A man walks into a bar. He then discovers his love for the business, buys a bar and turns himself into a Binghamton icon. This is not the beginning of a riddle, but the life of a local legend. A legend named Larry Shea.
If you haven’t heard of Larry Shea, then we’re certain you’ve never stepped onto State Street. It doesn’t matter if you love JT’s or if The Rat is your go-to spot, it’s pretty impossible to spend four years Downtown and to not have heard Larry’s voice flowing from Tom & Marty’s.
BU club rugby player, political science major, marathon runner and self-proclaimed “Netflix and chill guy,” Larry Shea is Binghamton born, educated and thriving.
And while he was an honors student in high school, he’ll be the first to admit that throughout college, his GPA took a backseat to his BAC.
“I was a horrible student, proudly,” said Shea, who attended Binghamton University for six years between 1989 and 1995. “I was a classic case of the guy who was out five nights a week enjoying myself and missing class. We used to have a pub on campus — let’s say I was well known there.”
Maybe this was foreshadowing to his future Downtown fame, or maybe just coincidence. Regardless, Shea took his passions and turned them into profit, working at The Sports Bar, a long-gone State Street establishment. It was there, he said, that he gained his first taste of really managing nightlife.
And after that, he was hooked.
“I’d drive around and try to get a real job and all, but I kept coming back,” Shea said. “The fourth time I [went back to Binghamton] was in my late 20s, and I said to my brother, ‘why don’t we actually just buy a bar?’”
And thus, 11 years ago, Larry and his brother bought Tom & Marty’s. Opened in 1946 by Tom Mantis and Marty Moore, the Shea brothers bought it from Mantis’ son.
Shea currently co-owns the bar with his brother, Michael, whom he credits as the more level-headed of the duo. He may not be the face of the place, but you’ll recognize him.
“He’s the bald guy who works the door on the weekends,” Shea said. “He runs the kitchen and does all the business-related stuff. He bought a house, he grew up.”
As for Shea, he lives above Tom & Marty’s with his four cats. Monday is his day off, though he prefers to spend his time connecting with patrons from across the bar.
“I have Family Feud, I have a shot wheel,” Shea said. “But really building a business is about getting to know people. A bunch of people come to hang out at my place.”
According to Shea, even though the size of the University has grown, the bar business has dropped since he first opened Tom & Marty’s 11 years ago.
“You guys are goddamn nerds,” Shea said. “Socializing definitely takes a backseat to scholastics. Harvey Stenger can be proud.”
Shea also said he boasts an almost conflict-free record. He said he only gets angry if patrons are aggressive. By stifling issues early, Shea said, he ensures a fight-free night.
“Anytime you’re making people feel unwanted, or are angry and exclusionary,” he said, “you will not be welcome here.”
According to Shea, open-mindedness makes for an eccentric crowd and his doors are open to anyone.
“There’s really no pretentiousness here,” he said. “There’s no defining group.”
He said his patrons perpetuate the culture he promotes, and his iconic nature is a reflection of him achieving his goals.
“The best way for me to be happy and enjoy running a bar, is try to make the bar and the staff a reflection of my personality and the crowd’s personality,” he said.
Even if you’re a regular at Tom & Marty’s, don’t be upset if Shea still doesn’t know your name. According to him, he loves his crowd but gave up on names years ago.
“I don’t do names, it’s too much and too confusing. But in terms of recognizing people, what group they’re in and what drink they are, I know,” Shea said. “There are certain people I look forward to seeing — and some that I roll my eyes over — but I know my crowd without a doubt.”
The proof is in his philosophy, as he says “it’s really one customer at a time.”
“It is obviously a business,” Shea said. “But, you know I could have become a banker if I wanted to just make money. So [I] do it in a way which I like what I do and I have fun.”