So when Saint Patrick was ministering to the druids and such of Northern Ireland in the 5th century AD, do you think he had any inkling as to what people would be doing in his name 1500 years down the line? History and hagiography agree, the man himself was a bit of a hardass, more into fasting and prayer than, say, drinking copious amounts of crappy green beer. On top of that, did you know he is more traditionally associated with the color blue than green?
Calling a spade a spade, I think its fair to say the whole thing is a farce. Everyone knows the celebration these days has nothing to with a long dead bishop... but it needn't be only about Car Bombs, shamrocks, and silly green hats. Celebrate the great nation's history and get a buzz; drink some whiskey!
Ireland has a fabulously long history of distilling, dating back over a millennium! Whiskey making was once a sort of national pastime, with thousands of stills, both sanctioned and illegal, running full-time throughout the country. Unfortunately, economics and international competition were not good to the Irish distillers, such that today a mere three distilleries remain. Because of this, seeing a new label is rare, so the fact that St. Pat's 2010 brings us two new brands is downright inconceivable!
John L. Sullivan
This guy has been on the market for a few months now, and I am afraid the WaPo beat me to the punch. But no matter, it's still a pretty damned good whiskey. JLS is made at Cooley Distillery, the last Irish-owned distillery in the country, which already has some renown for its Connemara and Tyrconnell lines. The spirit -- named after the turn-of-the-century sportsman, and America's first millionaire athlete -- is double distilled in pot stills, then aged in single-use bourbon barrels. This unusual last step adds a depth of color unusual to the species, yielding a pretty, pale gold. Lots of vanilla, some peach, and a hint of allspice on the nose. JLS is a little more oily than most Irish on the front, with the flavor of malted brown sugar, proceeding to a rather smooth, rye-accented finish. If Jameson or Bushmill's is your usual dram, you will definitely notice the difference, but may very well enjoy its more forward "American" personality.
JLS is available at several local stores including Schneider's, Connecticut Ave Wine and Spirits, Ace Beverage, Dixie Liquor, and Cleveland Park Wine and Spirits, for in the neighborhood of $24 / 750ml bottle. I've also seen it around at several area bars in both DC and Virginia, including Cafe Saint-Ex, Marvin, O'Sullivans, The Passenger, and Againn.
This new brand is actually quite old, and one of the more popular in its homeland. Paddy was once the flagship brand of the Cork Distilleries Company, which named this, their first attempt at a bottled spirit, after their best salesman, Paddy Flaherty. Paddy has a reputation for being one of the softest, smoothest whiskeys produced in Ireland, a country already known for the easy goin' stuff. The spirit pours a dark burnished yellow, like an older Chardonnay. The nose is quite malty, with a floral note, some melon, and a touch of sweet vanilla. More malt meets you on the attack, along with lots of banana, proceeding to a soft, oak-dominated finish. Being so mild, fruity, and light, this is almost the perfect intro whiskey for your novice friends; still, it is definitely complicated enough to give the connoisseur something to ponder.
Though I remember Paddy fondly from my study abroad period in Dublin, the brand has never really been marketed in the US, so I was shocked when I saw it at The Gibson the other day. I know that they have a good supply, and that Potomac Wine and Spirits nabbed a couple cases, which they are selling off at $31.99 / 1 Liter bottle. Supposedly, the distributor (RNDC) brought in about 70 cases to test the
market, so there has got to be more out there somewhere. Let us know in the comments section if you track it down. If you find Paddy to your liking, let your favorite bars and retailers know, and hopefully they will put some pressure on RNDC to make it a regular item.
While Washington DC will never be Chicago or New York, it would be unfair to say that we don't do St. Patrick's Day right. Sure, our parade is a bit on the... small side, and there is no way anyone will ever dye the Potomac green. Forget all that, and try to remember the true spirit of the holiday! Any rational observer could tell you that this area has nearly as many drinking establishments per capita as it has lawyers. The pub is the heart of the holiday, where people go to eat and drink, and sing and drink, and dance and drink! And drink!
But with so many choices, where to go? In the interest of providing you with a more comfortable drinking environment, here are listed some of DC's premier Irish eating and drinking establishments, and what they have to offer this coming Monday.
