Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bridget McNeill's Has the Best of Both Worlds

No feeling can quite compare to walking out of the cold and into a warm, cozy pub in Ireland. Unfortunately, finding such an atmosphere in the U.S. can be difficult, but Bridget McNeill's has one of the best.

This isn't because it has great Irish food or the widest selection of Irish beers or even people speaking in unintelligible accents. In fact, it's awfully Americanized when it comes right down to it.

But the thing that really MAKES Irish pubs for me is the atmosphere, and Bridget McNeill's is perfect. With comfy arm chairs, small tables, and a sound level at which you can actually have an intelligible conversation, this pub exudes a cozy atmosphere that is perfect for just hanging out with friends. It also includes the requisite Irish beer list and to my personal delight Magner's cider. 

That's where the Irish part stops, but the pub's American aspects actually add to the experience (gasp!). Their unique array of homemade pizzas provides a delectable meal as do the large selection of burgers, and the menu itself is quite sizable. Honestly, it has more and better options than many pubs in Ireland (let's face it, they were under British rule for a long time, and it did nothing good to their cuisine). Likewise, their drink menu is considerable and includes much more than beer and wine, leaving room for people with all sorts of tastes to get a good drink. To top it off, they have specials on food and/or alcohol everyday as well as trivia on Wednesdays. On the whole, this is a great bar, a fantastic pub, and a really nice place to sit down with friends for dinner, a few drinks, and some nice conversation.

Bridget McNeill's Irish Pub
420 W. Belmont Ave.
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 248-6654

Wilde: Restaurant Masquerading as Irish Pub

OK, this is not really a pub.  It clearly was made to be a restaurant.  However, the two long bars make this a good place to have a drink as well.  And the atmosphere mirrors that of an aristocratic, turn-of-the-century Irish pub.

With the hustle and bustle of Broadway surrounding it, Wilde provides a taste of serenity from the outside with its patio seating and surrounding greenery.  When you walk inside, you are transported into a different world and time.  At first, you see relatively normal tables and chairs, but as you walk further in, you are met by beautiful stained-glass skylights, booths with domed ceilings, and a raised platform sporting tables with armchairs (yes, you can eat dinner in an armchair!) surrounded by high bookshelves with leather-bound tomes.  While the dark wood paneling, low lighting, and long bars evoke the atmosphere of an Irish pub, the armchairs and books give the restaurant a taste of Victorian England and the sophistication that comes with it.

So why the unique atmosphere?  This bar/restaurant was named for the Irish writer Oscar Wilde, a member of the aristocracy who never failed to denigrate it.  The Irish pub feel reflects his origins while the aristocratic British study feel evokes his life and works.  Of course, the library is the best tribute the owners could give to Oscar Wilde, but they have supplemented it with some of his famous quotes sprinkled about the restaurant and on the menu.  By combining the pub feel with a little sophistication, this restaurant creates a truly unique atmosphere that anyone can enjoy.

As far as victuals are concerned, the tap is pretty standard for an Irish pub with lots of imports and a few Irish beers.  However, the full bar goes beyond the norm for Irish pubs by offering a large supply of wines, liquors, and liqueurs as well.  But if you come to Wilde, you really ought to have more than a drink because the food is exquisite.  Though a little pricey, it is worth the few extra dollars, and they have good specials on food and drinks everyday, especially for late night guests.  The menu is quite large and contains a decent selection of Irish food, and all of it is delectable.

Wilde is definitely worth your while.  With its unique atmosphere and great food, this place is a must for any Irish pub lover.

3130 N. Broadway
Chicago, IL 60657
(773) 244-0404

Celtic Crossings Epitomizes Irish Pubs

This Irish pub is absolutely authentic from its beer list to its atmosphere even to its customers and its owners.  Seriously.  If you were to walk into a pub in Ireland, this is what it would look like.

