A draftsman finds pubs require more than pulling a pint

May 18, 1994|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Sun Staff Correspondent

COBH, Ireland -- Baltimore's Paul Bollard pulled his pint of Guinness stout like an Irish poet composing a poem: with care and love and a nice touch of lyricism.

He was very serious as he watched the lovely, dark liquid rise in the glass. Mr. Bollard, a 31-year-old draftsman from Parkville, was trying to win the pub in which he was drawing his pint.

On Monday afternoon, he was one of 10 finalists in the Guinness brewery's "Win a Pub in Ireland" contest. Connie Doolan's, a snug old saloon overlooking Cobh's peach-yellow town hall and estuary of the River Lee beyond, was the pub. Mr. Bollard was trying for "the perfect pint," the deep black elixir topped by a beige foam that rises above the glass like a liquid meringue. "The blond lady in a black dress," romantic (or perhaps tipsy) old-timers used to call it.

Mr. Bollard described the perfect pint in the 50-word essay that won him his trip to Ireland. Guinness culled the 10 finalists from 31,500 similar entries received after the contest was announced on St. Patrick's Day.

"Its colors rise and fall," he wrote, "swirling and changing from almost perfect white, to cream, to tan, to deepest black. A tantalizing eternity. At last, the perfect pint."

Now eight judges, including Ireland's bartender of the year, and a battalion of photographers peered at Mr. Bollard as he allowed his pint to foam its golden cap, then topped it off with a final inch of Guinness. This might be the pint seen round the world. Mr. Bollard trembled a bit on the tap and a small hole formed in the foam. He feared a demerit.

"I pulled back a little; the first one was better," he says. His practice pint, that was. "The Guinness curator of hops took my first pint. I was proud of that."

The curator, Paul Walsh, defined Guinness: "A stout person is a full-bodied person. A stout beer is a full-bodied beer."

"Guinness," Mr. Bollard says, "has a mellowing effect on you and you don't get a hangover." Or put another way: "You probably belch once for every pint of Guinness, six or seven times for each pint of lager."

The judges gave his pint a middling score: 5.5 out of a possible 8. Not bad, though. The best was 6.6. Irish drinkers look for a proper pint. You pull too much of a head and they send it back: "Take the bishop's collar off and make a priest out of that." They want just a thin strip of white showing above the black.

Mr. Bollard led after the first two rounds of the final. He'd scored two bull's eyes in the darts competition for a total score of seven, more than double any of the other contestants.

Grew up in Dublin

He's a good darts shooter. He learned to shoot darts -- and drink Guinness -- here in Ireland, in Dublin, his home town. "A misspent youth," he says.

The finals here in Cobh (pronounced "cove") provided him a visit home. He and his wife, Mary McCarthy, spent the weekend before the finals visiting his two brothers, two sisters, lots of nieces and nephews, lots of aunts and uncles. "I like Baltimore a lot," he says. "But I never get rid of the homesickness."

Mr. Bollard shoots darts in Baltimore down the street from his Parkville home at a pizza place called Maria's or at Eyes on York Road in Cockeysville. He's lived in the United States and in Baltimore for six years, ever since he met Mary, a sociology student at Catonsville Community College. You had to be a resident of the United States to qualify for the contest. But most of the finalists had Irish antecedents. No doubt all Guinness drinkers have a bit of Ireland in them, either before or after downing a pint or two.

Millions of Irish emigrants sailed for America from Cobh, including the grandmother of the ultimate winner of the pub, who was not Mr. Bollard, but John Joseph "Jay" Mulligan, an out-of-work graphics artist from South Boston, Mass.

Mr. Bollard faltered on the third section of the final, which required the contestants to read another 50-word essay on "Why I Should Win Connie Doolan's Pub?"

"I was really proud of the first one," he says. "I'm not too proud of this one."

He never was comfortable with the subject. He sensed the need for an Ireland of leprechauns and Mollie Malone. "Not my thing," he says. His essay was a little slow-footed.

The winning essay

Jay Mulligan's essay danced a jig: "This pub would change my life, perhaps attracting a wife. . . . Living in Cobh would warm my heart. Where are the keys and when do I start!"

"I'm glad it's over," Mr. Bollard says. "I didn't sleep a wink last night."

Jay Mulligan called his mom in Boston right away, like a champion from a Jimmy Cagney movie. The other finalists had themselves a couple more Guinnesses.

And yes, there is a Connie Doolan. He's the director of trade relations for Guinness in North America. The contest was not only mellow fun and games but also a fairly sophisticated public relations strategy that turned out to be hugely successful.

The Doolan pub isn't a 400-year-old tabhairne where James Joyce, Sean O'Casey and William Butler Yeats used to pop in for a pint. Guinness has just remodeled it. It's got the ancient air of an Ikea catalog.

Running Connie Doolan's won't be easy, either. There are 32 competing pubs in Cobh, to serve a population of 6,206 their pints.

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