Now the owner is Norwegian and the manager comes from CorkIrish Pub Song – The High Kings
And the lad that’s holding up the bar says ‘Only Eejits Work’
He was born and bred in Bolton but his mammy’s from Kildare
And he’s going to make his fortune soon and move to County Clare.
I had my list of regional Irish pubs and I had my list of criteria. It was now time to visit some pubs. Some of the pubs I’d already visited, so I’d just rely on impressions I got from those visits. Others would be new to me. Some I’d visited, but it had been awhile, so I went back. There were fifteen pubs on my list and I managed to visit a little over half, eight in all. That was enough to come to some conclusions.
The first conclusion was that my list of criteria was totally unrealistic. Here’s a recap of what I had listed:
- Quaint architecture – plaster is good, thatch is even better, old is better still.
- Cozy interior – usually dark, with lots of wood.
- Irish decor – something besides cartoonish leprechauns and shamrocks. It could be harps, uncial lettering, Celtic knotwork, etc.
- Guinness on tap – even better if it also has Smithwick’s and Harp, plus a nice selection of Irish Whiskey.
- Pub food – Irish stew (sometimes with Guinness broth), seafood stews, shepherd’s pie, fish and chips.
- Traditional live music
I would add one more – someone who is actually connected to Ireland in some way, be it an owner or even just the bartender. Sometimes that’s harder to determine. It could be that the owner is from Ireland but the wait staff is American through and through.
This isn’t a pub crawl in the traditional sense. I didn’t try to see how many pints I could get into me in one night. Since the pubs tend to be spread out I tried to do this over several days. I visited two or three pubs at the most on any given day.
In each case I would sit at the bar rather than at a table so that I could see the interaction between patrons and possibly chat with the bartender. I would order a meal if I were there at an appropriate time along with a non-alcoholic drink. If I had already eaten or if it wasn’t meal time I’d order a Guinness. I figured this would give me the best feel for the pub.
In some cases I’m digging back in to experiences from a few weeks or even months back that are still relevant. Depending on how long-winded I get, I may have to break this up into a couple more posts. We’ll see.
As for the criteria list, I abandoned it. Instead, I’ll just give a quick summary with my thoughts. Later I’ll explain why.
I’m going to start this virtual pub crawl with a cautionary tale, an example of how NOT to open an Irish Pub…
It was only a couple of weeks after we got back from Ireland that we heard about The Playwright. The pub was a venture by the group that started The Green Room and several over restaurants in town. Local media made a big deal about how the place was striving for authenticity. According to the Greenville News, the owners had ordered hand-crafted furnishings from Ireland and those same craftsmen had come over to install the fixtures. We eagerly anticipated its opening.
When The Playwright opened it was a hit – a novelty. The furnishings certainly looked “Irish”, whatever the heck that means…
…but it felt a bit too modern and didn’t quite have that cozy feel. It didn’t help that it was in a very new building.
Sure, they had Guinness and Smithwicks on tap. Initially the food was decent, but not up to the standards we had in Ireland.
I went back several times, mostly for a pint with friends and to try to recapture Ireland. I even attended a St. Patrick’s Day event there, which was quite fun. I think they might have had some traditional Irish music on occasion, but I wasn’t able to attend.
However, the novelty wore off and The Playwright couldn’t sustain that initial energy. Their downfall, though, was the food. It’s not easy to mess up fish and chips, but somehow they managed. I ordered a bowl of Irish stew that was mostly broth and VegAll with a few strands of beef.
At least the owners recognized what was happening. Last year they rebranded the place as Broad and River Pub, focusing on the food rather than the pub aspects. Traditional Irish dishes were now off the menu. That didn’t make it, either, and this past year Broad and River closed. The space is now under new ownership, which opened an Italian restaurant named Limoncello.
For me, the problem with The Playwright was a lack of authenticity. It seemed “canned,”, whether referring to the ready-made decor or the food ingredients. I think the Greenville public got that same feeling, and the place didn’t last. Authenticity is a nebulous quality and takes more than just deep pockets willing to import stuff from Ireland. As hard as they tried, The Playwright just couldn’t pull it off. Oh well. I had high hopes.
Now on to the places I visited recently…
Fitzpatrick’s Food and Spirits
I’ve been to Fitzpatrick’s several times. It was a regular stop after Upstate Mini events. I didn’t visit it as part of this “pub crawl”, but I figured I’d been there enough times to give it an adequate summary.
Fitzpatrick’s opened in 2007, but the space had been an Irish pub for much longer. It’s the only place in the region where I’ve played Irish music, and only one of two that I’ve found that have weekly sessions (if you can call it that.)
Going down my checklist, they do have a warm, cozy interior. These shots are from various visits.
I’ve had Guinness, some good shepherds’ pie, and an excellent dish of deep-fried artichokes, which I don’t think are Irish. They also have fish and chips and other Irish items on their menu, as well as standard pub fare.
