Wherever you go on Earth, you find Chinese restaurants and Irish pubs. Then you travel to Asia and you have a revelation: Chinese restaurants are nothing like actual restaurants in China.
By the same token, when you go for a pint at a pub built on bona fide Irish soil, you realize you’ve been settling for the equivalent of orange chicken for far too long.
While even the cheesiest knockoff of a pub has its charms—hey, any place you can consume alcohol is holy ground—after knocking around Dublin (home to Guinness!), Tullamore (home to Tullamore DEW!), and Kilkenny (home to the 36-time All-Ireland Senior Hurling Champions!), I must say there is a better way. Just remember the following rules next time you find yourself entering Jimmy O’Flaherty’s Olde Stout Dispensary, established 2015.
Even now, on wedding days locals often stop in for a drink. I witnessed an entire Kilkenny bridal party in full regalia pop in for a pint before continuing on to the church. (At least, I think they made it to the church.)
1. You should not feel like you’re trapped in the middle of a St. Patrick’s Day parade.
This cannot be emphasized enough. In particular, if you see any plastic green hats mounted anywhere, something has gone horrifically awry. In general…
2. Any Irish stuff should be a little eccentric.
Irish-American pubs tend to be filled with tricolors and reproductions of The Joshua Tree cover. A pub in Ireland may have Irish stuff, too. However, it won’t be the greatest hits of Irishness—or anything involving leprechauns—but rather the deep cuts, like a series of photos of the heroes of the Easter Rising. (We won’t forget your sacrifice, James Connolly.) In one establishment I saw a hurling stick inexplicably autographed by Tiger Woods, which is perfect because it wouldn’t make sense anywhere outside of an Irish pub and, indeed, barely makes sense in one.
3. There should be a divide.
It’s common for pubs in Ireland to be split into “bar” and “lounge” sides. If you choose to head to…
4. The bar side.
You’ll find the TVs, almost certainly turned to sporting events. And if your date is just sick of you staring at LeBron instead of her, you can venture over to…
5. The lounge side.
This side is television free. But don’t worry, there’ll still be entertainment because…
6. There should be live music.
The lounge side will likely feature a group of musicians sitting at their reserved table, playing whatever songs strike their fancy. (And maybe taking a request for a pint or two.) They will likely play acoustic instruments without mics because…
7. Both sides of the pub are a place of conversation.
Tullamore D.E.W.’s Caspar MacRae believes the Irish pub became more popular than the Scottish version due to Ireland being a place where people wanted to chat, while Scotland is for those who believe you open your mouth only to insert additional alcohol. His Irish-born colleague John Quinn agrees, adding, “Here they talk to you whether you want them to or not.”
8. A pub often looks less like a bar than a living room.
After all, it’s a place for people to gather and see friends or meet potential new ones. This makes sense because …
9. The pub has been oddly central to Irish life.
Even now, on wedding days locals often stop in for a drink. I witnessed an entire Kilkenny bridal party in full regalia pop in for a pint before continuing on to the church. (At least, I think they made it to the church.) In general, pubs tend be welcoming of all ages, which is why you see seniors drinking next to 30-somethings drinking next to folks who, quite frankly, seem way too young for a pub. And the pub’s there on less joyous occasions because…
10. The pub has also been oddly central to Irish death.
Sure, everyone heads to there for a wake (just like on The Wire!), but it goes beyond that. Quinn told me it was common for a person to own both the pub and the funeral home, with the result being that your bartender today might be your undertaker tomorrow. And because a man can only do so much…
Traditionally, the pub has a very small menu.
Think about it: He’s tending bar, he’s prepping dead bodies, you expect him to cook too? Even now, an Irish pub will usually have limited grub options and not a whole lot more on the drink side of the equation, because you don’t go into Billy Byrne’s and say: “What can you recommend in terms of a chardonnay?”
Try to keep these things in mind next time you’re seeking an Irish pub. And if it’s nothing more than a green T.G.I. Friday’s playing “Moondance” on a loop, you deserve better, boyo.