If your taste in beer runs more Scottish than Irish, swing by the Brickskeller next Monday. The 'Skeller hosted esteemed Scottish brewer Bruce Williams this past Wednesday and tapped some eight casks of his beers from Heather Ale and Williams Brothers breweries — on Monday they will be breaking out the leftovers at the upstairs bar. If the cask ale I'd mentioned in my article on Birreria Paradiso piqued your interest, take this opportunity to try several examples of the kind. Though, if you'd rather go more traditional, rest assured that the Brickskeller will be featuring Guinness and Smithwick's on tap, in addition to the largest selection of Irish beers pretty much anywhere.
If you are feeling large-selection with a more downtown feel, try the Brickskeller's sister restaurant, Regional Food and Drink. While RFD is going the more "green beer and car bombs" direction this year, their 30+ draft selection and more lively atmosphere makes it a great place for the beer geek who also wants to 'party' in the traditional sense.
1523 22nd St. NW
810 7th St. NW
A Capitol Hill institution since 1974, the Dubliner is family owned and operated by first generation Irish immigrants, heavily staffed by Irish nationals, and is one of the largest purveyors of Guinness in the United States. The Dubliner has tons of street cred, no doubt about it, and it backs that up with an extensive menu of Irish favorites including Shepherd's Pie, Corned Beef and Cabbage, and Fish and Chips. On Monday, DC's premier Irish Pub will take over a portion of the adjoining Phoenix Hotel and offer up three traditional bands from 2:30 till close, available to all for a $10 cover charge. The restaurant will open at 10 a.m., but considering the expected crowds the menu will be slightly limited.
4 F St. NW
Finn Mac Cool's
Having only opened its doors about 4 years ago, Finn mac Cool's has developed a surprisingly big following the Barracks Row neighborhood of Southeast DC. Though I haven't found their food terribly interesting, the bar is developing a new beer program which may be something to keep an eye on. Having recently installed an extended tap system, Finn mac Cool's is now offering some very interesting beers, including the 18% ABV Dogfish Head Worldwide Stout and Sierra Nevada's ESB. On Monday, Finn Mac Cools will be offering several drink specials and feature two bands from 3:30 to close. If you can stomach the drunken college students, swing by and see if they will make you a $5 Car Bomb with the World Wide instead of Guinness. If it doesn't taste good, at least you won't remember.
Finn Mac Cool's
713 8th St. SE
Flanagan's Harp and Fiddle
Though offering much the same food and drink as the others on the list, Flanagan's bears mentioning for their live broadcast of Irish sports this coming Monday. At 10:00 a.m. you can watch Offaly take on Galway in the Irish National Club Champs Hurling Final, followed at 11:40 by the Club Champs Football Final between Dublin and Cork.
4844 Cordell Ave.
Ireland's Four Courts
Easily the largest Irish pub in northern Virginia, the Four Courts is a sprawling affair, with two large bars that sit 60 between them, and a dining room with space for another several hundred besides. If you make the pilgrimage to this much touted house of Guinness and meat pies this Monday, do not expect to sit. The restaurant will only be seating from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and by the looks of their website they are all but booked. The name of the game on Monday will be "bands and beer"— the Four Courts has booked five bands for the big event, one of which will be housed in a heated tent to contend with overflow. Do go someday and try the Courts' Shepherds Pie and Bread Pudding, both of which are great — do not go this Monday if you are up for something more filling than the liquid bread.
2051 Wilson Blvd.
Ireland's Four Fields
Formerly known as Ireland's Four Provinces, Four Fields is the probably the best known uptown Irish pub. This frequent award winner trades on the quality of its Guinness, which it claims to be the best in the city, and is served in the proper 20 oz. Imperial Pint glass. Though not offering anything particularly different to you in the way of food this St. Patrick's Day, Four Fields does give you the opportunity to give back. The pub is a huge supporter of the Capital Area Food Bank, and will accept donations of nonperishable items any day of the week after 5 p.m — this year they have already delivered over 750 pounds of food and toiletries.
3412 Connecticut Ave NW
Offering an eclectic combination of Cajun and Irish fare, the Irish Channel is an odd pub to find in the heart of Chinatown. Since I have never tried the food I will decline to comment further; having once taken shelter there in a storm, I can say that place has the unpolished-but-comfortable feel uncommon to most modern bars. On the Big Day both the downtown and Maryland locations will be featuring live music all day, and a full selection of Irish classics such as Bangers and Mash, Mullingar Stew, Fish & Chips, Corned Beef and Cabbage, London Broil, Shepherds Pies and Black and White Pudding. For you Marylanders, the Channel will be running a shuttle to and from the DC parade on Sunday, March 16th.
