No matter where you visit in the world, there is one reliable constant, one dependable Guinness-based certainty regardless of the cultural alienation of the local environment: the Irish Pub.
I have visited more than 50 countries in my pre-Charlotte youth, and I have had a drink in an Irish pub in nearly every continent and time zone. As such, I am claiming some degree of expertise in this field – plus I have the added advantage of actually being an Irishman (born and bred in Dublin), so I’ve been frequenting the real thing since a very young age.
Like all American cities that can boast a quorum of drinkers of a legal age, Charlotte is home to a handful of Irish pubs.
But there is a very important distinction that divides these so-called Irish pub: those that fall into the ‘Irish-American’ category, and those that are a true reflection of the greatest of Celtic exports.
This is not a criticism of the overall drinking experience, but it is important to understand the true nature of the establishment you are patronizing. Irish-American pubs can be identified by the over-use of shamrocks, tricolor flags and other generic Irish memorabilia. True Irish pubs, on the other hand, are Irish by virtue of the atmosphere, the smell and the general feel of the place.
I realize that these are criteria that can be difficult to evaluate, but there are some more obvious pointers. How many of the regular drinkers are Irish? (There are not many of us in Charlotte, but we are a discerning consumer group when it comes to choosing a pub.) How good is the pint of Guinness, a globally-accepted measure of Irishness?
When I first moved to Charlotte, I took it upon myself to assess all of the bars which claim an affiliation to my homeland, and to evaluate them according to the above criteria. Below are the results of my extensive and hangover-inducing research:
RiRa is probably the biggest and best-known of the ‘Irish’ pubs, and is a great place for a drink, but it is about as Irish as President Obama – though both claim some distant association with the Emerald Isle.
Fitzgerald’s nearby falls into the same category, but at least gets some marks for a more appropriate name.
The big shamrock outside The Selwyn Pub is misleading – it is more American than Irish-American. Selwyn is still one of best places for a drink in Charlotte, but it offers more of a local flavor than the ‘rub of the green.’
The real deal
Connolly’s on Fifth leads the pack for a genuine Irish drinking experience. The smell of stale beer is ever-present, it is too dark to see whether you have tipped the barman with a $10 or a $20, and the toilet only works sporadically – but it’s a perfect little bit of Dublin in the Queen City.
Dandelion Market and Workman’s Friend also fall into this category, with only one factor counting against full-on Irish qualification — the food in both is excellent. Irish pubs (and Ireland generally to be fair) are not known for quality cuisine.
The only culinary issue for a genuine Irish pub is generally, do you want your peanuts salted or dry-roasted?
Connolly’s, Dandelion Market and Workman’s Friend are all part of the Kevin Devin empire. He is currently the undisputed king of the Irish drinking experience in Charlotte, but he is about to face competition from a new publican, Mark Murphy and his bar, Murphy’s Kitchen & Tap, soon to open on West Trade Street.
Murphy is a Connolly’s alumni, and something of an institution behind the bar for the Connolly’s faithful.
Those of us who appreciate the purity of the Irish pub, and the occasional break from Charlotte’s overwhelming selection of new home-grown taprooms, look forward to seeing whether Mark Murphy can throw down a genuine challenge to Connolly’s.