- He started telemarking during physical therapy
- He hates helmets and rarely even wears a hat skiing
- He’s not really Irish
Burnt red shag carpets covered the floors and the walls at the Inn at Long Trail before Kyran and Rosemary McGrath bought it in 1977. Trendy at the time, the carpets were soon ripped out and the natural wood floors restored.
For the past 34 years, the McGrath family has been dedicated to restoring the inn to look like it did when it was first built in 1938, then called the Long Trail Chalet – the first lodge built in Vermont to serve a skiing community.
The move to Vermont from Washington, D.C. was fairly sudden, recalls Murray McGrath, who now owns the inn along with his wife, Patty.
“For the nation’s bicentennial celebration in 1976, they decided to have The Beach Boys bring the ‘wrong element’ onto The Mall – a bunch of hippies. You just can’t have that,” Murray said of his dad’s reaction to the times. “I think that was the last straw for my dad… By July 17th, we were on the road.”
They moved to the family’s second home at Old Round Top in Plymouth, just down the road from Killington.
Murray went to college in Colorado that fall, but remembers his reaction when his parents bought the inn the following year.
“None of us had any experience in it,” he said. “My brother and I were the quote-unquote ‘experts’ because we had been bar backs and dishwashers at a restaurant down in Washington… So we just kind of jumped in… When my brother and I first saw the bar we were like, ”gosh, I hope dad knows what he’s doing!'”
CHAINSAWS TO THE BAR
What the McGrath brothers saw, in 1977, was white Masonite paneling on the walls that were water stained, turquoise and gold diner booths along the side, and a bar that seated only six with a Formica top.
“So we just basically took a chainsaw to the inside of the place and said ‘we’re starting from scratch,'” he remembered.
A guy named Ken, down in Bridgewater, found the bar, McGrath said. It was a top-dead white pine, rough-cut at about 30 feet long. Murray got right to work, sanding the bar.
“I was doing it with this little belt thing and I got like this much done,” he said, holding his hands out about three feet. “So I got a floor sander, and then I just walked up and down it. Much easier.” After he finished sanding, McGrath estimates he put on 70 coats of polyurethane.
At one time, Murray’s brother, Tom, and two sisters, Eileen and Roseann, were all working at the inn with his parents, Kyran and Rosemary McGrath. “But I’m the only one who stayed,” he said.
After he graduated from college in 1981, and after he “ski bummed in Colorado for a year,” he felt the inn’s draw. “I came back, because I just like it here.”
In 1985, Murray married Patty Job, whose family owned the Edelweiss Motel, just a mile west of the Inn at Long Trail, and who is also Irish. In 1991, Murray and Patty began taking over the operation at the inn and purchased the property from the family in 1994.
His siblings all eventually left the inn in pursuit of other adventures. They are now “buck shot around the globe,” Murray says. His brother is in Santa Monica, one sister is in Sydney, Australia, and the other is in Coeur d’Alene Idaho. “Once my dad died, my mother moved out to Coeur d’Alene to be close to her,” he said.
IRISH WAKE: CHEERS!
Kyran Murray McGrath died on Saturday, Jan 22, 1993. “We had a very cool Irish wake for dad. It was a traditional Irish wake right in here at the inn with lots of musicians,” he said. “It was Superbowl weekend – at that time the only way you could get the game was a big dish, so there were only like two places in town that you could watch the game – so we had a huge party booked for Superbowl Sunday, about 55 people, a full house,” he said.
On Saturday and Sunday Murray hosted parties and on Monday he hosted the wake.
“We are both Kyran Murray McGrath. I’m a junior. I’m K. Murray and he’s Kyran M. McGrath,” he said. “He used to write ‘Insights’ for The Mountain Times. He used to do a lot of things and he knew a lot of people… Through the course of the day probably 600-700 people came by… We put a big black ribbon across the sign and people would just stop in if they knew him.”
Others stopped in too. “A lot of folks just wanted to experience what a traditional Irish wake was. You know, most people are used to wakes down at the funeral home all somber and sad. This was definitely not that… It’s a celebration of life, everybody was toasting and drinking and music was playing,” he said.
1st TO GET GUINNESS IN VT
The restoration of the inn was just part of the lore left by the senior McGrath. He also had a way of getting what he wanted to create a lively pub.
“We were the first bar to get Guinness on draft in the state of Vermont,” Murray says proudly. “The very first pub.”
In fact, McGrath’s pub was the only account to carry Guinness for a while back in the 1980s. At the time, Bakers, the distributor, didn’t want to carry it, Murray recalled, “you know just for one guy… so my father got tired of it and he called Guinness Import Company, which was stationed in Stanford, Connecticut, at the time, and they said, ‘well, it’s just one account, we can’t really help you out. And you’re in Vermont, it’s all state-controlled up there.'”
Murray recalled that his dad spent about 45 minutes working his way up through the ranks of the company until he got in touch with the right guy.
“He had called St. James’s Gate in Dublin… The way he described it is: A very elegant cultured voice came on the phone and said ‘how may I help you?’ So he went through the whole spiel again and he, again, the man said ‘well, it is just one small account.’ So Dad figured, ‘OK, I’m going to have to come up with a different tact here.’
“So he said: ‘do any of your employees or business contacts, CEOs, or whomever you deal with, ski?’ And he goes, ‘Oh yes, quite a bit.’ So Dad says, ‘well, we are in the largest ski area in the East and I’m sure you’ve heard of Boston?’ And he goes, “Oh yes, we come to Boston quite often.’ And he goes, ‘Well wouldn’t it be embarrassing if, just three hours from Boston, the largest ski area in the east, there used to be a pub that sold Guinness, but now it’s no longer available? To me that’d be a little awkward.’
He said there was a very long pause, then the voice on the other end said: ‘You have me there, sir.’
