Today is St. Patrick’s Day, when it is said that everyone is Irish and when certainly every bar is an Irish pub. But some make the claim all year round. The pubs, I mean. Well, some people, too. And for those of you who want to celebrate in an authentic establishment that has not only the drinks but also some food there are more choices than ever.
Of course, how close those other pubs come to authenticity is arguable. Even in Ireland you’re more likely to find yourself inside a knockoff pub owned by a large corporation than in an independently owned, old-time tavern.
But let’s not quibble about origins. When you go looking for a good Irish pub you want to have an ample selection of beers, lagers and ales. Guinness is a must. You don’t actually have to drink it, but it should be available.
And there should be some Irish food. And again, you don’t have to eat it, it just needs to be there. Ireland is not renowned for its cuisine. Suffice it to say that on a trip to Dublin the best food I had was in an Italian restaurant.
But whenever I’m in an Irish pub I look for some traditional fare, such as cottage pie or shepherd’s pie. They’re similar – both have meat in a dark gravy with vegetables such as peas and carrots topped with mashed potatoes. The difference is that cottage pie is made with beef and shepherd’s pie is made with lamb. (It’s easy to figure that shepherd means sheep but I have no idea where the cottage comes from.) Irish stew is always nice, and I like a scotch egg, even though it isn’t Irish in origin. (It isn’t Scottish, either; it was concocted by Fortnum & Mason in London.)
If a pub is to be truly authentically Irish it would not permit smoking – Ireland has banned smoking in its pubs but Florida’s legislature still allows it. Don’t get me started.
But why should I get my Irish up about authenticity when St. Patrick’s Day, at least the way it is celebrated today, is largely an American invention? The first-ever St. Patrick’s Day parade was held not in Ireland but in New York City in 1762. Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through the city to Irish music to commemorate the day and reconnect with their homeland.
Yes, St. Patrick’s Day has been recognized in Ireland every March 17th since Patrick, whose real name is believed to have been Maewyn Succat, died on that day in the year 461. But people would not start drinking themselves loopy on green beer for nearly 1500 years.
In fact, until the 1970s if you found yourself in Ireland on March 17 you’d have been hard-pressed to find a beer of any color – pubs were ordered closed on that day as part of the observance. A clever tourism marketing agent finally convinced the government to allow pubs to stay open as part of the celebration.
Just what’s being celebrated has never been clear, although most Irishmen will tell you it’s a holiday for all things Irish. Perhaps the greatest irony there is that Maewyn Succat was not a native Irishman; he was likely born in Roman England, Scotland or Wales.
And his day does not commemorate St. Patrick’s driving the snakes out of Ireland. There never were any snakes in Ireland. That’s sort of like declaring a St. Buddy’s Day because the mayor rid Orlando of elephants.
By all accounts, the real origin of St. Patrick’s Day was to honor a man who brought Christianity to his adopted country. Even the three-leaf shamrock is thought to have been used by Patrick as a symbol of the Holy Trinity.
So how did we get from a quiet observance of the life of a man of God to a raucous holiday that ends with over-served revelers retching emerald ales?
I can’t say, but perhaps you’ll raise the topic as you’re raising your glass on Tuesday, or, as those of us who appreciate Irish pubs year-round like to call it, Amateur Night.
Liam Fitzpatrick’s — 951 Market Promenade Ave., Lake Mary; 407-936-3782. This beautiful pub pays more attention to its ales than its food. Best to stop in for a pint or two, then head elsewhere for grub.
Paddy Murphy’s — 4982 New Broad St., Orlando; 407-622-4700. Undoubtedly the rowdiest place in Baldwin Park, Paddy Murphy’s often features live bands that crank the voume to the max. But the food, which consists of the basics, such as shepherd’s pie and corned beef, is fairly good, and the service is pleasant.
Scruffy Murphy’s — 2625 Edgewater Drive, Orlando; 407-835-7158. After leaving its downtown digs, Scruffy’s has taken over the space in College Park that was briefly Adair’s and even brieflier Gio’s. Despite some exterior decorating there isn’t a lot of Irishness in the ambience. (A granite bar? Well la-di-da.) But it has the requisite liquids and does a surprisingly good job with the food. I especially liked the scotch egg, a hard-boiled egg with a jacket of spicy ground sausage and bread crumbs deep-fried. If it was a prepackaged jobbie it sure didn’t taste like one. The shepherd’s pie was also good, with a rich gravy with lots of flavor and mashed potatoes lightly crusted under the broiler. Bartender was friendly and kept the glasses filled. The music when I visited tended toward rap, heavy metal and head-banger; I didn’t hear one tune by the Irish Rovers the whole night.
The Celt — 25 S. Magnolia Ave., Orlando; 407-481-2928. Go through one door and you’re in the Harp, an Irish restaurant. Go through the other and you’re at the Celt, a pub, and a pleasant one at that. There’s more of a Gaelic vibe in the décor, and little touches like the wood and slate floor and hardwood tables make it seem like it’s been there for decades. When I visited for a recent lunch and asked for a table, a young woman told me I would have to sit at the bar because “all the tables are either full or dirty.” Couldn’t do anything about the people sitting at the other tables but why couldn’t someone clear the others? Turned out fine because the bartender was pleasant enough to make up for the young woman’s rudeness. I had a cup of potato and leek soup, which was a bit over thickened and under seasoned, and the cottage pie, which was an ample serving and a good enough rendition. There’s a nice Irish stew on the menu as well. No Irish music here, either. In fact, there was a VH-1 rock movie on two large televisions the whole time I was there.
Claddagh Cottage — 4308 Curry Ford Road, Orlando; 407-895-1555. This little hole-in-the-wall near Conway Road just might be one of the most Irish of the area’s Irish pubs. It’s dark and rustic and sports the requisite memorabilia. It’s named for a fishing village near Galway and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the regulars are from there too. It’s more about the drinking here, but there is good food, including cottage pie and Irish stew.
Fiddler’s Green: 544 Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park; 407-645-2050. situated at the confluence of Orange and Fairbanks Avenues, this big pub started out as the Prince of Wales, which is hardly Irish. But it converted over a decade ago and changed the menu to include all the basics. Pub games are a part of the draw.
No web site.