Corktown was settled by Irish immigrants fleeing the Great Famine of the 1840s. But just as "Poletown" is decidedly less Polish than it was a century ago, Corktown is more Irish in spirit alone than anything else anymore. That doesn't stop those with a 4.2% Irish heritage from their great-great-great-great-grandmother from becoming instant Irish nationalists come mid-March. And like the actual Irish, they need places to drink!
Rather than just round up a bunch of loosely Irish bars, we decided to ask some guys named Sully for their opinions on the best Irish-ish pubs for tippling, as they seemed like the ideal source. However, this not being Boston, Sullys proved to be in short supply. But we DID find Kuhnhenn Brewing Company head brewer Phil Sullivan, who may not actually go by Sully (hence the asterisk), but who does have a full 50% Irish descent (which puts him at a higher shamrock percentage than most Detroit St. Paddy's Day revelers). Besides, who better to trust with the question of where to drink than the man behind one of Michigan's finest breweries?
"It’s okay." Pretty much. It's a thing that people do, like drinking Hand Grenades on Bourbon St during their first visit to New Orleans, or paying $200 to get into an asses-to-elbows superclub on the Las Vegas Strip on a Saturday night. It's guaranteed to be an absolute train wreck of humanity, and you'll probably hate it and hate yourself for doing it, but you kind of just have to experience it once. But probably only once.
"This would be my No. 1 for sure -- but is it even Irish anymore?" Well, Phil, it did indeed drop the "Foran's" from its name a few years back, in effect dropping whatever overt Irish-ness the name entailed. But as soon as March rolls around every year, Detroit's first all-Michigan craft beer bar, the Grand Trunk, becomes as Irish as anywhere else -- and we can confirm that the bar is always fully stocked with Jameson, which is all you really need anyway. And who needs Guinness when there's New Holland's The Poet stout on draft?
"This is my No. 2 spot. We [Kuhnhenn folks] go down there all the time for St. Patrick's Day or whatever." "What makes it the best?" "The whiskey!" Indeed. It's right there in the name. As Phil says, "How can you go to Nancy Whiskey and not get whiskey?" Answer: you don't. Best you start ordering up some shots. Bonus: Nancy Whiskey celebrates "Whiskey Wednesdays" every single week with $1 PBRs and $3 Jameson shots, because there are 364 other days in the year besides St. Paddy's.
"PJ's Lager House is pretty sweet, plus you can bar-hop down there [in Corktown]." Yep, and that is a distinct advantage on St. Patrick's Day -- or any other day, for that matter -- when having to operate a motor vehicle is less than ideal. Plus, it has tasty food and live music, because an Irish bar without live music is not much of an Irish bar at all. ("But is PJ's really an Irish bar?" IDK, is Rosie O'Grady's? It's got that whole green thing going on, and it's in Corktown. Close enough.)
"Absolutely!" Phil says when asked if he digs Danny's. This is because everyone digs Danny's. It's a hole-in-the-wall dive in Downtown Ferndale, where hole-in-the-wall dives are in increasingly short supply. Owner Dan Reedy makes the place what it is -- a totally chill spot to knock back a few beers and whiskey shots (Irish whiskey, of course) and shoot the sh*t with your fellow man. Don't miss the opportunity to engage Danny in some authentic Irish-style storytelling.
"Nemo's is pretty cool." Yeah, it's not bad! Kinda dive-y, but in a charming, tin-ceilinged kind of way. Good burgers. Cheap booze. Shuttles to sports games. It's a Corktown classic, and it definitely channels the spirit of St. Patrick during the Detroit St. Patrick's Parade, as does everywhere else in Corktown.
Okay, so definitely not an Irish bar, but Kuhnhenn does celebrate St. Paddy's Day with the best of 'em, and since our representative "Sully" works there, we thought it only fitting to include it here. Kuhnhenn's annual St. Patrick's Day "Breakfast of Champions" blowout has become the stuff of local beerie legend, right up there with its ridiculous Winter Solstice parties. It opens at 7am, serving its "Breakfast of Champions" beers, with flavors like Lucky Charms, Captain Crunch, Cocoa Puffs, etc. With its new and MUCH bigger Clinton Township location finally open, Kuhnhenn is doubling down on the firkin good fun!
Honorable mentions: there are some fine spots throughout Metro Detroit that deserve mention, but we at least want to call out some other top-notch spots in Corktown: St. Cece's Pub, McShane's Irish Pub, the Gaelic League, and Corktown Tavern. For farther-flung suburbs offering authentic Irish pub experiences, check out Sean O'Callaghan's in Plymouth, Dick O'Dow's in Birmingham, O'Connor's Public House in Rochester, and Conor O'Neil's in Ann Arbor.
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1. The Old Shillelagh349 Monroe St, Detroit
2. Grand Trunk Pub612 Woodward Ave, Detroit
3. Nancy Whiskey2644 Harrison St, Detroit
4. PJ's Lager House1254 Michigan Ave, Detroit
5. Danny's Irish Pub22824 Woodward Ave, Detroit
6. Nemo's Bar & Grill1384 Michigan Ave, Detroit
7. Kuhnhenn Brewing Co.5919 Chicago Rd, Warren
The Old Shillelagh is an iconic Irish pub in the heart of Detroit's Greektown. It’s old, it’s dingy, but that means you're getting the authentic and time-honored pub drinking experience. Shillelagh's regularly hosts a band on its upper level; downstairs, you'll find your standard order of Guinness, Jameson, and Jager. With a St. Paddy’s Day celebration this unparalleled -- you can't ask for better!
Detroit's Grand Trunk Pub, sometimes referred to as Foran's, has a storied history as home to a variety of random local businesses. This place was once a jewelry store, a railway ticket office, and possibly the home of a Harry Houdini magic shop. Nowadays, it offers over 170 craft beers, killer deep-fried pub food platters, and an Irish pub good-time atmosphere. They also host regular beer dinners and one of the best brunches in the city.
Established in 1902, Corktown’s Nancy Whiskey holds one of the oldest liquor licenses in Detroit. Besides pour whiskey, the Irish pub, inhabiting the ground floor of an old corner building, does other thing right: fry seafood. Fish ’n’ chips, battered cod and seafood tacos are all the rage at a weekly fry. Live music on the weekends and television sets reliably tuned to Lions, Tigers and Wings games keeps the ‘Cheers’ atmosphere alive.
This longstanding Corktown joint is known for raucous rock shows, Cajun fried fare, and its rowdy vibes. Case in point: back in the 2000s', PJ's played host as a hangout for the likes of rowdy DET indie rockers The White Stripes and The Von Bondies. Come for the mosh pits, and stay for the gumbo and fried pickles!
Danny's Irish Pub in Ferndale is ideal if you're looking to add some, um, culture into your weekend bar plans. Littered with Irish pride from the green ceiling lights to wall decor, the neighborhood bar is known for its jukebox, pinball machines, cheap drinks, and casual atmosphere. Also of note: Danny's affordable and tasty bar menu-- burger and a beer for $8, what's good!?
Find Nemo in Detroit. This 50 plus year old Corktown favorite not only provides Irish pride and a casual atmosphere in the form of Jameson, Guinness and Jager, but also hosts its own fleet of shuttle buses offering rides to Detroit sports games and other events. It really doesn't get any better than cheap drinks and free transportation.
With over 25 handcrafted beers made on site, Kuhnhenn Brewing Co. has something for everyone-- beer aficionados, novices, casual drinkers, and everyone in between ("Are Porters super hoppy?"). If beer isn't for you, however, the brewery has you covered with its house-made wines, mead, and cider.