Geraldine Garvin: Galway chef gives heart to Kirwan’s Lane
Nestled in the heart of Galway city, down the cobbled street of Kirwan’s Lane, is The Lane Wine and Cheese Bar. Having only opened its doors in July, it is one of the Latin Quarter’s newest eateries. With its continental décor and backing track of Irish trad music, it offers an intimate and unique atmosphere unlike anything else in the city. The crowning jewel of this enoteca, however, is not its extensive selection of wines; nor its lively location. It is the woman behind the counter, serving up charcuterie and laughter. Geraldine Garvin is not just a chef; she is a talented professional with a real, tangible passion for the hospitality industry. With over 20 years of kitchen experience, her’s is a story of resilience and devotion to good food.
Geraldine began her career as a kitchen porter in the Spanish Arch Hotel and realised quickly that she had found her calling in life: “Within two weeks I was begging the chefs to do their work,” she remembers: “I thought they were like rockstars.”
When the hotel closed down, Geraldine continued to work as a kitchen porter; in the now-defunct Middle Street restaurant, Vina Mara.
“I started out as a kitchen porter but by the time I had left [Vina Mara], about four years later, I was head chef.”
In four short years, Geraldine had risen through the ranks and made a name for herself as a star to watch; winning numerous prestigious awards. She was even hand-picked to represent Ireland in the World Culinary Cup, where she took home a silver medal.
In 2007, Geraldine opened her own restaurant and guest house in Roscommon – at just 23 years old. When the recession swept the nation a year later, and many restaurants were forced to close their doors, Jackson’s defied the odds and kept its head afloat.
“There was a need for Jackson’s,” Geraldine explains. “We built up a solid customer base in the four years it was open.”
The strain of keeping a business open during the crash meant that Jackson’s “lost its charm a little bit” for Geraldine. She also missed the vibrancy of Galway City. After some deliberation, Geraldine decided to sell her guest house and spent a short stint in India.
Upon returning to Ireland, Geraldine returned to the kitchen before taking a job managing property in Castlebar. In this position, she saved enough money to open Gerona’s Deli and Café on Abbeygate Street in 2017.
After noticing that many restaurants relied heavily on having a “good Friday night and a good Saturday”, she decided to target the weekday market.
“I went after office workers, and that’s exactly what I got,” says Geraldine.
Gerona’s went from strength to strength in the following years, having built up a returning customer base since its opening. 2020 was set to be the year that Geraldine reaped the rewards of all her hard work.
“2020 was supposed to be cha-ching!” she laughs, “pay day”.
Then the pandemic hit.
“When they [office workers] went home, I had literally lost 80 per cent of my business overnight.”
As an independent operator, the cycle of opening and closing her business in line with government restrictions was financially crippling to Geraldine. “It just drained the bank,” she explains. Faced with the tough choice of having to reinvest in Gerona’s just to keep the doors open, Geraldine decided to “rip the plaster off” and close the café she had dedicated four years of her life to.
In the wake of Gerona’s closure, Geraldine had no plans to go back into business; having been scorched by the effects of the pandemic. Taking on work at weddings and other events, she was happily ensconced in the hustle and bustle of catering life; turning down several offers to take over certain Galway premises. Then she met John, her business partner in The Lane.
“He reminds me so much of my brother, I thought ‘this is comfortable’.”
The pair spent several weeks together, “basically just trying to figure each other out,” explains Geraldine; bonding over their mutual love of good food and wine.
“He’s a really nice guy and he has a lovely family,” she says. “When I met his family, I was like ‘yep, I can definitely be a part of this’.”
To the average consumer, a café and a boutique winery may seem to operate in different echelons of the culinary world. Geraldine doesn’t see it this way.
“I don’t have airs and graces. Everything has a purpose, everything slots into different times of the day, and all food is good food, if you make it good.
“It’s good to branch out when you’re a chef and make different styles of food and match it to a certain type of service – keep it fresh, keep it challenging.
“Gerona had no snobbery with it. I wanted to do sausage rolls, and I wanted to do jambons and I said ’hell, I’m gonna make them the nicest sausage rolls and the nicest jambons that anyone’s ever eaten!”
Geraldine has carried her ethos of making good food accessible and affordable into The Lane. In the face of the cost-of-living crisis, Geraldine appreciates that this is important to her customers.
“If you go into a casual dining restaurant, the minimum bottle of wine is 40 euros now, but you can get a really nice bottle of Beaujolais here [The Lane] for under that.
“I find that once people are relaxed about their price consciousness, they relax and drink more – and that’s what you want!”
The relaxed atmosphere in the bar is palpable and attributable to Geraldine’s friendly, laid-back demeanour. She takes pride in being able to offer a safe space for women to socialise and unwind in; away from the predation that so often comes hand-in-hand with nightlife.
“I think it’s the fact it’s a female bartender,” she ponders. “A woman sat here yesterday, and said, ‘I never would go for a drink on my own, and I just passed this place a few times and thought, I can go in there and have a drink’ and that’s exactly what she can do.”
Frequent customer Hannah Rodriguez also shares in the sentiment that The Lane is a uniquely inviting place: “It’s not ageist, there are places [in Galway] that it’s all kids, and there are places where you walk in and it’s like, ok this is Salthill bingo on a Sunday night.
“I can bring my girls in here and it’s one of those places, that you can all go comfortably and that’s relaxed because it’s really hard to find somewhere like that.”
After the closure of Gerona’s, Geraldine never thought she would re-enter the restaurant business. However, with her passion for people and food, it’s obvious that this is where she belongs.
“Even at times, I thought ‘oh god, is this industry worth it?’ but the more places I see closing, I’m kind of rooted in, I have to stay in this business – what will become of it if the career professionals are leaving?
“You have to think of the next generation, you have to pass on your knowledge – you have a sense of duty to do that.”
Her advice to aspiring restaurateurs?
“Offer something well, be humble about it and people will appreciate it.”
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