An Ode to the Irish-American Pub
Photo credit: National Library of Ireland, Flickr
St. Patrick’s Day is here, and with it the requisite shamrock shakes and drunks drenched in head-to-toe green. And although my heritage is almost entirely Irish—the names Murphy and Fallon, Clynes and Kennedy dot my family tree—I don’t really do St. Patty’s.
Yes, I was born in Boston, the most Irish part of America. Yes, I grew up in a very Irish-Catholic part of Massachusetts. But this time of year, I—like many urban residents—wait out the holiday safely esconced at home.
What I’m always up for celebrating? The Irish pub itself, because I’ve been a pub-goer since I was a kid.
I’m not able to adequately explain to friends the lure of a shamrock on the side of a building, or a sign reading Moran’s, Molly’s, or Foley’s. It’s not the lure of the drink (although I’m partial to both Guinness and a whiskey).
It’s that a sunny bar on a Sunday afternoon can be one of the finer pleasures in life. And the grand Irish and American traditions of bringing families to pubs during the daytime might be on the wane. (One reads more and more stories about the turf wars between people with kids and those who want to drink without the sight of children running around.)
The “restaurants” of my hometown all had apostrophes: Slattery’s, Donnelly’s, and Mickey’s. They were bars and restaurants at once; at some, a swinging door connected the two. We didn’t have a ton of cash. My parents—both Irish-American—worked hard, and although my father worked as a lawyer, my mother vividly remembers the year he made $9,000.
Photo credit: Slattery’s Restaurant and Bar
So a night at the pub was an event, whether it was Mickey’s (cheap and cheerful), Slattery’s (the best burger) or Donnelly’s (white tablecloths). To me, it was the most exciting thing in the world. My little brother Peter and I would order bacon cheeseburgers the size of our heads. My sister, a high schooler, would order a salad and look terribly bored. My mother would order the fish and Chardonnay, and mutter that the fish was overcooked. But everyone knew us when we walked in the door; it was a small enough town that my father seemed to spend most of the night shaking hands. It was a meal and a party at once.
Pub as community center has a long history both stateside and in Ireland. Ron Ciavolino, the Emeritus Wine Director at the Institute of Culinary Education, remembers his Italian-American family drinking “Gallo by the gallon” at home, but recalls that in New York City in the ’50s and ’60s, “the Irish went to bars. After Mass, people went to the local bar with baby carriages.” It was the social centerpiece of the day. “The children played with coloring books. The mother and father drank beer at the bar. They were safer than the candy stores.”