500 H St NW
1053 MD Rte 3 North
One of many Irish pubs in Old Town, Murphy's stands out for its authentic looking facade, cozy-but-spacious atmosphere and more than decent traditional Irish fare. On Monday doors will open bright and early at 9 a.m., featuring a hearty Irish brunch (read: meat and grease!) with harp accompaniment by Caroline Gregg (10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.). Music will continue throughout the day until 1 a.m., and no cover will be charged throughout. Though relatively large for a pub, the space gets quite packed on the best of nights, so best to get there earlier than later.
713 King St.
This little Cleveland Park bar is considered by many to be the most authentic Irish pub in Washington. Though less polished and 'Irish looking' than most of the bars on this list, Nanny's hosts weekly Monday "Seisuns" (classic Irish jam sessions) which have been host to some of the best Irish musicians in the world. This Monday the bar will offer beer and shooter specials with the musical stylings of Bloody Onions and others. $15 at the door.
3319 Connecticut Ave, NW
Nee Molly Malone's, this little Irish bar is a pleasant alternative to the loud, "Red Bull and Vodka" driven antics of most of the Clarendon metro corridor. The atmosphere is often sedate, but on Friday and Saturdays the bar area can become quite packed and smoky, and I suspect St. Patrick's day will leave one with little elbow room. The restaurant will open early (8 a.m.) and offer their usual selection of Irish and American fare — I've eaten there a couple of times, and if you have a hankering for real Bangers and Mash, O'Sullivan's is suitably greasy. There will be live music from open till close thanks to Brian Bray and Dave Smith, and traditional Irish dancing will be featured Sunday evening.
3207 Washington Blvd.
Pat Troy's Ireland's Own is one of those rare places that succeeds winningly as both a family restaurant and raucous watering hole. Though the food is well prepared, it is nothing to write home about — the usual Burger/Shepherd's Pie affair. Likewise, while the draft selection surely features an adequate selection of Irish and domestic staples, innovation is not really to be found. What makes the bar a must attend on St. Patrick's Day is the craic factor. Pat Troy's is fun, even on a normal night! The bar hosts live musicians five nights a week, and the musicians rarely fail to bring the large main room into the action, playing sing-along Irish classics along with more modern tunes (someone yelled "Freebird!" last time I was there, and damned if the band didn't actually play it!). On Saturday nights, owner Pat Troy comes out and performs one of the most bizarre/enjoyable one-man shows I've seen; interspersed with patriotic monologue, Pat leads the crowd in rousing renditions of the American and Irish classics, culminating with The Unicorn Song, along with appropriate body movements, sound effects and headgear. Having not been, I can only imagine what he'll do on St. Patrick's Day! The bar will open at 9 a.m. on Monday, and will be serving food in an attached heated tent. Live entertainment all day in the main restaurant with a $10 cover.
Pat Troy's Ireland's Own
111 N. Pitt St.
Pizzeria & Birreria Paradiso
Because everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day, Pizzeria Paradiso is getting into the act with an interesting food and drink special. On March 17th, 5 p.m. until close, both the Georgetown and Dupont locations will be offering a choice of two 8 inch "Irish Pizza Pies," with a pint of stout, for $16. Choose either the "It's Not Easy Being Green" (a pie topped with fresh kale and artichoke) or the "Traditional Irish Pie" (topped with homemade corned beer, cabbage and potato), served alongside a pint of Victory's Donnybrook Irish Stout in Georgetown, or a good ol' Murphy's Stout in Dupont.
2029 P Street NW
3282 M Street NW
Every year on St. Patrick's Day Chef and native Dubliner Cathal Armstrong gives tribute to his native land by featuring a selection of "home style" Irish cuisine is his Tasting Room. Being one of the area's finest restaurants, I fear that by now the place is pretty well booked up (though you never can be sure about dropouts), but for the homebody I have great news! On Saturday, March 15th, at 8:30 a.m. Chef Armstrong will be appearing on CBS's Early Show's 'Chef on a Shoestring' segment, where he will show viewers how to make a fantastic Irish style meal for less than $40. That's 8:30 a.m., so set that DVR now.
110 South Pitt St.