SARATOGA SPRINGS – In a city where wagering is big business, Joan Desadora was betting on a longshot.
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a stranglehold on The Parting Glass, the Irish pub Desadora has owned since 1981. With her business in dire straits, Desadora took a chance that she equated to purchasing a lottery ticket. With the help of her family, she put together a video application that she sent to Dave Portnoy, the founder of sports and culture media company Barstool Sports, who has raised millions for a fund that will help prop up bars, restaurants and other small businesses crippled by pandemic-related shutdowns and restrictions.
“I thought it was like buying a lottery ticket,” said Desadora, who will turn 81 next month. “You know you’re not going to win, but there’s a glimmer of hope.”
With no expectations her Hail Mary attempt would bear fruit, Desadora was on her computer Monday night preparing a sign that would announce The Parting Glass’ closure for the rest of the winter — and, maybe, for good.
That’s when the FaceTime call came to Desadora’s phone. And on the other end was Portnoy, the brash, outspoken, often controversial face of Barstool, telling Desadora that The Parting Glass had been picked.
It was an emotional, unbelievable moment for Desadora, who was deep in debt trying to keep The Parting Glass going in the face of the pandemic.
“I told him, ‘Dave, I’m sitting here with Vistaprint on my screen composing the sign that I have to put up [that we’re] closed,’” Desadora said. “We couldn’t hang in there any longer. Every single one of my features, they took away. Every single one. I’ve gone into such debt just to keep up my family, my grandchildren, everybody works there. . . . I’ve done it for almost a year now, I can’t do it much longer.”
Portnoy’s intervention came as Desadora was on the brink of shutting down just months shy of The Parting Glass celebrating its 40th birthday in March.
After falling in love with Ireland in 1980, Desadora purchased the former Rocco’s Royal Spring Grill on Lake Avenue with the intention of transforming the space into a traditional Irish pub.
“I walked in and I fell in love with the 100-year old bar, the wood bars, because it looks just like the pubs in Ireland,” Desadora said. “I walked down to the cellar with my realtor and stepped in water up to my knees, and he said, ‘You really want this place?’ I said, ‘Yes. Sign it. Give me the papers.’”
Desadora said she doesn’t drink, never wanted to open a bar and, as the product of a “old-fashioned Italian family,” never expected to find herself in the position of opening a traditional Irish pub, but she fell in love with the role of the local pub in Ireland as a community gathering place.
“I wanted to duplicate the real, real traditions of Ireland,” she said.
Since opening on St. Patrick’s Day in 1981, The Parting Glass has become an institution in Saratoga Springs, with Desadora clinging tightly to the pub’s traditional Irish roots.
It was just before St. Patrick’s Day last year when pandemic-related shutdowns forced the closure of in-person dining across the state, immediately throwing The Parting Glass’ business into tumult.
“Two days before St. Patrick’s Day, I had 32 kegs tapped,” she said. “They can’t take that back once it’s tapped. I had 1,000 pounds of corned beef and had to throw it away. We’d already started to cook it.”
Before Barstool’s intervention, Desadora said she was planning on closing for the winter with the hope of possibility reopening later in the year, with the understanding that would be extremely unlikely considering the massive costs she’d have to incur.
A 40-year journey looked to be on its last legs.
“Those are the memories I would’ve had to give up,” she said. “Not only the financial, it’s the memories of what I did, what I created. It’s really a bummer for your pride and your ego to go out on that note.”
Watch the full reveal video below:
Portnoy launched The Barstool Fund in December, as the founder of the popular media company that’s drawn its share of controversy over the years for purveying raunchy and misogynistic content, made a personal donation of $500,000. Since then, the fund has raised more than $22 million and helped more than 100 small businesses while receiving contributions from a number of celebrities, including Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Guy Fieri and Kid Rock.
Portnoy has posted the video of his FaceTime calls with the owners of each of the businesses that the fund is supporting, drumming up further donations.
Portnoy posted the video of his FaceTime with Desadora Thursday on his social media pages.
“It’s an amazing story,” Portnoy said during the call. “Everything about you seems amazing.”
“You’re amazing,” Desadora replied. “I love your energy.”
When Desadora told Portnoy about getting ready to print up a “closed” sign, he told her, “The good news is, you can rip that up.”
Desadora said she found Portnoy funny, and while she doesn’t necessarily approve of all of his language, she added, “I’m getting used to it. It’s part of his personality.”
The Barstool Fund did not respond to requests through email and social media for comment.
Desadora put together her application while quarantining at home. She highlighted the pub’s history, where as a music venue The Parting Glass has hosted multiple Grammy winners and famed Irish music acts to its stage, and as a popular spot for the thoroughbred racing community with Hall of Fame patrons including trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith.
Portnoy, a horse racing fan himself, appreciated that legacy.
“That’s what he’s trying to save,” Desadora said. “He’s trying to save these older restaurants that have stayed alive despite all these [chain] restaurants. We’ve held in there, us older restaurants, and [Portnoy] did what the government couldn’t do. The [federal Paycheck Protection Program] is great, but you can only spend that on payroll. Payroll is less than 5 percent of my overhead expenses.”
Financially strapped, Desadora took out loans just so she could pay her school taxes. Now, she’s got a commitment from Portnoy to help fund the business through the pandemic.
“I’m going to get my first check for January within 48 hours,” she said. “And every month, you’ll get a check until this is over. He said, ‘We’re going to check in with you monthly until the pandemic is over.’ He said if he runs out of money in the fund — and he’s raised $22 million — he’ll use his own money.”
And, on the call, Portnoy said he’s hoping to make a visit to The Parting Glass during one of his annual trips to Saratoga Springs — once fans are allowed to return to Saratoga Race Course.
While Desadora told Portnoy that she doesn’t go to The Parting Glass much anymore — her two daughters handle day-to-day operations at the pub — she’ll make sure to drop by and meet up.
“Let’s hope we’ll have a date where horse racing’s back,” Portnoy told Desadora. “I’m there every August. I’ll have to have a pint.”