“And so, then my father said, ‘excuse me for my ignorance, but are you in the position of power to do anything about this?’ And he said, ‘Why, yes, I am the vice president of Guinness.’
“Within about a half an hour, Joe Baker from Rutland calls and says ‘God dammit McGrath, how many kegs do you want?'” McGrath recalled.
Today, the Inn is the second largest Guinness account in the state, and has been selling Guinness for over 29 years.
Another similar story about getting the Bailey’s account adds to the inn’s lore.
“My dad was also the first one to get Baileys in the state,” McGrath continued. “One day, he called up the state and asked ‘why can’t we get Baileys in the state?’ All other states had it… The guy he was talking to goes: ‘well, there must be something wrong with it.’
“And my dad said: ‘That is the best answer anyone has been able to give me. This is fantastic! Now how do you spell your last name?’ And the guy was like ‘what do you mean?’
“So, he says, ‘well I’m the editor of the local paper here and you know something that the rest of the country, or the world, doesn’t: There’s something wrong with Baileys! We have to get this out! The rest of the world is probably poisoning themselves and Vermont discovered it. This is fantastic! You, sir, are going to get all the credit, I want to get your name correctly.’
“So the guy immediately starts back peddling. My dad said, ‘well I have a deadline, tomorrow by noon at the latest, I need to know before I print this.’
“So the guy goes ‘I’ll get back to you.’
“Then, Mike, who used to own the liquor store calls and says: ‘Kyran, there is a box of something coming for you; they don’t have a code for it, but they said that you’ll understand.’ That was our Baileys!” McGrath said smiling.
“My dad just knew the right people to ask, and what to ask them, and when he saw an opportunity he went with it.”
The McGraths restored the inn has character as deep as its history. And much of that is a reflection of Murray and Patty McGrath’s authentic appreciation for all things original and rustic.
The McGraths have built birch lamps, chairs, tables, bars and all sorts of holders from firewood boxes to waitress stands.
The large stone fireplace in the living room, the old-fashion eight-foot-deep hot tub with wooden barrel slats and the thousand-plus-pound town safe from 1883 may give some clues about the inn’s charm, but it’s the game room that best illustrates McGrath’s appreciation for simple fun.
“Kids sometimes come in here and, at first, say, ‘what, no video games?’ But then hours go by and their parents have to drag them out… These are the games we grew up with, often you’ll see parents down here playing too,” he said.
Most of the toys on the tables are made of wood and barely show signs of use despite the years they have weathered. The board games are on the shelves, their boxes dented from years of use, but complete with all the parts.
“We try to keep the pre-fab stuff outta here as much as possible,” McGrath says with a laugh, as he recalled the good times so many families, including his own, shared playing the classic games.
Not to say life up on top of Sherburne Pass doesn’t have its challenges, but Murray gets outs to telemark ski several times a week, and sometimes multiple times per day, depending on conditions. He started telemarking in 1983, when he was going to physical therapy.
“The doctor had me doing squats, so I thought, I might as well be doing this on skis… The doctor didn’t think it was a great idea, but I tried it and it worked ok.”
Back then it was all leather equipment. McGrath says he still does two or three “leather and lace days” every year.
“I take out my leather boots and I have a pair of 210s with little three-pin bindings. So I’ll put them on and flail around Pico for a couple hours and have a blast,” he said, adding that he wears German World War II wool pants with a hook so he can hook them over his boots to complete the ensemble.
“It’s funny, I’ll go right to the top, fearing nothing, and then it’s like, ‘man I used to be really good at this, what the hell.’ We end up relying on the new equipment so much… but I still ski with my stuff pretty loose, I’m one of the old-fashion guys,” he says.
RUSSIAN QUARTET JAMS WITH THE IRISH
Music is a large part of the weekly scene at McGrath’s Pub. Every Friday and Saturday, 11 months of the year, they host live Irish music for whoever is around.
On Sunday, August 28, the night Tropical Storm Irene hit, they had a full house – and spontaneous fun.
“Many people couldn’t get anywhere and they saw that our lights were on,” McGrath explained, noting that the inn – perched at the top of the pass – wasn’t damaged by the floods.
Among those stranded was a Russian String Quartet. “They were supposed to play at a wedding up at Mountain Top,” he said, referring to the inn in nearby Chittenden, but the roads were closed. Inn at Long Trail lost power that night around 11 p.m., but Murray kept the music going.
“We light candles and a few hikers took the guitar and mandolin off the wall, and I grabbed my guitar and they (the quartet) had a violin, the cello and the viola… and we played this impromptu jam session by candlelight. It was amazing. We had 30 people who were either awake or who came back down to listen,” he said.
“It was just one of those special moments that if you tried to recreate it, it wouldn’t happen… it was just spontaneous generation… They were obviously classically trained and amazing, but they could just jam away too… We did some sing-alongs… and it went until like 2:30-3 in the morning. It was just a hoot.”
AN INN OF FAMILIES
The staff at the inn is like family. Most of the full-time and many of the part-time employees have been there for more than a decade. Patrick, the chef, has been there for over 25 years. And guests come back year after year, too.
McGrath estimates that as much as 70 percent of their business is repeat. “People just love it here… We have generations of families that have come the same week every year, they are part of the family, too, and it’s great to see them.”
With two sons, Connor and Brogen, McGrath hopes that one of them might want to take over the family business. Brogen is a senior at nearby Castleton State College and Connor is a ski patroller at Killington in the winter and a hiking guide for New Life Spa in the summer.
“We’ve got a while, yet, before that happens,” he said, perhaps thinking of the work that lay ahead of them this winter. But he’s smiling because he truly looks forward to the good times ahead that are inevitable with his extended family and friends that will come to visit the Inn at Long Trail again this year.