While at least 94% of the people who go out on St. Paddy's Day claim some Irish blood, we, at Thrillist, were shocked by the lack of a fine compendium of great Irish pubs in this country. Many of the frankly bare-bones lists we did find included chains, nouveau gastropubs, and other choices sure to offend the sensibilities of anyone with even passing familiarity with what a true Irish pub feels like. Incensed, we had no choice but to set loose our two most Irish Catholic editors on a quest to find the top pubs all over the country. As always, let them know what they missed in the comments. Go raibh maith agat.
Technically opened in 1996 by a couple of firemen, the building itself has a much more extensive history involving secret underground gangster escape tunnels and an ill-fated robbery attempt in the '80s when it was called O'Sullivan's (a couple of shotgun-wielding dudes didn't get the memo that it was a cop bar -- it didn't work out for them). The modern incarnation is a touch more subdued, but Jameson on tap and plenty of pints of Guinness at the ready make sure things remain interesting.
With "South Side Irish" being its own ethnic designation in Chicago, it naturally follows that there would be plenty of fine Irish bars there, but few can match the sense of history conveyed by Shinnick's. The impressive mahogany back bar was constructed in the late 1880s, and the Shinnick family has been running the joint nearly as long. George and Mary Shinnick bought the place in 1938 after the dust settled from Prohibition. These days their nine bartending grandchildren are still running it, as the Irish know how to be fruitful and multiply. Bring your drinking shoes. Just don't bring your Cubs gear.
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts
Proving that Doyle's doesn't have hegemony on the Irish pub scene in Jamaica Plain, the Behan is, as it so eloquently puts it, a "talking bar" with no TVs, games, or any other distractions to clutter up conversation. Sure, it has live Irish sessions, and other music, but the point of a place like Behan's is to have a couple of pints and hash out your issues. Or just sit quietly by yourself and sing "The Parting Glass" by The Clancy Brothers as you settle your tab.
Brooklyn, New York
When no less than Martin Scorsese takes a look at your bar and says to himself "this would be the perfect setting for Jack Nicholson to smash Leo's hand in my upcoming film about Irish gangsters," you know you have a fine establishment on your hands. Of course, on normal days you won't find many A-listers bellied up to the massive oak bar, but you will find plenty of shift workers and regulars who've been coming there for decades trading barbs with brogue-sporting bartenders. And that's how it should be.
Everybody loves The Burren: older Tufts students, Irish expats, dudes who just moved here from Cambridge to save money on rent even though it's not really that much cheaper. Everybody. For one, it checks all the Irish-pub boxes (hearty Irish eats? Proper pours of Guinness? A lot of Irish music?), and for two, it was opened by a pair of Irish musicians (Tommy McCarthy and Louise Costello) and truly tries to honor its roots in song by featuring live traditional Irish music every night (learn Irish step-dancing on Mondays with Ger Cooney!) alongside a veritable smorgasbord of other genres.
McGinleys' opened March 1, 1934 (just in time for St. Patrick's Day -- in fact, it boasts the oldest continuous pub celebration in the US), and the descendants of the husband-and-wife team from County Donegal who first presided over it remain owners today. These days they attract some of the world's finest Irish musicians (original owner John was reputed to be quite the whiz on the concertina), as well as Hoosiers with one of the state's most celebrated burgers.
New York, New York
At New York's oldest bar (open since 1854), Light and Dark are your only beer options, the cheese plate comes with a very classy sleeve of saltines, and the wishbones high-wiring it above the bar were piled with so much dust the health inspector insisted they be sanitized. The service is perfectly uncaring and brusque, and yet, if you order one beer, you get two. So they are nice, or something. And since 1970, the place has even allowed women in. Crazy world!
Queens, New York
Since 1966, Donovan's has been slinging pints of stout and delicious, delicious bacon cheeseburgers to Woodside, Queens locals, who pack into cozy dark-wood booths and stare out the church-esque stained glass windows and into the fire, wondering when they're going to get a chance to crush those amazing burgers.
OK, so yes, it has been open since 1860. And yes, it was named after the Irish dude who ran the place and raised his 13 children above the bar. And yes, it does serve the only stout brewed in Ireland (no, not Guinness: O'Hara's Celtic Stout!), alongside two of its own beers (Real Ale and Genuine Lager) brewed special by Stoudt's. But what we're most excited about is the fact that it's got an entire 500-word paragraph in its "History" that just consists of the names of famous people that've been there, including "Brian Krause of Charmed" AND "Kerry King, lead guitarist, Slayer."
Dallas isn't exactly known as a hotspot for Irish pubs that aren't just faux-Irish pubs thought up by some restaurant group looking to diversify from tapas places, but the Dubliner, owned by actual Dublin native Peter Kenny, is another story altogether. Somehow, it blends the traditional Irish pub trappings in its interior with the Texas BBQ joint/beer garden seating on the outside, while also marrying drafts like Guinness, Harp, and Smithwick's to Texas locals like the Franconia hefe. And yet, thanks to Kenny's deft touch, the Irish-Texan thing kind of really works.
