For those of us staggering to find an Irish pub on St. Patrick’s Day, chances are we’re not looking for the real deal. Sure, we all like to get a little goose from Irish culture on March 17th (in return for the annually permissible sexual demands of a T-shirt). But the kind of “Irish” we tend to look for on a “green-or-bust” type of ethnic celebration day isn’t what you’d find in Ireland. Not in a pub, anyway.
The thing of it is, most American Irish pubs are a bit, well, loud. Loud about being Irish, loud about pouring Guinness, and just plain loud. Irish Irish pubs, on the other hand, tend to be more like community gathering places. We’re not trying to suggest Irish town bars are like constant PTA meetings with just incidental beer. But they have historically been places where townspeople could meet up, casually and intermittently, and talk. Possibly over a pint. (Remember that study that said people who hit up the local pub are happier and healthier?)
None of this means there aren’t Irish-style pubs that actually come close to the real thing in the States. (And we understand that chasing “authenticity” generally leads to unhappiness and/or condescending Apple commercials.) But we can’t deny that the States does have a loud-and-proud, slightly (ahem) caricaturized subset of “Irish” pubs, a highly marketable and much-abused concept. (And, by god, better than a bottle service lounge or impossibly exclusive speakeasy any day of the year.)
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In case any of this fails to register, or remain registered, come March 17th, here are seven ways to tell the difference between an Irish pub and an “Irish” pub — on St. Patrick’s Day, or any day of the year.
There’s a Neon Clover Sign.
Yeah, the inside is decked out in dark wood and unflattering lighting. But if there’s a neon clover advertising the Irishness of the bar, you’ve got yourself an “Irish” pub (or vice versa). It’s like when someone tells you the joke they just told is funny. It was, a bit. But now that you said it…
There’s a Wall of 30” Flat Screen TVs.
Where Americans go, TV follows. Even into the historically commercial-free sanctity of the Irish pub archetype. Not that some pubs in Irish cities especially aren’t Americanizing—and our apologies—but the classic Irish pub is a blue glow-free kind of place. Unless, of course, it’s haunted by Irish ghosts.
There’s a Karaoke Machine.
Sure, you’re fueled by several pints of watery Guinness (see below), but belting “Fairytale of New York” right now is probably the least Irish thing you could do. Then again, it is a fantastic song.
They Serve Watery Guinness.
Guinness pours thicker in Ireland, and not by some exploitable magic. The thinking goes that it’s thinned out for international export. If you check out beer forums, you’ll find folks asking whether Guinness waters its exports down or whether that’s just the way it is. Per Irish pub savant and author Bill Barich, the Guinness does pour thicker in Dublin.
They Only Serve Guinness.
They Only Serve Jameson.
John Jameson was an actual guy, a distiller who cared enough about the indignity of the column still to help co-write a book condemning the Scots for using it. But if your bar is just serving Jameson, it’s not an Irish pub. It’s a bar, and probably a fun one. But show us some Redbreast and Bushmill’s. Again, at least.
You Have to Shout Over Beyoncé.
No doubt there have been more than a few (thousand) generously vocal arguments at a real Irish pub, but if you find yourself constantly shouting over the Top 40 at your pub, it’s lost some authenticity points. (Now, if you just so happen to be at a pub in Ireland having an argument with Beyoncé, that’s entirely authentic.)
OK. Sláinte and stuff.