When Donald and Terry O’Brien were looking for a new location for O’Briens Public House, their nearly 2-year-old family-run restaurant, a 184-year-old building in downtown Troy, N.Y., caught their eyes.
“My heart was set on the building, because it has so much history,” Terry O’Brien says.
Built c. 1829, the building on Third Street served variously as a stable and livery, bar, hotel, photography unit, and residence (most notably for the Reverend William Irvin, a prominent local resident). From 1897, it served as the Windsor Café and was converted to the Windsor Hotel in 1896.
But it is best known for its years operating as the Trojan Hotel, a name it took on in 1915.
On any given day, the Trojan Taproom, housed in the building’s basement, was a popular hangout for the town’s politicians. For a time in Troy’s history, the mayor had his own seat there, permanently reserved for him.
“It was a political haven down there for the longest time,” O’Brien says.
But for the O’Briens, the history is also personal: Donald’s godparents owned the building in the 1960s, and his parents first met there and held both their wedding reception and their 25th anniversary party at the hotel.
The building had not been occupied since it closed in 2002. At one point during its decade-long vacancy, another prospective buyer proposed tearing the hotel down to create a parking lot.
“But we don’t need more parking lots,” O’Brien says. “We need buildings to be restored.”
When the O’Briens purchased the 19,269-square-foot building in July, it was in “very, very poor shape,” O’Brien says.
But much of the historic fabric was still intact. The couple, with the help of local contractors, is restoring the original exposed brick, windows, woodwork, and hardwood floor, using salvaged materials to make repairs when possible. The sign on the front of the building, at more than 100 years old (the original was destroyed in a fire), is also staying in place.
O’Briens Public House, which the couple runs with the help of their two children, will be located on the first floor of the building, where the ballroom, with its original period lighting and wainscoting intact, is located. The O’Briens are aiming to open its doors next month.
And they are working to return the Trojan Taproom to the basement by next March, restoring it to how it looked in the 1870s.
“We’re going to bring back as much history as we can back into this building,” O’Brien says.
The O’Briens have received a great deal support from the community, especially as the city’s downtown is seeing a major renaissance.
Says O’Brien, “We’ve lived in Troy most of our whole lives, and we’re very excited to be a part of its future.”