How Gus’ Snug Brings Northern Ireland to Downtown Clawson

Take a closer look at the new Irish pub in Clawson and find out how the ”snug” came to be.
Gus’ Snug celebrates Ireland’s culture and history while offering a cozy space for the locals to hang out. // Photograph by Rebecca Simonov

Once upon a time in Ireland, it was considered impolite for men and women to drink in public together, as the men thought the ladies ought to be shielded from the rougher elements of pub culture. Never ones to be left out of a good party, the ladies and publicans of Ireland came up with an ingenious solution: the snug.

Nestled into the corners of every traditional pub in every town in Ireland, the snug is a small, screened-off room attached to the bar where women and sometimes clergy members could enjoy a wee nip away from the prying eyes of the menfolk.

The snug is a clever and architecturally elegant part of Irish culture. Inside, gossip was exchanged, love matches were made, property deals were sealed, and the general everyday business of the parish was supervised.

Today, you can still find these testaments to Irish community dotted across the landscape in traditional pubs. They’re a little tougher to find in the States, despite Americans’ deep fondness for a good Irish pub. Dimitry Goyfman and his business partner, Kevin VanDyke, noticed that lack and set out to remedy it, opening Gus’ Snug in downtown Clawson in December of 2023.

Goyfman and VanDyke were no strangers to Irish pubs, having opened O’Connor’s Public House in Rochester in 2005. O’Connor’s was designed and built in Ireland, then shipped to America and assembled by a qualified team, right down to the Guinness-approved insignia and décor. Since then, the team at O’Connor’s has made the bar and restaurant a staple of community gatherings.

With VanDyke, Goyfman plans to do the same with Gus’ Snug. “Clawson is a super tight-knit community that needs a good local place to hang out,” he says.

Gus’ Snug — in the former Moose Winooski site on Main Street — trains its staff to pour a proper pint of Guinness. // Photograph by Rebecca Simonov

Irish hospitality, and, by extension, metro Detroit hospitality, is about more than the look of a pub. “When I first got involved with this, I said, ‘What is an authentic Irish pub?’ After my first time traveling to Ireland, I really figured out what it was, and it wasn’t what it looks like. It’s really about being a place for the community where everybody feels comfortable going.”

To get a sense of what he wanted Gus’ Snug to embody, Goyfman took his contractor, Joe Morris, on a weeklong trip around Ireland, stopping in small-town pubs every chance they could. Much of the final product at the new Clawson spot reflects one locale not commonly referenced in Midwestern Irish pubs, though. Goyfman felt an immediate connection to the culture of Belfast in Northern Ireland.

It’s a fitting connection, the Belfast-Detroit one. Both are industrial powerhouses that saw their production heyday in the early 20th century — Detroit with automobiles and Belfast with massive steamships and ocean liners.

Tributes to Belfast’s industrial legacy line the walls of Gus’ Snug, including antique photos of the shipyards and a cheeky mural of the Titanic, perhaps Belfast’s most famous product, sinking into a glass of Jameson Irish whiskey. Other touches in the bar echo the Rochester location, like custom stained-glass decorations modeled after the ones that O’Connor’s Public House received from a decommissioned church in Ireland.

More than the décor or even the perfect pint of Guinness, though, the soul of the snug is all about community and celebration for Goyfman.

“In every town, there’s a church, there’s a pub, there’s a grocery store,” he says. Goyfman is committed to making Gus’ Snug a place “where everybody celebrates a birthday, getting married, and any kind of event happens there. To me, that’s an Irish pub. When I see in my pub [that] people are bringing their babies on their first time out of the house,” or when a pub hosts a traditional wake for an Irish family, “that’s the real Irish pub spirit.”

But What About the Drinks?

Photograph by Rebecca Simonov

Goyfman made sure that his staff received full training on pouring the proper pint of Guinness: with a two-part pour and a generous head.

In addition to offering classics like Irish coffee and a full roster of Irish whiskies, Gus’ Snug incorporates local elements for its house cocktails, such as the Dublin old-fashioned, with house-made Guinness simple syrup, and the Kerry Pippin, with Ferndale’s Valentine Distilling Co. gin.

For its first St. Patrick’s Day, the snug will celebrate with live music and tents outdoors beginning at 7 a.m. You can take the pub out of Ireland, but here in metro Detroit, the spirit of hospitality is still roaring strong.

This story is from the March 2024 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition.