Just because you can throw a rock pretty much in any direction in Boston and hit an Irish pub, doesn’t mean they are all the same, or good. I’ve seen a few “Irish pubs” lists lately, and sometimes what gets included are not truly all Irish pubs (seriously, I saw a Chinese restaurant on an Irish pub list yesterday).
So what constitutes an Irish pub? Well, first, the obvious: if they don’t have Guinness on draft, it’s not an Irish pub. Preferably they have Smithwick’s and Murphy’s too.
An Irish name helps, but simply naming a place something Irish-sounding does not an Irish pub make.
Irish pubs do not do ‘tinis’. Oh, they’ll make you a great drink, and sometimes even have a list of creative Jameson cocktails, but there is rarely a martini glass in sight at a good Irish pub. And certainly nothing with a “chocolate drizzle.”
Irish pubs are not about the decor. They don’t need to tack up shamrocks to the wall to prove their stuff.
Really, what it’s about is the atmosphere. Irish pubs feel comfortable. They’re “come as you are” type of places. If you’re a new patron walking in, you should leave feeling like a regular. On your second visit you’ll be a regular. On your third visit, the barman will know your drink order before you ask.
So, in honor of St. Patrick’s day, here’s our highly subjective list of the Irish pubs that are worth going to.
The Black Rose
Boston, near Faneuil Hall
This is one of about a dozen (at least!) Irish pubs in the Faneuil Hall/Financial district of the city, but it’s the only one we regularly go to, because in our opinion it’s one of the most legit in that area. Yes, due to its location there’s the typical tourist crowd, but there’s also a LOT of locals here, and just about the entire staff is Irish. I swear, I think this is the first stop for all émigrés from Ireland.
The downstairs can be quite loud, especially when they have live music, but there’s also a quieter upstairs with another bar and a fireplace.
Oh, and they actually have the best bangers & mash in the city, period. Colcannon mash, stout-and-onion sausages, Magners gravy. Seriously awesome food.
Davis Square, Somerville
The Burren is absolutely authentic, no frills, with lots of Irish and other beer on draft and good, solid food. Many evenings, local fiddlers sit in the front room playing Irish music. The back room has another bar, and more tables, and is where you can hear some great local music on the weekends. Their weekend brunch is particularly good and inexpensive.
Union Square, Somerville
It took us a few years to visit this local pub near our house, but once we did we kicked ourselves for not discovering it sooner. A small, long space inside with just a handful of tables and a dozen or so bar seats, but the food that gets turned out of the closet-sized kitchen is WAY better than average pub food. They do everything fresh, from scratch. Seriously. Fish dishes are always fantastic, and the veggie burger–hand-ground with chickpeas–is one of the better ones I’ve had anywhere.
They also have one of the more extensive beer lists around, and have a decent wine selection too. The owner and staff are all incredibly friendly and nice, and they have live music most nights. The do a couple of nights a week of roots rock reggae, which always draws a big crowd.
Inman Square, Cambridge
Very unassuming looking from the outside, the Druid is another tiny place with really great food. The menu is small (a good sign), and a recent visit proved enlightening: a lamb dish with curry that could have been made in a high-end restaurant, and a surprisingly delicious grilled cheese and tomato sandwich with a perfectly dressed green salad, worthy of any downtown fancy lunch café.
Oh, and of course, Guinness on draft.
Do you have a favorite Boston Irish pub not mentioned here? Share it in the comments.