The atmosphere is perfect.  The dark wood bar and fireplace give Celtic Crossings an Irish feel while the large number of booths and tables as well as the long bar provide the perfect place to meet a few friends and talk after work, making it an excellent pub.  It's a rather quiet place, and that suits the atmosphere perfectly by allowing for actual conversation.  One of the best aspects in my mind is that unlike many American Irish pubs, Celtic Crossings doesn't try too hard.  The pub's overtly Irish paraphernalia is limited to one small Irish flag behind the bar, and the rest of the pub is decorated with antiques that give it a cozy feel and paintings that bring a little light into the bar.  The subtlety of the Irishness is what really makes this feel like a pub that has immigrated from Ireland instead of a good American imitation.  And there is a trapdoor behind the bar that leads into the cellar, and that is just awesome beyond words.

The tap is exactly what you would expect from a pub in Ireland with lots of European beers, including Ireland's own Guiness, Smithwick's, and Magner's (ask for a dash of 7-UP in your Smithwick's for a true Irish trick).  They also sport a large variety of whiskey for those in search of the drunker side of Ireland.  The only downside to this pub is that the alcohol selection beyond beer could be bigger, and it does not have food.  However, these facts only accentuate the pub's Irishness, for finding a good cocktail in the UK and Ireland is next to impossible, and while many Irish pubs do have food, a meal is not what most customers are looking for.  Irish pubs are about good conversation and a good time, not getting drunk or getting fed or getting the best drink.  It's all about a homey place where you can be with friends and have fun, and that is what this pub understands so perfectly.

There's much more to say about Celtic Crossings, but the best way to understand it is to experience it, and anyone who likes Irish pubs must visit, for there is a good chance that you will never find a pub as authentic outside of Ireland.  This is truly the perfect Irish pub in America.

Celtic Crossings
751 N. Clark St.
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 337-1005

Fado Introduces Ireland to America

If Celtic Crossings is an Irish pub that has immigrated to America, Fado is the first American-born child of Irish immigrants.  In most ways, Fado imitates a true Irish pub brilliantly, but it offers a bit more variety in true American fashion.

Before I get into Fado's many fantastic qualities, I am compelled to indulge myself with a small tangent.  This is because no matter what the quality of the pub had been, I would have given it a rave review for having Strongbow Cider.  Strongbow is by far the most popular cider in the U.K., and yet it is very difficult to find in the U.S., especially on tap.  During my time in England I grew very fond of Strongbow, so discovering that a pub not only had Strongbow but also had black currant to go with it made my taste buds soar.  At the same time, it shows Fado's devotion to authenticity, for there is not a bar in Ireland that does not have the makings of a real Snakebite.

Personal tastes aside, this is a truly incredible pub.  Though larger than a traditional Irish pub, it has many of the same qualities, notably dark wood, a long bar, low lighting, and rustic, antiquey decor.  However, it also offers much more, from the wooden menus and Gaelic translations to individualized place settings with quotes from famous Irishmen.  The pub's layout is unique, for the bar is oval-shaped and is surrounded by booths and tables on all sides.  But the really spectacular aspect of the atmosphere is the second floor which is modeled after a ship, complete with hull and sails.  The layout was clearly designed to allow customers to sit and talk for long periods which epitomizes pubs in Ireland.
As for alcohol, the pub has a large selection of Irish and European beers, Irish whiskey, and a full bar.  However, unlike the traditional Irish pub, it also is fully equipped for cocktails complete with a drink menu.  The sangria blanco is particularly tasty.  The food is even better.  With a large number of tables, the pub is clearly equipped to be a restaurant as well as a bar.  This is fortunate because the food is fantastic.  Everything we ordered was delicious beyond words and authentic without falling into any Irish pitfalls (except for the very Irish soda bread.  If you've never had it, you're not missing anything).
This pub is truly an amazing amalgam of old and new, Ireland and America.  I can tell you right now that this is where I'll be spending St. Patrick's Day.  In every sense, it takes the best of both worlds to create an Irish pub that does not forsake its American soil.

Fado Irish Pub
100 W. Grand Ave.
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 836-0066