It was Day #1 and Sean Kelly and Shane Ryan–yes, Sean and Shane– have just replaced the owners’ license on the wall of the Glen Park Station bar, four years shy of its 100th anniversary. So far that’s the only physical change in the premises. On January 5 the business partners became the new owners of the bar. They also purchased the building.
The duo has deep roots in Glen Park and the Glen Park Station (GPS for short).
Kelly, 33, is a native Glen Parker. Now living on Diamond Street with his girlfriend Cydney Kirby, he grew up on Sussex Street in a house built by his father, retired firefighter Tom Kelly, the younger brother of the late Bernie Kelly, who was a neighborhood fixture out of his real estate office (the current Pono skin care boutique) until his death in 2017. His sister is KRON4 reporter Maureen Kelly.
Kelly went to Glenridge Nursery School and St. John Catholic School. Later in his education he ventured out of Glen Park to attend City College of San Francisco. He’s also a Realtor with Rise Homes.
Ryan, 31, a transplant from Dublin eight years ago, has worked as a bartender at GPS for six years, the last four also as its manager since the previous owner, Rene Lecour, lives in North Carolina. She was co-owner with Tom Coulter for thirty years until he passed away in 2017.
For some of the earlier history of the bar, click here.
Ryan lives in the Excelsior with his wife Janet Ryan, who is also a bartender. Bartending runs in the family. All his siblings are in the bar industry back in Dublin except a brother who tends bar in Los Angeles.
While Kelly claims his bar experience has taken place on the barstool, Ryan has been tending bar since he was 16. “In Ireland they’re a little looser with the laws. Once you’re tall enough to see over the bar they’ll put you to work, you know?” He’s also a working musician–guitar and drums–at local clubs in the city, and a qualified carpenter. He says bar work has always been his passion while music is his outlet and hobby.
Kelly and Ryan have known each other for a long time and have become friends. But it took a convergence of circumstances for them to become co-owners of GPS.
Kelly, on his barstool, was told by one of the bartenders, Jen Anderson, that the bar was for sale. “I kind of panicked because I grew up here, my uncles were always here and my dad’s here almost everyday.” (“If you’re here too long,” he added, “my dad will start asking you, ‘What do you do for a living and can you hire my son?’”)
He wrote to Lecour asking her to consider selling to someone who wants to keep the bar in the neighborhood. “I didn’t want to see it turned into some fancy cocktail bar” or an Irish pub. Ryan also felt that too many good things in the city were disappearing and the bar was a staple in the community helping to keep the village a lively place.
This was happening as Covid-19 was wreaking havoc on Glen Park and the rest of the world. For Kelly and Ryan, taking over the bar during the pandemic was probably the riskiest time but they also wouldn’t have been able to do it otherwise. It opened some opportunities for government help for small businesses, and Rene Lecour was sensitive to the community and offered Kelly and Ryan favorable terms in buying the business. “If we didn’t jump into the deep end,” says Ryan, “somebody else was going to do it. We’re a good fit for this bar so even though it was the wrong time to get into a business we had to take the risk, otherwise somebody else with a lot of money would have come in.”
Unbeknownst to most of the neighborhood, the GPS regulars are a tight knit group. A couple of years ago a few of them organized a bar crawl to New York City. There was only supposed to be a handful of people going but it ended up as a group of 32 with ages ranging from 24 to 72.
When the pandemic hit, many patrons who’d built a visit to GPS into their social life had to find other alternatives. With everything locked down, they’d meet at the BART station plaza and congregate on the benches. But it wasn’t the same.
Ryan observes that, “When people are getting up in age, most of your buddies and social interactions are coming from places like our bar, little hubs for people.”
And it isn’t only residents of Glen Park whose social lives have been disrupted. Ryan, having experience in other neighborhoods through his music, notes that GPS draws people from elsewhere as well, like the Divisadero area and the Sunset. In addition, “Construction workers from the Richmond come to GPS because they have their group of guys they work with. It’s easy to commute to, it’s accessible. They appreciate how they get a big warm welcome from the community.”
The transition has been smooth so far because Ryan has been working there for so long. With Covid things have settled into a pattern, although it’s not an ideal situation. The pair are looking toward the future when restrictions will be lifted. They also plan some minor improvements in the physical space, like new coats of paint so that every space isn’t a different color, making it more presentable in general, while they preserve the authentic atmosphere such as the historic photos, although they’ll be adding some current ones of their own. Being new owners they’ll be making upgrades and making sure the premises are well taken care of.
One thing they’ll definitely carry forward is the attire of the bartenders, which has traditionally been more formal, with the men wearing shirts and ties. They appreciate a crisp appearance as opposed to more modern establishments where there can be a rough and ready look–wrinkled T-shirts and scruffy jeans, for example. They feel it sets a more welcoming and respectful tone.
One big step, already celebrated on Nextdoor, is that they are now accepting credit cards.
Thinking about what ties them to Glen Park and the Glen Park Station bar, their perspectives are a little different but very compatible.
Kelly says he’s biased because he grew up here. “It’s a nice feeling here. If you go into bars in some other neighborhoods it doesn’t feel the same. I feel like this neighborhood, even when it turns over, it stays the same.”
They’ve also been surprised at how many people in Glen Park come in to thank them for keeping something that’s well loved in the neighborhood.
For Ryan it seems like Glen Park is one of the last remaining villages in the city. “This is probably one of the first bars I’ve worked in in America where you have a great-grandfather that still comes here, a grandfather and a son, and out on the street I’d see the son with his baby. The fact that working in one bar you get to know four generations of people, you don’t get to see that in bars that often.
“Through the bar business you really build up a relationship with the people. This bar is almost a hundred years old. I hope it will be here a hundred years more. We’re just temporary caretakers. I think there’s something a bit magic about this place.”
Follow GPS on Instagram: @glen_park_station_bar