MAKING WAVES Tom Ramwell at his boutique wine bar, The Gallery, in the Brewery Place laneway, Westport. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
IT is a salon and a sitting room, located on one of Westport’s dinky lane ways, serving coffees and wines and lots of chatter about vinyl records and savage surf. Meet the inimitable Tom Ramwell, the Mancunian blow-in to the wild west, who runs an oasis from the traffic of main street at The Gallery.
The boutique wine bar is filled with multi-coloured cushions; cool music vibes (The Dynamics, Gregory Isaacs, Santana, Van Morrison); framed photographs; books with such titles as ‘General Amin’, ‘Grammar for Grown-Ups’, ‘Preserving’ (jams, I assume) and, unsurprisingly, ‘Surfing Britain’.
These days Ramwell – whose great-great-grandmother was a Butler from Kilkenny Castle – catches the waves (which have ‘exceeded all expectations’) at Carrownisky or Cross beaches. Well, when he is not busy shooting the breeze with customers – many of whom become regulars and even friends – about his DJ-ing days, latest favourite vintage or the quality of the coffee and local artisan nibbles.
Turns out it was more the smell of the Atlantic and its wild adventure environment than the pungent aroma of coffee or the bouquet of organic wines that first attracted him to Westport.
“The wild west has such a myriad of outdoor adventures, from the fabulous surfing to country trails and mountain routes such as the Nephins – Ireland’s first wilderness area – which I love to explore with my partner. The light and scenery of the west also form an unparalleled canvas for my landscape photography,” Ramwell tells The Mayo News over an early afternoon coffee at The Gallery.
He continues: “There is also a great mix of cultures and interests here, from artisan food producers to artists, architects, poets and musicians.
“The west isn’t quite as wet as Manchester either!” (Ramwell’s revelation comes as a shock to this hack, who has just supplemented her rainproof wardrobe for summer survival.)
“Westport itself has a great atmosphere with something here for everyone, from the amazing food and restaurants to the hopscotch of small, independently owned shops, such as Sea, Sky, Shore; The Quay Gallery; Christy’s Harvest.
It is such a refreshing change from the average city high street,” he observes, before rushing off to serve a family.
Serendipitously, they are from Manchester.
“This happens quite a lot, Áine,” he tells me on his return to our table. “That guy, John, knows the pirate radio stations where I used to DJ.”
So amid indulging in the Mancunian dialect, Tom hears that Peace FM is now called Legacy 90.1 FM.
INDEED, there’s a Manchester origin to The Gallery’s name too.
“Having worked in the field of training for many years, I simply wanted a change and the original idea was to open up a gallery and coffee shop, with the name chosen from an old club in Manchester. It ended up with me pretty much moving my front room into a work space, and after meeting Aron from Bean West Coffee Roasters, it seemed that the only thing missing was wine. The building layout itself dictated where the turntables would go, and where my record collection and books would fit,” he explains.
Ramwell loves the new lessons he learns about the world of wine every day.
“Wine is a great teacher and a wonderfully diverse subject, as it covers so many things – from the weather, local culture and history to soil conditions and grape varieties, not forgetting the massive variation in taste. There are some fantastic wine merchants here in Westport and in the wider geography of Ireland, and I like to offer different wines as well as the obvious, through a combination of research, tasting, listening and asking other wine enthusiasts,” he says.
“Nothing like an early evening game of Jenga, Scrabble or chess over a cheeky, chilled Chardonnay or Viognier, even if the service gets a bit Fawlty Towers,” he says drolly, before explaining to the young woman at the next table that the backtrack is the music of singer songwriter, Mason Jennings. Well, his music is perfect for surfing through The Gallery.
To find out more about The Gallery, Brewery Place, Westport, visit www.thegallerywestport.com or find The Gallery’s page on Facebook.