I’d say Fitzpatrick’s definitely has an authentic Irish pub feel to it. It’s well established in the neighborhood and even has traditional music, sort of. I went there for a jam session held every Monday night, but it was an awkward duet, at most.
On a side note, our favorite pub in Doolin, Ireland was also called Fitzpatrick’s. That’s where we heard Tara Howley and her band play.
Hannah Flanagan’s Original
I’ve probably had a longer history with Hannah Flanagan’s in Hendersonville than with any other Irish pub on this list. It was one of our stops when we would run up to Hendersonville for lunch. Here’s a photo from 2006 with Laura and Amy sitting at one of their outdoor tables. This was when she still had long hair.
When we visited, most often we sat outside when it was nice. Seems I’ve always had a habit of documenting my food. These images are from a 2013 visit. Even then, prior to our Ireland trip, I was fascinated with the menu.
We’ve even been to meetings there.
Even with this history I hadn’t visited Hannah Flanagan’s in quite awhile, so I decided to pay it a visit. I arrived for a late lunch, planning to sit at the bar. Turns out that it was quite popular and I couldn’t find a spot. I sat at a high-top right next to the bar. I couldn’t chat with the bartender, but at least I was close enough to watch the proceedings.
Long wooden bar, dark, warm fixtures, and subtle Celtic symbols made up the decor. The logo has a green shamrock and the lettering is made up of modified uncials.
Yes, there was Guinness on tap, but this was one case where I ordered lunch with a non-alcoholic drink. The menu does still have several Irish items, so I ordered Irish stew, which came with a salad and with hearty brown bread. It was quite good.
I know that at one time Hannah Flanagan’s hosted traditional Irish music, but I don’t think that they do anymore. I couldn’t find a listing for music offerings on their website and I forgot to ask my waitress.
This post is started to get quite long, so I will a couple more, then save the rest for part 3.
From Hendersonville I took I-26 down to Tryon where I popped in at McGourty’s Pub. Well, I tried to pop in. Not only was it closed when I got there, but it’s also a private pub.
I almost missed it completely. My GPS led me to an unassuming door on the main street of the town. It was next door to a realtor’s office and looked like it was hardly large enough for anything, much less a pub.
There was a menu stuck to the door festooned with green shamrocks. Though it had a section listed as “Irish Fare”, I only saw Fish and Chips and Bangers and Mash, which could be Irish, English, whatever.
Across a side street from the pub is the Tryon History Museum. I figured that while I was there I’d check it out. It was nice little display. Along with a pleasant docent, I met the mayor of the town, Allen Peoples. He said that he could get me into the pub, if I wanted. I thanked him, but declined.
As it turns out, most of McGourty’s is behind the building on a lower level. The Main Street entrance just leads downward, with the owner’s wife’s realtor office on the second floor. It looked a bit more traditional.
McGourty’s Facebook Page lists some bands, but most of these are singer/songwriter or small bands. It doesn’t look like they do traditional music. The annual memberships are quite reasonable and it looks like they offer a 1 day “Taster’s Membership” for $1 if you just want to give it a try. I might have to do that some other time.
Just down from McGourty’s is Harper’s Eatery and Pub. While it might have the word “pub” in its name, it’s more of a restaurant with Southern cuisine rather than an English or Irish pub.
From Tryon I continued down Highway 176 until I got to Landrum. I skipped the Hare and Hound Pub because it’s more English than Irish, but they make an excellent Guinness beef stew.
Delaney’s Irish Pub
I continued on my way through Spartanburg County and own down to Main Street where I found Delaney’s Irish Pub. From the outside this looked more like the pubs I’d seen in Ireland than just about any of the others I’d visited.
I had eaten here before. Several of us stopped by after a concert with the Spartanburg Festival Chorus. I remember that the Guinness and Irish Stew was pretty good, but that’s been several years ago. It was time for a fresh visit.
Since I’d already had lunch I just ordered a Guinness at the bar.
At this time of day, mid to late afternoon, most of the patrons were employees of the bar, including musicians talking about upcoming gigs. I decided to check their calendar. Looks like most of these are acoustic acts, but no Irish music.
Even though I wasn’t ordering food I took a look at their menu. There are the usual suspects, but they also have corned beef and cabbage and other Irish fare I’ve not seen at some of the other pubs.
In addition to Guinness they have an extensive selection of Irish Whiskey.
As with other spots I’d visited, this one had dark wooden surfaces and a definite “pub” feel to it.
Delaney’s ticked most of my checklist, with the exception of traditional music. It’s also worth mentioning that there is a Delaney’s Pub in the Five Points area of Columbia. However, I don’t think it’s related.
Since this post is getting rather long I’ll save the rest for part 3. However, but this time I was coming to some conclusions about what makes an Irish pub an Irish pub. Authenticity had little to do with a check list.