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November 8, 2007

More on "Irish" pubs

You know what, MB?

You're right.

I have never been to a pub in Ireland.

But I'll bet they don't have big wooden signs that say 'Irish Pub' inside them.

Or flags covering the walls.

Or Irish knick-knacks everywhere.

Do American bars here have American flags and murals of Uncle Sam and apple pie and baseball everywhere?

Of course not.

(Well, maybe in Texas.) 

And, as for what makes me the authority on Irish pubs ... I'm the nightlife columnist.


(Photo of Galway Bay Irish Pub by Barbara Haddock Taylor/Sun Photographer) 

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:56 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Bars & Clubs, Fab Five Fridays


Some Irish pubs I've been in do indeed have irish flags displayed. And while they don't have the knick knacs you see in lot of American Irish Pubs they do have plenty of old Guinness ads up.

In my experience the difference between a good US corner bar and an Irish pub are, Guinness is always available and the pints come in the proper (20oz) size. Oh and US bars tend to have a wider selection of beer and liquor.

As someone who has been to many pubs in Ireland, let me just say a little about my experience. There are certainly big ones with flags and Irish posters on the walls that are a bit too tidy and antiseptic (just a note on the Still - yet another strike against it is that the name used to be "An Poitin Stil" which is gaelic for "at the Moonshine Still." The fact that they lost the gaelic is a major blemish). But the true essence of an Irish pub is a small, worn-in, unpretentious and homey place. One of the best ones I ever went to was in the town of Dingle. It was an old cobbler's shop that was attached to a person's home - you could see the living room through the doors of the pub. It couldn't have been bigger than 20 feet by 20 feet. The walls were still full of old shoes that had never been picked up. We sat around the work table on old kegs, while the family's daughter walked around, picking up pint glasses with one hand and dragging her teddy bear with the other.

Another great one was in rural Galway - half gas station, half pub. The whole "town" came there on Friday nights, and at the end of the night, the younger people capped off the evening singing "Fields of Athenry."

That's why Mike McGoverns and J. Patrick's are the best in Baltimore, for my money, with Mick O'Shea's a close second/third. They're unassuming and welcoming.

Most of the other bars try to hard to be Irish pubs (the Still tries to be a whole block!). They're not bad places. But for authenticity, James Joyce, The Still and Slainte just aren't up there with the others.

Forgive me if I'm duplicating, but I read a long and interesting article a couple years ago about how a company sets up these faux-Irish pubs all over the U.S., with pre-destined knick-knacks, signs, the works. They're really just a pre-fab kind of thing, except the building. I found that very, very odd, and very, very post-modern.

The hallmark of the authentic Irish pub - it is filled with drunks who don't appear drunk, and any number of them have to be drunk during the day. The question isn't best bar that happens to say it is Irish.

Sam, I was not trying to call you in any way; I was surprised that James Joyce would be eliminated so early. I can understand throwing out the Stil because it seems to be kind of like a chain, much like Ryan’s Daughter. But I feel that James Joyce is more like an Irish pub than the rest of them because how it is set-up (the bar and seating), the live music, and even Irish bartenders that know how to pull a perfect pint. When I think of Irish Pubs, I think Mick O'Shea's, Mike McGoverns, J. Patrick's, and James Joyce.

PS- I have seen bars in Ireland that say their name and also have “American Bar” on their sign, and inside they look like a Friday’s.

I've been to Ireland twice and one of my best friends was born, bred, and still lives in Dublin. I've spent many hours in real Irish pubs = pubs in Ireland.

Now really, no "Irish pub" in the US is going to be authentic, because it's not in Ireland. Granted, some feel more real than others. Sometimes things are so overdone that I feel like the place should be part of Epcot.

So what are the criteria? Guinness on draft, most definitely. Jameson on the shelf, absolutely. Other than that, it's all about atmosphere. It should be welcoming, comfortable, and ideally everything should be made of worn wood, in my opinion. And my personal thing, why does no one make curry chips over here??? (Except for Ryan's Daughter, but they're terrible.)

I think we're being hypercritical. Not that I like the Still either, but...

I love Mike McGovern's Irish Pub. It's a great place, a great neighborhood hangout, off the beaten path.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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