The Best Irish Pub in America: Introduction

Opening time is Guinness Time.

Opening time is Guinness Time.

I have not wanted to focus overmuch on alcohol on this blog, in large part because I do not want to encourage the misconception that drinking is the defining experience of the Irish people.  That’s not to say the subject should go undiscussed, but it gets a bit exhausting seeing the Irish-American world reduced to a punchline about drunkenness on the back of a green t-shirt.

This project will offer a growing list that explores what Irish pubs have offered, and what they might offer. It is meant to be a resource for existing Irish pubs, potential Irish pubs, and imaginary Irish pubs.
But one cannot write about the Irish-American experience without writing about the Irish pub. This has long been one of the crucibles of Irish-American identity, and it’s hardly surprising. Firstly, the Irish-American pub is a direct descendant of the long tradition of Irish public houses, which has a storied history as being a sort of cultural center in Ireland, often serving multiple functions, including grocer, hardware store, and even undertaker.

Secondly, the American bar has a similar history. American drinking establishments have long been a part of the American democratic process — the American Revolution itself was fomented in bars — and more than a few American groups used bars as venues for creating and maintaining their identity. Gay bars might be one of the most famous examples of this; after all, the Stonewall Riots began in a bar. But America has also produced an endless collection of German beer gardens, Mexican cantinas, biker bars, and Japanese saki bars, among many other examples. There are few ethnicities or uniquely American cultures who haven’t had their own bars. In America, you find your identity with a drink in your hands — or not, as there were even Temperance bars that served only soft drinks.

The Irish pub serves many different functions, and there are many different Irish bars. It is not my intention to review them and decide which one is best, but instead to offer a growing list that explores what Irish pubs have offered, and what they might offer. It is meant to be a resource for existing Irish pubs, potential Irish pubs, and imaginary Irish pubs.

This blog typically addresses the Irish-American experience, but this project will expand that somewhat to look to Ireland itself, as one of the functions of an Irish pub is to act as a sort of a portal through time and space, providing visitors with an experience that is identifiably Irish. Admittedly, this experience is often a fanciful version, based more in the American sentimental imagination than in the real Irish experience. But, then, if it provided a perfect recreation of the Irish experience, it wouldn’t be an Irish-American pub — it would just be an Irish pub.

I go into this recognizing that there are all sorts of Irish-American pubs, and, for convenience sake, I will simplify them to three categories. They are as follows:

  • There is the dive bar, which probably represents the majority of Irish pubs in America. They are, for the most part, unambitious places, perhaps with an Irish name above the door and with a few shamrocks on the wall, and they might offer an Irish beer or two, but otherwise they are like any other American watering hole where unfussy drinks are served inexpensively to hard-drinking and sometimes loudly sociable clientele. They will sometimes offer events or entertainment, but these aren’t always Irish-themed, and tend to be a bit raucous.
  • There is the casual drinking bar. Think of the pub from Cheers. It’s tidy, has a good choice of drinks, and tends to wear its Irishness on its sleeve a little more. It may be a bar/restaurant, but its food selections typically will consist of (sometimes Irish-themed) bar food, and not fine dining. These are the bars that are most likely to have Irish-themed events and music.
  • There is the upscale bar or gastropub. These will sometimes be built in Ireland and shipped to America. Their drink selection will be wide and often have quite expensive offerings. Their food selection will tend towards fine dining and sometimes offer a selection of authentically Irish recipes. These venues may or may not offer Irish-themed events.

When it seems proper, when I write an entry for this project, I will identify what sort of venue it is right for, and if there are variations that might be considered for different pubs.

Until next time, sláinte.

Irish for Americans: Fluthered

Author Frank McCourt, a man who knew how to get fluthered.

Author Frank McCourt, a man who knew how to get fluthered.

Fluthered isn’t a word from the Irish language. It is, instead, mostly likely based on the English word “flutter,” and there’s a long tradition of using the word “fluttered” in the British Isles to describe someone who is agitated. It’s a vivid image, especially if you’ve ever seen a distressed or trapped bird engaged in especially frantic fluttering.

But the Irish have something we don’t in English — soft versions of hard consonants. And so you’ll find that entirely ordinary words, when spoken by some Irish people, sometimes take on an unexpected sibilance. Oddly, the Irish tend to replace th’s with hard t’s when they appear at the start of a word, so while “butter” is sometimes pronounced “buther,” “three” is sometimes pronounced “tree.”

The Irish have a lot of slang words for drunk, and I’ll offer a few of my favorites:

  • Bulloxed
  • Gee-Eyed
  • Langered
  • Motherless
  • Ossified
  • Paralytic
  • Strocious

However, I’ve chosen to highlight fluthered for a few reasons. Firstly, I like that it highlights one of the idiosyncrasies of Irish pronunciation. Secondly, it recalls a character from Seán O’Casey’s “The Plow and the Stars,” one of the better-known Irish plays in America.

The character is Fluther Good, a trade-unionist and carpenter with dual tastes for drink and alliteration; at one point he cries out “lt’ll take more than that to flutther a feather o’ Fluther.” I don’t know whether Fluther Good inspired the word fluthered, the opposite happened, or both occurred independently, one of those coincidences of history, like the fact that Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray applied for patents for telephones on exactly the same day. Sometimes it’s just time for a thing to exist and it will appear in multiple places at once, and so it may be with fluthered.

The word hasn’t made many appearances in America, but that just means its time is due. Past due, really, because my research suggests Irish-Americans have been occasionally attempting to introduce the word since at least January 3, 1958, when sports writer Bill Cunningham included it in a Boston Herald article about the popularity of football on New Year’s Day. Prior to the advent of televised sports, Cunningham argues, the first day of the year had little associated it but for some religious rituals and some irreligious hangovers, “with the pious going to church and the pagans getting deliberately fluthered.”

A sentence like that should immediately have cemented the popularity of the word, but didn’t. Frank McCourt also took a shot at it, many years later in 1999, in his celebrated book “Angela’s Ashes.” He tells the story of working as a messenger boy, and of an English woman who fed him sherry and then pushed a ham sandwich in his mouth, which he responds to by turning it into ejectamenta. The produces the following, dazzling condemnation:

And after all we did for him, giving him the telegrams with the good tips, sending him to the country on fine days, taking him back after his disgraceful behavior with Mr. Harrington, the Englishman, disrespecting the body of poor Mrs. Harrington, stuffing himself with ham sandwiches, getting fluthered drunk on sherry, jumping out the window and destroying every rosebush in sight, coming in here three sheets to the wind, and who knows what else he did delivering telegrams for two years, who knows indeed, though we have a good idea, don’t we, Miss Barry?

And last example, from Andrew Greely, the priest, sociologist, and popular author, who wrote the following in his book “Irish Linen: A Nuala Anne McGrail Novel”:

I treated myself to a second jar of Middleton’s, aware that if I came home fluthered, I’d be banished from our marriage bed. Well, that never happened, because it takes at least three jars to fluther me.

Another fine sentence! Another argument for the widespread adoption of the word!

I mean, you’ve got plenty of words to choose from. Get paralytic, if you like. Get paralytic, if that’s your preference.

But if you choose to get fluthered, you’re following in the linguistic footsteps of one of Ireland’s greatest playwrights, an American sportwriter, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and a priest.