The couple and the love story behind Philly’s McGillin’s Olde Ale House

Intrigued by the landscape and armed with food service experience gained working weekends for Williamson’s Catering, 19-year-old Mary Ellen Spaniak found herself a summer job on Cape Cod. Walking down Main Street in Hyannis, she was surprised to see the familiar face of a favorite coworker from back home in Philadelphia, Priscilla Mullins.

As Mary Ellen would soon learn, the Mullins family had Massachusetts roots and spent their summers running Priscilla Cottages on the Cape. Priscilla invited Mary Ellen to join her family for that night’s lobster dinner.

Dinner was cooked by Priscilla’s brother, Chris, who, in addition to working at the family summer rental business, cooked at a local restaurant. Listening to Mary Ellen talk about her summer adventure, Chris could tell his sister’s friend already loved the Cape. After they ate, he asked if she’d like a tour.

“I had a motorcycle, and I could take her to parts of Cape Cod that most people don’t see,” remembers Chris, who is now 74.

“I was not used to motorcycles and I was scared to death, but I trusted Chris, as he was so sure of himself,” said Mary Ellen, now 70. “We went to Scargo Tower and over the lake — which was shaped like a fish. There weren’t any cars, and it was just so beautiful, I couldn’t believe it.”

That night established what would be Chris and Mary Ellen’s routine for the rest of summer 1971: They took his motorcycle through the dunes to Wellfleet on days they didn’t work. Or after their restaurants closed for the night, they met in Hyannis to listen to music at the bars.

“At the end of the summer, I sold my motorcycle and bought a diamond ring,” Chris said.

Back in Philadelphia, Mary Ellen returned to Gwynedd Mercy to finish her bachelor’s degree in education, and Chris returned to Villanova where he was working on a master’s in education for counseling. They both resumed their part-time jobs with Williamson’s — working at different properties had kept them from meeting earlier.

One night in October, Chris called to ask Mary Ellen to dinner, but then Mr. Williamson called and asked her to work. “Alright, go ahead, I’ll see you later,” said Chris, who then lived in West Philadelphia.

They met at the City Line Avenue Marriott for coffee after their shift. They were just walking in when Chris showed her the ring. “I was going to give you this tonight,” he said.

It was on Mary Ellen’s finger by the time they took their seats, but she hadn’t verbalized her answer. The whole experience felt surreal, Mary Ellen said. “It was such a shock — when you are 19, you can’t really comprehend spending your whole life with somebody.”

“So, what do you think?” Chris prompted.

Mary Ellen said yes.

The next day at home in East Falls, she showed her parents the ring.

“I let you go away one summer, and now you want to get married,” said her mother, Lucille.

But by the time Chris was her son-in-law, Lucille understood why Mary Ellen wanted to marry him.

Just over 50 years ago, on May 27, 1972, Mary Ellen and Chris were married in a Catholic ceremony with a full Mass at St. Catherine of Siena. “It was a pretty little church in Germantown that’s no longer there,” Mary Ellen said. There was no middle aisle, so her father, Henry, walked her down one of the side aisles.

The couple tried to keep their reception at Williamson’s at the top of the Germantown Savings Bank building — the GSB — fairly simple, but still had 150 guests. “My mother was one of 16 children,” said Mary Ellen, who herself is the oldest of eight. Jim Williamson gave his two employees a nice discount.

The rock and roll band the couple hired wasn’t to the taste of Chris’ mother, Helen Morley Mullins, as they didn’t know “Old Cape Cod.”

Chris and Mary Ellen’s son, Chris Jr., was born in 1974, and daughter, Morley, in 1976.

Mary Ellen worked as an elementary school teacher in city public and Catholic schools for two years. Chris spent eight years as an elementary school guidance counselor in Prospect Park. But Chris’ father was a chef and Mary Ellen’s was a bar owner, and hospitality came naturally. In 1980, they opened Morley’s Pub in Havertown. A year later they sold the place and opened a second Morley’s Pub in Norristown, which for eight years served lunch to lawyers and jurors during the day and offered Irish music and dinner in the evenings.

When they learned that Mary Ellen’s father and uncle Joe wanted to sell their bar after 35 years, the couple could not resist. In 1993, they purchased the place they’ve worked together for the past three decades: McGillin’s Olde Ale House.

The couple restored the building that’s been a bar since the 1860s, expanded the food menu, began serving local craft beer, and learned how not to drive each other crazy. “When you’ve been married for 50 years, but you also work together, it’s like being married for 100 years,” Mary Ellen said, sending her and Chris into the giggles.

When their kids were in school, Mary Ellen would leave early. “I took care of family life after 4 pm,” she said.

“We never drive to work in the same car, because Mary Ellen would talk about things she needed to do at the business and I would be thinking about what I needed to do and our thoughts collided,” said Chris.

But Chris tends to the flower garden so Mary Ellen can enjoy it without breaking a sweat, and he never gets to the bottom of his coffee before Mary Ellen refills his cup.

“He’s a very positive person, he has a great sense of humor, and he’s very hardworking,” Mary Ellen said. “He loves working in the office, with the numbers, while I’m better out front.”

“She has an amazing personality — she is so engaging,” said Chris. “She can tell you who she sat next to in kindergarten — she has this most amazing ability to remember people, and that makes her a fabulous host. We are both in the business of making people feel comfortable and welcome, and she is especially adept at that.”

Mary Ellen and Chris enjoy collecting other people’s love stories. “It’s hard to estimate how many, but we know that hundreds of people have met at McGillin’s,” said Chris. “That started long before we got here.”

The growing collection of stories is now kept in a special guest book called Love Letters — the idea of ​​Chris Jr., who now handles most of the day-to-day operations and saw the value in recording this part of the bar’s history. “We ask people who met here or got engaged here to sign the book,” Chris Sr. said. “The oldest people in our book met here in the ’50s. In the ’60s, a lot of people met on Wednesday nights, which was a big night to hang out after the stores closed at 9.”

What is it about McGillin’s?

“They just see someone across the room dancing or singing karaoke and they think, ‘This is the one,’ ” said Chris Sr. “Maybe it’s magic, who knows?”

Mary Ellen thinks she might know: “The beer and the wine help.”

The couple, their daughter, and her husband, Jason, and their four grandchildren will be celebrating Mary Ellen and Chris’ 50th anniversary with a Disney cruise in Europe. Chris Jr and his partner, Bill, will meet up with everyone in London.

As lovely as it’s been to see Chris Jr. take the reins, his parents aren’t planning a full retirement any time soon.

“Chris is going to die behind the bar,” Mary Ellen jokes.


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