Despite shooting, revamped Groton bar not a 'problem spot'

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Groton — When father-son duo Raymond and Barry “Hubba” Ryan took over the bar at 112 Fort Hill Road, they had one major goal: To turn it back into the neighborhood gathering place it once was.

Hubba Ryan previously had operated the establishment from the 1980s until the early 2000s. When he and his son took over in 2011, after a string of violent incidents, they renovated the bar, adding a new floor and ceiling and knocking down some walls.

And they renamed it, opting for Ryan’s Pub rather than Sully’s Café, which it had been called since it was established in 1951.

They also let troublesome patrons — people who they said played a role in muddying up the bar’s reputation after Hubba Ryan left the business in the early 2000s — know they would no longer be welcome if they didn’t straighten up.

“We did everything that you’re supposed to do to run a clean, safe neighborhood establishment,” Raymond Ryan said by phone Monday night.

When 24-year-old Joey Gingerella was shot and killed in the pub’s parking lot early Sunday morning, the Ryans were shocked not only because their bar had steered clear of such violence, but also because they knew Gingerella personally.

“Everyone is like family here,” an emotional Ryan said. “Joey was part of our family.”

Standing outside the bar Tuesday evening, Groton resident Norm Vanasse agreed on both counts.

“We have people here of every age group,” Vanasse said of the “hometown” pub. “We have people that come down here in wheelchairs to get the wings.”

While he was talking, his old English teacher walked past him, cracking a joke.

“See? That’s the type of place this is,” he said, explaining that he stopped frequenting the bar not long after Hubba Ryan pulled away from it, but has since returned with fervor.

“I think everybody that comes here feels safe,” Vanasse continued. “Nobody would have expected (the shooting) to happen. But things do happen and it happened to happen here.”

Ryan said more than anything he wants the de la Cruzes — Gingeralla was the son of Tammy de la Cruz and the stepson of Joseph de la Cruz — to know members of the Ryan family have them in their thoughts and prayers.

“This is an absolute tragedy,” Ryan said. “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”

Since the fatal shooting, Groton Town police Chief Louis J. Fusaro Jr. said there have been multiple discussions within the department about the reputation Sully’s had in years past.

“All indications are that it’s gotten better under new ownership,” Fusaro said, adding that drinking establishments by nature have a potential for problems.

Hubba Ryan, the younger Ryan explained, had removed himself from day-to-day business operations in the early 2000s because he wanted to pursue other interests. Within a few years, a string of violent events began again.

In 2007, a local man shot another man in the chest at the bar after a dispute over a marijuana debt. The man survived.

In 2008, a group of people beat up and choked to death a man they had been drinking heavily with at Sully's. At another point that year, police responded to a report of shots fired at the bar but found no victims.

In 2009, police charged a man who was involved in a 2004 murder in Norwich with stabbing someone outside Sully's.

In 2011, the Ryans took over, making changes and renaming the place.

Now, five years later, the renewed bar does its part to support the community. It sponsors intramural teams organized through Shoreline Social Sports & Events. It continues to donate thousands of dollars annually to the Jimmy Fund, which supports adult and pediatric cancer care and research. This month, it's collecting bikes, coats and other items for Mystic Area Shelter & Hospitality Inc.

Brittany Hadfield, a Waterford native whose flag football team Ryan’s Pub sponsored, said she began going to the bar after her Sunday games about a month ago.

“We have so much fun there,” she said. “We’ll keep going back.”

Glen Graham, who helps coordinate the bar's annual softball tournament, said fundraisers like it have helped the bar raise more than $2.5 million for the Jimmy Fund since it opened 65 years ago.

"This is a place where everybody comes together and tries to help others in need," said Graham, pointing out that his mother helped run the fundraisers before him.

Groton Town Mayor Bruce Flax said in the almost year he has been mayor, he hasn’t known Ryan’s Pub to be a “problem spot.”

“Hubba is strong in the community, he has family in the community and he has worked to try to bring a better culture to that bar,” Flax said.

“I think that what happened, I’m not sure if it’s a reflection of the bar itself,” he continued. “It could have happened anywhere.”

l.boyle@theday.com

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