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Irish pubs are all too common in America. You’ll find a lot of authentic options on the East coast, but as you travel deeper into the country, they become less and less reliable.
Nothing is stopping a bar owner from slapping an Irish-sounding name on the front of the bar and calling it an Irish pub. They’ll put Guinness on tap with a few clover signs and think most people won’t be able to tell.
For the most part, they’re right. You likely have a few of these pretenders in your town, but how do you know the difference?
Ahead, we’ll cover some of the signs that you’re in a real Irish pub. These pubs do things a bit different than regular American bars. Here, we’ll give you the tools you need to tell the difference.
The Pub Only Serves Alcohol
Finding a pub that only serves alcohol might be a stretch if you’re searching for “Irish pubs near me.” A lot of pubs have dipped into serving food as a way to increase revenue from their hungry patrons.
Still, the most authentic Irish pub won’t serve any food at all. They focus on what brings in the most customers: a drink at the end of a hard day.
Again, it might be hard to find a pub that never serves food, but with a little looking, you might be able to find one. It could be a hole-in-the-wall bar you never thought of entering. Once your inside, though, you’ll be treated to an authentic Irish pub experience.
If you find a pub that serves select food, this might be the best you can hope for. Take a look at the dishes they serve. If they don’t look very appetizing, this – ironically – might be the best place to stop for a drink.
One look at what an Irish pub keeps on their walls is a telltale sign whether or not it’s authentic. It’s hard to define exactly what an Irish pub is supposed to look like, but you know it when you see it.
For instance, if the bar is trying too hard to appear, Irish, it probably isn’t an authentic pub. Any bar can throw up a couple neon shamrock signs, put Guinness on tap and call it an “Irish pub.” If you see these kinds of decorations, you’re probably in the wrong place.
Instead, look for places with authentic Irish decorations. You might see an old rugby ball sitting on a shelf or a few patches that look like they were taken straight from 19th century Ireland.
A good rule to live by: If the decorations look like the staff purchased them from the local dollar store, you’re probably not in an authentic Irish Pub.
A Laid-Back Environment
The difference between a pub and a bar might not seem like much, but when they’re both done right, they’re quite different. A pub is much more relaxed than an upscale bar. You shouldn’t see too many people in suits drinking martinis at a real Irish Pub.
If you do a quick Google search for “pubs near me,” you might come across a few results that show beautiful pictures of upscale interiors. If you want the authentic Irish pub experience, this is not the kind of place you want to be.
The patrons of a pub will usually be working-class. You should see a lot of jeans and T-shirts, with only a few buttons sprinkled-in for effect.
The atmosphere should feel relaxed and laid-back. You probably won’t find these places packed to the gills, but that’s even better. People come to pubs to drink and talk to their friends, not to dance or wait in line for a beer.
The Patrons Know the Owner
In an authentic pub, the owner won’t be a shadowy figure whom no one knows. Most of these pubs are owned by someone who is an active member of the community. They come out from the back and socialize with the regulars. You might not even be able to tell he or she is the owner until they start directing the staff.
One of the strongest appeals of an Irish pub is the family environment. Corporate entities can’t recreate the Irish pub experience as hard as they try, and ownership is part of the reason. The drinking public enjoys putting their dollar in the pocket of someone they know or consider a friend.
The Regulars Outweigh the Strangers
If you’re visiting an Irish pub for the first time, you might feel like you’re a bit out of place. This isn’t a bad thing if you’re looking for the authentic Irish pub experience.
Going to an Irish pub at night shouldn’t feel like you’re hitting the club. It shouldn’t be full of random people who are all attending the bar for the first time. There will probably be a few of those – you’ll be one of them – but they shouldn’t outweigh the regulars.
Pubs should give you the atmosphere that’s comfortable enough to newcomers, but more welcoming to regulars. They’re a place where you’d want to become a regular yourself. They make you wish the bartender knew your name and beer of choice, just as they do with most of the other people at the bar.
A Variety of Irish Drinks
If you visit one of the thousands McGuire Irish Pubs in the country and see Guinness side-by-side with bud light, you’re probably not in a real Irish pub. An Irish name isn’t enough to make a pub Irish.
The hallmark of any bar is the beer, and Irish pubs should have Irish beer, right? Well, a large percentage of them are just pretenders. They’ll offer you Guinness and Jameson but nothing else.
Sure, these drinks are staples of American Irish pubs. If you visit a pub in Ireland, you’ll likely see that the same drinks are available. Still, real pubs will give you a variety from which to choose.
If you want to broaden your horizons, pick a place that will give you a beer you can’t get at the upscale bar next door. They won’t have a selection of martinis, but an Irish pub will give you a few different Irish beer and liquor selections.
Real Irish People
You probably won’t find a group of Irish patrons at every authentic Irish pub, but if you do you’re in the right place.
All immigrants gravitate to a place where they feel at home. If you find a Mexican restaurant without any Mexicans eating there or working on the staff, would you think it was authentic? Probably not, and Irish pubs are no different.
If you visit an Irish pub regularly, you’ll probably see a few Irish people come and go. If the bartender or the owner is Irish, you’ll have an even better idea that this bar is authentic.
Again, you won’t find Irish people frequenting all authentic Irish pubs in America, but they’re a clear sign of authenticity when you see them.
Irish sports and Irish patrons often go hand-in-hand. It’s difficult to find international soccer or rugby matches playing in a bar, but when you discover one you may have also found an authentic Irish pub.
These pubs might also cover local sports teams when they’re on, but they won’t be the main focus. If you see ten TVs sitting in front of the bar, the owner likely isn’t catering to the authentic pub experience.
The music selection in an Irish pub is a clear way to tell whether or not the place is a pretender. If you’re struggling to talk to your friend who is sitting next to you because Pitbull is blasting through the stereo, you aren’t in a real Irish pub.
Authentic Irish pubs should have Irish music. That doesn’t mean they’re playing the Dropkick Murphys on repeat, either. They’ll have songs from the homeland that you’ve likely never heard before.
The volume of the music is another telltale sign. Irish pubs are relaxing, as we covered above. Loud music isn’t normal for an Irish pub, regardless of the genre. Patrons of an Irish bar come for the environment and the conversation, not for loud music and dancing.
Finding the Best Irish Pub Near You
If your city is filled with phony Irish pubs, you’ll probably have to do a bit of scouting before you can tell which ones are the best. Take the above characteristics into consideration in your search for the best Irish pub in your area. You can even make a mental checklist, and you’ll start to notice how regular bars do it the wrong way.
At the end of the day, Irish pubs are about the atmosphere. It should feel laid-back, with the majority of the patrons being regulars. If you find one of these places, don’t forget to leave a review. That way, you can give other Irish pub seekers an informed view on whether or not they should visit.