Jack Demsey’s a home away from home for NYC’s UK fans

NEW YORK — At 2 a.m., two blocks away from Madison Square Garden, the top of the Empire State Building was illuminated blue.

“Kentucky blue,” said Vinnie Connors, the manager of Jack Demsey’s restaurant and bar. “Not Duke blue.”

His interpretation is not surprising. Jack Demsey’s, across the street from the Empire State Building, has an Irish boxer for a logo. Just below that is a UK flag.

And inside, three floors full of UK fans were still buzzing from a 75-65 win over Kansas hours earlier. Some had watched the game from inside. Others had crossed the cab-riddled streets to join, attracted to the bar displaying UK colors.

The flag has been in place for three years. The transformation of this bar into a UK haven started with one person, Heather Dueitt, going to the bar and asking for UK games to be turned on. Then she started bringing her friends, then she started renting whole rooms, and eventually, the place became “The Place” for UK fans.

“New York City is so big,” Dueitt said, the president of the UK Alumni Association in New York City, “and you can feel very alone. We wanted to have a family. Jack Demsey’s adopted us.”

Dueitt did have one stipulation at a meeting (scheduled to be 30 minutes that stretched to six hours) to discuss Jack Demsey’s becoming the alumni association’s game-watching home.

“We drink a lot of bourbon,” Dueitt said.

Tuesday, Dueitt was serving the bourbon as guest bartender. She worked one end while Kentucky Sports Radio’s Drew Franklin worked the other. Other big names have stopped by through the years, including Gov. Steve Beshear.

After the game, it was all UK fans, finding a place where they could stay up all night in the City That Never Sleeps.

The bar had been packed since 3 p.m., a full six hours before the game was scheduled to start.

Another bar down the street was also flying UK flags. It looked, initialls, like an attempt to pass itself off as a UK home to attract fans for this one weekend. It was actually being used as overflow by Jack Demsey’s, which couldn’t hold the amount of UK fans who filed in from the New York streets.

The bar isn’t always filled to capacity with blue. Dueitt said about 200 usually show up to watch a basketball game when the team isn’t actually playing down the street in the Garden.

A lot less show up for football games.

No matter the turnout, it’s an anchor for those who miss a piece of Lexington. College sports aren’t big in the city. It’s all professional sports, almost all the time. But Jack Demsey’s provides a place to congregate and a chance to re-establish the proper order of the sports universe (UK basketball first, everything else last).

“We’re so far away from home,” Dueitt said, “but when you’re in here, you forget you’re in New York City.”