In continuing with our Chicago feature, today we will discuss the awesomeness that is Chicago Irish pubs.
Irish pubs in the Bay Area suck. Really. There are exceptions, but on the whole, the Irish pubs here are just…not. Not Irish. Not pubs. Not nothing like that.
Thus Irish pubs were one of the things I was excited to explore when I spent a year in Chicago. The first job (and in this context, job means “slave labor” or possibly “major rip off”) I had upon arriving at the Windy City was blogging about Irish pubs, and boy were they better than the ones in SF.
Having spent time in Ireland and having learned how to drink in the U.K., I have an appreciation for authenticity that escapes most Americans. At the same time, having lived in England briefly, I have an equally strong appreciation for non-British food and the knowledge that while Irish food is better than English, there are advantages to throwing some American in there too.
With that in mind, these pubs stood out amongst their many brethren as the best, whether for food, drink, atmosphere, or the whole package.
Wilde is more of a restaurant than a pub, but it has two bars and an abundant selection of drinks, so close enough. Centered around Oscar Wilde, the Irishman responsible for The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Grey, Wilde is set up like an upper class library, covered with massive bookshelves, stained glass windows, and cozy alcoves perfect for reading. The drink selection is vast, and the food is fabulous if not cheap, providing a full selection of Irish fare along with American options. Being able to sip some cider in an armchair surrounded by books is a truly unparalleled experience.
Celtic Crossings is everything an Irish pub should be. Built and manned by Irish immigrants, this is the most authentic Irish pub I have encountered anywhere outside Ireland. Even on an average day, the pub was largely peopled by Irishmen. As per Irish tradition, they do not serve food but sport a large selection of Irish beers and whiskeys from their large wooden bar that was actually imported from Ireland. They introduced us to the tradition of adding a dash of 7-Up to your Smithwick’s, and Daniel has been ordering it that way ever since to the constant consternation of bartenders. I dream of spending St. Patrick’s Day here; it’s probably the closest I will ever get to spending it in Ireland.
The Best of Both Worlds
Even though there are more Irish and more exciting pubs in Chicago than Bridget McNeill’s, I cannot have a best Irish pubs list without it. Admittedly, I have a strong personal attachment to the place, but my love grew from the pubby atmosphere. The most important aspect of an Irish pub to me is not the food nor the drink but the friendly, cozy atmosphere that accompanies sharing a pint with some friends after a hard day’s work. With its comfy arm chairs, small tables, and a sound level at which you can actually have an intelligible conversation, this pub exudes the atmosphere that really makes Irish pubs for me. But in place of an Irish menu, Bridget McNeill’s sports the best that America has to offer from fantastic thin-crust pizza to scrumptious burgers to baked mac and cheese. The food is superb and varied and helps this pub truly encompass the best of Irish and American pubs.
The Best of the Best
However, much as I love Bridget McNeill’s, the pub that truly mixes Irish and American traditions flawlessly is Fado. The atmosphere exudes Irishness in a tactful manner without being overly overt. The pub centers around a massive, ovular wooden bar fading into dark, wooden tables and rustic decor on the ground level. Floor number two is topped with a boat. Yes, an actual boat. Just hanging from the ceiling. Tell me that’s not awesome. The drink menu is not only wide but also diverse, from a large range of Irish beers and whiskey (and Strongbow! It may not be Irish, but it is awesome and such a U.K. staple that it still lends to the pub’s authenticity) to more international fare like white sangria and mojitos. And the food, oh the food! It is so, so good. Traditional Irish dishes abound, but their flavoring has been updated to perfection. Never have I tasted better corned beef and potatoes. Even the cabbage was good! And you have to try the boxty. Shaped like an Irish pancake, the boxty is basically a fried potato tortilla that does not need filling to be delicious. Fado has everything an Irish pub could offer but the variety and ingenuity of Americans intent on perfecting the pub experience.
No matter your tastes, as long as you like Irish pubs, these four are bound to please. Should you wish to read more about them, visit my Chicago Irish Pubs Examiner page.