If you’re not sure where to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year, there’s no better man to ask than Tim Herlihy. Since February 18, the native Irishman and pub historian has been on a nationwide tour that’s seen him dropping in at Irish bars across America, with the ultimate goal of visiting 50 bars in 50 states in 30 days.
Though Herlihy may have been born and bred in the Emerald Isle, he’s discovered there’s no shortage of great places in the U.S. to sip a pint of Smithwick’s or throw back a shot of whiskey. Perhaps that’s because the best Irish bars all share certain characteristics, whether you’re in Dublin or Denver.
“It’s about the atmosphere,” said Herlihy, who’s also the U.S. brand ambassador for Tullamore D.E.W. Irish whiskey. “When the door opens, everyone looks over to see who’s walking in the door. They look over with intense enthusiasm.” A good bartender is also key, and the best ones don’t just know how to pour a perfect pint but also how to entertain and create the right vibe.
“You don’t need an O’Neils or an Mac on the side of the pub to make it an Irish pub. It’s as much about how you’re doing things,” Herlihy said. “Having good craft beer, having a great Irish whiskey selection, but also … being friendly and [caring] about the guests in the room.”
With that in mind, we asked Herlihy for his opinion on some of the best bars in America to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Here are a few of his picks.
The Dead Rabbit, New York City
Swanky cocktail bar or comfortable pub? You don’t have to choose between the two if you toast to St. Patrick’s Day at Manhattan’s The Dead Rabbit. This three-year-old bar has already racked up an impressive array of accolades, including winning the World’s Best Bar title in Tales of the Cocktail’s 2015 Spirited Awards.
Downstairs, you’ll find a casual taproom, where the focus is on craft beer and whiskey. Meanwhile, the upstairs parlor is a cocktail lover’s heaven, with 72 historically accurate cocktails on the menu, including the Psycho Killer, a mix of Redbreast 12-Year-Old Irish whiskey, Campari, cacao, banana, and absinthe.
“It’s got everything about Irish pub culture, authentic Irish pub culture, combined with the best in the world of cocktails and mixology,” said Herlihy. He likes The Dead Rabbit so much, he’ll be wrapping up his 50-state tour on March 17.
Nancy Whiskey, Detroit
The friendly atmosphere of a traditional Irish pub is a big source of its appeal, and you won’t find a warmer welcome than at Nancy Whiskey in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood. Every first-time visitor to this Motor City landmark (it’s been in business since 1902, including a stint as a speakeasy during Prohibition) receives a shot of whiskey, on the house.
“It is such a great tradition,” Herlihy said. “It makes people bring friends and family to enjoy the hospitality.”
McBride’s Pub, Providence, Rhode Island
A good Irish bar needs more than Guinness on tap and corned beef on the menu. It also needs to embrace a certain spirit, which McBride’s Pub in Providence definitely does. Here, “it’s not so much the pub, but the Irish traditions in the pub,” that make the place special, said Herlihy.
At McBride’s, the distinguishing feature is the 10 p.m. “Last Call,” when all patrons raise a glass to toast the memory of someone who’s “gone to the promised land,” and whose name is then recorded in the bar’s Last Call book. The tradition, which hearkens back to old-fashioned Irish wakes, is especially appropriate given that in an earlier life, the bar was a garage for a funeral home.
Tom Bergin’s, Los Angeles
If your preferred drink on St. Paddy’s Day is an Irish coffee, Tom Bergin’s in Los Angeles is your spot. Since it opened in 1936, this neighborhood watering hole has been serving thirsty Angelenos, including well-known faces like Cary Grant and Kiefer Sutherland.
Tom Bergin’s is particularly famous for its whiskey-and-coffee concoction, according to Herlihy, a mix of Tullamore D.E.W., dark roast coffee, simple syrup and Irish cream. And if you’re hungry, there’s a short-but-sweet menu of Irish fare, including fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, and corned beef and cabbage.
Kathleen’s Cottage, Bristol, New Hampshire
Tiny Bristol, New Hampshire, might seem like an unlikely spot to find one of America’s best Irish bars, but Kathleen’s Cottage, a “hole-in-the-wall Irish pub,” is the real deal, Herlihy said. The cozy bar may not be flashy, but it boasts the largest selection of Irish whiskey in New Hampshire, live Irish music at least once per week, and a friendly character.
“It’s just a simple place, but an authentic place and a place with atmosphere,” Herlihy said.
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