St. Louis, Missouri
Started as a one-room pub in 1978, McGurk's has grown into 20,000sqft of all-out Emerald Isleness, with a series of interconnected dining rooms and bars echoing with live Irish music nightly (as in, people come from Ireland to play here) as patrons mow through corned beef & cabbage, bangers & mash, and Baileys cheesecake (American fatness innovations FTW!). Oh, and if that wasn't enough room, it also has a 15,000sqft outdoor garden with a freaking waterfall. And three more bars, naturally.
Tucked off in a residential part of the Mexican War Streets (so named because they are badass/were planned by a Mexican-American War general), Monterey Pub sounds like a place you'd get a pint while driving down the 101 in Northern California. But it, in fact, is a solitary Irish beacon in a row of refurbished Victorian row houses on the Northside. MP features small carved mahogany booths, a fireplace, and a crowd of locals who are equally likely to come for a stout and a traditional boxty, or the more modern takes on Irish fare, like the Guinness shredded beef wrap.
Opened in the mid-'70s by a Dublin-raised retired Detroit police officer, The Old Shillelagh has remained a Motor City staple ever since. Now under a third generation of family ownership, the massive, tented St. Patrick's Day party is legendary, and the free shuttles to all the major Downtown Detroit sporting events and concerts make sure it stays appropriately rowdy the rest of the year.
Now well into its fourth decade, this Savannah institution with an enviable riverfront view is named for an 18-year-old Irish republican fighter who was executed in 1920 for his involvement in an incident that killed three British soldiers. There are no televisions. There is no Wi-Fi. There is, however, a steady rotation of Irish troubadours and folk musicians who play here on the regular in the pub's aptly named "Listening Room." There's also a strong military current running through the bar, with the upstairs "Hall of Heroes" paying tribute to servicemen. Don't leave without having a look around. Also, don't leave without having a whiskey.
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts
Not so much a cafe as it is a legendary local hangout, Doyle's has been around in one form or another since 1882 and is filled with more history than a particularly engaging episode of Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego, thanks to its pre-Prohibition bona fides and the revolving cast of Boston politicians and other known locals who frequent it (Mayor Menino even has a banquet room named after him). And, on top of choice Irish and local beers, Doyle's just happens to sit next to the Sam Adams Brewery, so you can often find it serving special, new, and different styles of Sam that no other places have.
Los Angeles, California
As the story has it, a man named Joe Sheridan invented Irish coffee at the Shannon Airport in 1938, and, soon after, famous SF columnist Stanton Delaplane brought said recipe to Tom Bergin's (and SF, of course), and it's been known as "the house of Irish coffee" ever since. Bergin, a lawyer from Boston with Irish roots, opened the bar in 1935, and it has the second-oldest liquor license in LA County, and, as even more legends have it, the creators of Cheers frequented the bar and used it for inspiration for the show. Though it has since passed on from the Bergin family through two iterations of ownership and was closed for an interval, it's now back and has kept the famed cardboard shamrocks painted with names of regulars that cover the bar's ceiling. And yes, to answer the obvious follow-up: Kiefer Sutherland IS one of them.
New Orleans, Louisiana
With all due respect to the great Kerry Irish Pub, Finn's gets the nod in New Orleans partially due to the fact that it was started by a couple from Belfast, and we've got family in Belfast, but mainly because it's just an amazing place to watch English football and hang out and have a pint. Also, you should watch the video on its site of how its own football club came together after Katrina and helped link up and connect people who'd lost so much. It's damn (Mc)Cool.
Syracuse, New York
Since 1933, this pub up in that frigid town where Rob Konrad played football has attracted a crowd. Though it takes its Irish knickknacks pretty far (the telephone booth for leprechauns outside, for one), the history of the place, free live music on the weekends, proper drafts, and Guinness-battered onion rings keep it on the list. Plus, it exists in the neighborhood of Tipperary Hill, in what used to be an almost completely Irish section of 'Cuse that includes a traffic light with green up top and red at the bottom, a result that came after Irish kids in the 1920s, angry that "the British red" was above the "Irish green," continually broke the light until the city switched it up. So that's pretty much the coolest story ever.
Like most bars, one enters O'Malley's from the ground level. Unlike most bars, entering takes you down a succession of ramps as you descend into a series of cavernous limestone cellars that date to before the Civil War as part of the Weston Brewing Company. The main cellar reaches 55ft below ground and is large enough to accommodate multiple levels of seating and a stage for live music. Today, it's back to brewing its own beer in addition to pouring the expected Irish staples. You will not have any cellphone service. You will not care.
From the fenced-in stone patio overlooking Lake Erie to the eye-catching stained glass backdrop behind the bar, The Harp is one pretty pub. Kind of like harp music, in pub form. But there's substance behind the style, like the live Irish music (not necessarily harp-based), the lineup of boxty (an Irish potato pancake-like concoction -- get it filled corned beef Reuben-style and be happy), and the glorious bit of Irish-American fusion that is a Black & Gold (half Guinness, half Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold).
San Francisco, California
Sure, there are bigger and more well-known Irish pubs downtown in SF, but once the fog starts to roll in at dusk, you'd swear you were in Ireland when inside the Plough, thanks to its dark-wood interior, strongly Irish clientele, and a good chance that -- when there isn't someone playing traditional live Irish music -- someone will have just put on Christy Moore singing a Pogues song.
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