Bartender-turned-artist to recreate Prohibition era artwork for Claudio’s

PHOTO COURTESY of CLAUDIO’S RESTAURANT In this old photograph that hangs at the back of Claudio’s restaurant, you can see the original boat and mermaid mural above the bar. Speculation is that it may still be behind one of the mirrors.

Sitting at the bar at Claudio’s Restaurant in Greenport, it’s all but impossible to ignore the reflected images of staff and customers on the large mirrors on the northern wall. But co-owner Jan Claudio’s interest is not in what the mirrors show, but what they hide.

She is fascinated by the tales that a different image entirely, a mural of boats and mermaids, stands behind the glass.

That image appears clearly in a photo that hangs on the restaurant’s back wall. Ms. Claudio believes it’s still there and points out that while both side mirror panels are beveled, the center panel is not. She has no explanation for the difference.

Despite her curiosity, Ms. Claudio has resisted removing the center mirror, which adds to the light reflected from the bar into the dining area. She also suspects that even if the mural is still there, it’s likely in no condition to be unveiled.

Eventually, her nagging notions on the mural became the subject of conversations with muralist Terrence Joyce, whose studio and gallery are directly across from Claudio’s on Main Street. To put the issue to rest, at least for now, she’s asked the artist to grace the eatery with new mermaid art.

Mr. Joyce, whose murals hang in such places as Lincoln Center and Tavern on the Green in New York City, hired two models to pose and he’s shown mermaid sketches to Jan and Bill Claudio. He’ll add mermaids to all three mirror panels, so the legendary sea creatures will appear to be looking down at customers. The paintings are expected to be completed within about a month.
That Mr. Joyce is lending his talents to the bar is nothing new, he said. He spent some 20 years as a bartender to earn money to support his artistic endeavors.

“A mural belongs in the bar from that era,” he said, referring to the 1920s and 1930s. Those familiar with Greenport history know that, during Prohibition, Claudio’s was a rum runners’ destination and many cases of illicit hooch found their way up into the restaurant through a trapdoor that’s still in place behind the bar.

“I’m kind of a psychiatrist bartender,” Mr. Joyce said. It was a natural transition for an Irish Catholic New Yorker, he joked. But his wasn’t a direct path from the home in Corona, Queens, where he was raised.

He had a hardscrabble early life with a father who battled alcoholism and a mother who suffered bouts of postpartum depression that led to several breakdowns. At 13, Mr. Joyce followed a schoolmate to Sacred Heart of Verona Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he studied with the Fathers of Verona.

Holidays were spent back in New York, often visiting galleries and museums and hanging out in Greenwich Village’s Washington Square Park. Those were the days when the likes of Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul and Mary and poet Allen Ginsberg dominated the scene.

Although he seemed destined for life as a  priest and is still drawn to religious and spiritual study, Mr. Joyce said he was drawn back to New York to care for younger siblings when his parents became ill.

He ventured to Europe in 1969, where he found inspiration in the works of Velazquez, Géricault and other painters. But the need to keep money flowing again sent him back to New York, where he split his time between bartending and his art.

By the early 1980s, Mr. Joyce aligned with a new spiritual community at the United Nations in New York led by Sri Chinmoy, whose followers included Mother Teresa, Mikhail Gorbachev and Nelson Mandela. He says his spirituality ultimately allowed his art to dominate his life.

Six years ago, after flirting with Greenport residency for almost 30 years, he permanently relocated to the village. In 2008, he opened his gallery, where he sells both his own work and that of other artists.

“I love it here,” Mr. Joyce said.”

He’s living the life other artists tell him they want to lead, he said. His advice to them is simple: Just do it.

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