

Peter Cavanagh is the owner of literary themed bar, The Dorian Gray Tap and Grill

“The thing is I wear my heart on my sleeve,” he said. “Everyone who knows me knows what I’m about. There’s no major stone unturned.”

Born in the city and raised in Dublin until he was 17, Cavanagh arrived at Northern Arizona University in the 1980s with an Irish brogue and a penchant for rugby, even playing on the university team. He would come to New York City every summer during college to help his uncle, Alan Whealan, run The Red Lion pub on 151 Bleecker St., where he first got his foot behind the bar and on the stage.

Marcello Caparelli , 43, who used to play at The Red Lion with his band Peter May and Mayhem, remembers Cavanagh suddenly hopping on stage and belting out songs with them every now and then. Caparelli then asked him to join them on stage every night, and soon enough, the two created The Fourth Floor, later rearranged and renamed Plastic Holiday. Around 1993, Cavanagh and the band signed a major record deal and went on to tour with artists like Kiss, Alice Cooper and The Scorpion.

“I think it was something that was inevitable,” Caparelli said. “Peter is very charismatic, so he just naturally lends himself to being the center of attention.”

After taking a moment to taste a sauce in the kitchen before smacking his lips and giving a learned cook’s sign of approval “excellente,” Cavanagh thought back to the time he called “a circus tour.”

“I’ll never be president, I’ll tell you that much,” Cavanagh said. “I’ve been naked on stage.”

Sharply dressed in fitted jeans and a brown sweater during an interview at the bar, his graying hair neatly combed and eyes piercingly focused on a distant past, Cavanagh recalled when he ran his own lounge, The Lion’s Den on 214 Sullivan St., and the slew of people that once came through there.

“Carol King used to come in and play,” he said, “and Dylan used to stick in the corner and watch what was going on.”

Nowadays, Cavanagh plays less music than recalling memories of those days. But Plastic Holiday still has a solid fan following at gigs today.

“I don’t think that much has changed,” Caparelli said, “but I think Peter remembers the lyrics better now. We just have an absolute blast on stage.”

Like the members of the band, Cavanagh’s priorities have shifted slightly over the years.

He is a devoted family man to his neuro-radiologist wife, Lovleen, and their one-year-old son, Fionn. A frequent bedtime story is his own Fungie, The Dingle Dolphin, a children’s book Cavanagh wrote based on the true story of a stranded dolphin he once swam with on the Dingle Peninsula, Ireland.

Ironically enough, Cavanagh doesn’t fancy himself as much of a writer. He says he doesn’t have enough time to devote to it. Acting is another thing he’s slowly forgone with time, having starred in sketch comedies in his youth and even a small feature film called, Casting Adrift, in 2004. But he recently returned to the craft with a Guiness ad he shot at the bar with his production company, Evan Rose Media. Oh, and Cavanagh also dabbles in real estate, which is how he came to run the Dorian Gray.

Longtime friend, Dorian Gray partner and manager Laurent Tomaszewski, 46, who has known Cavanagh since the days his band “blew the doors down” of an upstate restaurant Tomaszewski used to run in the 1980s, said one of the reasons for Cavanagh’s success is that “he’s got the gift for gab.”

Sometime last year, Cavanagh approached him about a restaurant he was selling but considering buying for himself. According to Tomaszewski, Cavanagh said he would only sign the papers if someone he could trust was on board. Tomaszewski said he’d be down in two hours. He got a good vibe about the place just from the conversation.

“Peter has a very good outlook on the future in the distance,” he said. “He could hit a golf ball very far. But on the next swing he could also miss it, and not hit the ball at all.”

To Cavanagh, trying new endeavors is just his way of challenging life and the future. The aversion to failure keeps him motivated. And according to him, he hasn’t failed yet, knocking on wood for effect.

Yet opening the Dorian Gray came naturally to him. “It’s in my blood,” he said, referring to his Uncle Whelan. Or perhaps Wilde.

“I think he’s phenomenal,” he said of his favorite author. “He would try anything once.”


Categories: Uncategorized
Tagged: , , , , , ,