A Pint-size Tour

These Baltimore pubs satisfy a thirst for all things Irish

March 17, 2007|By Rob Hiaasen and Kevin Cowherd | Rob Hiaasen and Kevin Cowherd,Sun reporters

It's St. Patrick's Day, and you're thinking of putting down the remote, changing out of your velour sweats and popping into an Irish pub for a pint of Guinness, some corned beef and cabbage, and Irish music.

The problem is, you're sort of a recluse (velour sweats?) and don't really know where to go to enjoy the day. So to help, a couple of Sun reporters set out recently on a quest to visit a number of Irish bars in the area, sample the food, drink and conviviality, and write down their impressions. (Dirty job, someone had to do it, etc.)

Be forewarned: If you're looking for the quaint Irish pub of misty memory, with rough-hewn wooden tables, sawdust floors, a turf-fire crackling in the fireplace, and ruddy-faced men, women and children of all ages laughing, singing and dancing to traditional Irish music, you'll be disappointed.

The American version of the Irish pub is more likely to feature lots of polished wood and brass, Irish knickknacks, a menu that skews more to Buffalo wings than bangers and mash, rock music blaring over the sound system when the trio on stage playing a stylized version of "Danny Boy" and kill-the-Brits music takes a break, a college basketball game on the flat-screen TVs and the usual low-hanging clouds of cigarette smoke.

(Smoking is banned in Irish workplaces, including its 11,000 pubs, when Baltimore's smoking ban starts Jan. 1.)

Nevertheless, here's a purely subjective look at some places you may want to visit today.

Maggie Moore's 21 N. Eutaw Street 410-837-2100

Vaulted tin ceilings, stained glass windows; we didn't know whether to say a Hail Mary or order a pint. But this Irish saloon in the former Eutaw Savings Bank building - the mahogany bar was once the bank counter - has a great selection of Irish beers including Guinness, Harp and Smithwick's, Magners Irish Cider, and Irish whiskeys such as Jameson, Bushmills, Powers, Redbreast and Midleton Rare. (As far as food goes, five words: Maryland crab and corn chowder.)

Manager Mick MacEoin said there are seven Irish natives on the staff, and bartender Colm Kirwan said the joint is packed in the summer with patrons watching Gaelic football on TV.

Which reminds us of something we once heard: "What makes a great Irish bar?"

Answer: "Irish employees."

Ryan's Daughter 600 E. Belvedere Ave., Belvedere Square 410-464-1000

The Irish do many things well: laugh, drink, fight, dance, curse, sing, tell stories, write stories. But Irish cuisine is not generally acknowledged as a strength of the republic.

(Note: Reporter Kevin Cowherd grew up on Irish food, owing to a mother and aunt who hailed from County Roscommon in the old country. The reporter had a happy childhood but does not exactly get misty-eyed thinking back on some of the Irish dishes prepared for him in his youth.)

(Note: Rob Hiaasen is Norwegian and doesn't know a banger from a Bushmills.)

Nevertheless, the fish and chips ($15.99) at Ryan's Daughter were terrific. The owners boast that the Guinness-battered and fried cod fillets are "The Best in Town!"

And on the sound system - Van Morrison's "Brown-Eyed Girl." No complaints here.

James Joyce 616 S. President St. 410-727-5107

On the Saturday night we visited this charming bar, with its dark decor and rooms divided by high wood partitions, the place was mobbed. A doorman had opened the door for us - a nice touch.

Listening to the brogue of the Irish bartender, sipping a creamy Guinness and watching rugby on the flat-screen TV, it was almost possible to believe you were actually in Ireland - until the guy on stage launched into a dirge-like rendition of Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road" and a woman at the next table shouted to the waiter: "Another Bud Light here, hon."

A guy at our table - let's call him Sean - mustered: "This is like an American bar trying to be an Irish bar that is trying to be an American bar." We think he said that.

J. Patrick's Irish Pub 1371 Andre St.

410-244-8613

Hard by the landmark Domino Sugar sign, this windowless, unpretentious Locust Point fixture has all the charm of a basement rec room.

But the people are friendly, the beer is cold and reasonably priced, a video-poker machine sits in the corner and an Irish-music band plays on most nights. (The band Rigadoo was whipping the crowd into a frenzy - OK, we exaggerate - with its version of "Black Velvet Band" when we walked in.)

No TV competes against the music or conversation. "Help Wanted: No Irish Need Apply" reads a relic of a time when Irish immigrants were discriminated against in America. There's another relic here - a trough urinal.

And there, on the dance floor every third weekend of the month, is 84-year-old John McCollum in his dynamic green sweater. He and his wife, Mary, come to hear Rigadoo.

"My Mary and I dance a few songs," McCollum said, "and in between, I have to dance with these young girls. It's a real hardship."

Slainte 1700 Thames St. 410-563-6600

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