New Irish pub restaurants to try for St. Patrick’s Day
I’m at the bar talking to a guy named Ray, or maybe it’s Jay, and I’ll never see him again. I tell him about ThePub.ie, a website someone started in 2020, a few months after the pandemic started.
‘They called it a virtual Irish pub,’ I said, ‘and there were all these cartoon characters on the homepage that brought it to life, and all these buttons you could click on if you wanted chat with strangers, and other places to click if you wanted something more private.”
“No, you need the real deal. It’s in the Bible,” Ray/Jay says, shaking his head and pointing me to a letter from the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians.
But since we were torn from you, brethren, for a short time, in person no heart, we have striven all the more earnestly and with great desire to see you face to face.
Face. For. Face. Bombarded as we have all been by disembodied voices over the past two years, one could be forgiven for forgetting that there is something crucial about direct person-to-person contact.
“You have to interact,” says Mike McNiff. “That’s what humans do.” He’s sitting across the table, in the flesh, on a Wednesday afternoon in The Irish Poet in Wantagh for a quiet moment, of which the pub has relatively little these days. The Great Return began the third week of January, according to his tally. “People came out, people got it. They’re sick of it.” And well-fed too, especially those who opt for its delicious Irish Dip sandwich, which ditches the roast beef for the corned but leaves the cup of demi-glace intact. Or his spring rolls garnished with pastrami and sauerkraut, or his shepherd’s pie…
McNiff, who grew up in Castlerea in the west of Ireland, opened the Irish Poet last year with two pals, both former colleagues at the Wantagh Inn. For anyone to choose the COVID era to open an Irish pub, an establishment that demands almost unrestricted social interaction in tight quarters and small rooms, seems like madness. But if so, it’s not a madness confined to Wantagh. Over the past year, no less than four Irish pubs have opened on the island, four new St. Patrick’s Day watering holes. That is to say: even as the rest of us were locked in an eternal present, dreaming of ways to endure the isolation, others dreamed of a future where we would no longer isolate ourselves.
It’s now Monday morning, and this time my in-person exploits lead to a Bay Shore mall and a bar table across from Steve Bermingham, who opened At Kitty Mulligan’s there in March of last year. “It’s been a slow start but we’re getting traction, you feel things are turning around now,” he says, the Dublin native’s blue eyes smiling like Irish eyes are meant to. Bermingham’s slides open the doors of the barn he built to separate the bar from his Trinity bedroom, a cozy annex that’s equally comfortable for hosting speed-dating events, 80s cover bands, televised rugby matches, ruthless darts tournaments, psychic nights, comedy nights, arts nights, and an awards dinner for the East Islip Cheerleading Squad.
“We’re building a beautiful community,” says Bermingham. “People say, ‘what does that mean?’ It’s a place where everyone is…” He stops, heads for the bar, and returns with a black-and-white framed photo of his grandmother – Kitty herself. “Such a warm and inviting person. She had 32 grandchildren but remembered each of their birthdays in her head, and it always felt like she knew you. It’s a gift, I think, to be able to know and welcome everyone.”
It’s safe to say Bermingham inherited Kitty’s gift for putting people at ease, a gift he doubles with a year-round list of Irish comfort foods – fine local cod battered with beer Smedick and fry to a powerful crunch, an Irish stew based on his mother’s recipe – and a special menu for St. Patrick’s Day, including a traditional Irish breakfast plate that finds space for black pudding, brown bread and much more.
“There’s all this talk about the importance of having a third location,” I say, this time to Tommy Lee, a boss at Rabbit’s foot. “It’s this concept that a sociologist came up with in the 80s. We all have two places, home and work, although obviously it’s only one place for some of us these days- ci. The pandemic, you know.”
“Yeah, I get it,” says Lee, who hopes to become a regular at the Hicksville pub-restaurant bar, biting into a mix between an egg roll and a Philly cheesesteak.
“A third place is a place you don’t have to go. You’re there because you want to be there. Everyone’s always happy to see you. You have these informal interactions with strangers.”
“Like this one.”
“It’s not fancy, snobbish, or pretentious. It’s cozy and friendly, like this place. Just fun and good conversation.”
Lee asks how the chicken is doing, politely wishing this good conversation over. You tell him that your lemon-breaded chicken cutlet draped over a scoop of mashed potatoes is advertising in food form, enjoyable and satisfying.
Rabbit’s Foot, which opened last September, is owner Terence Scheurer’s first pub, but he’s long known their worth as a third-place finisher. As a Manhattan lawyer, Scheurer not only frequently found himself representing pubs, he frequently held client meetings there, a casual and less formal setting than his office. Now he practices on the island and has his own pub for meetings, but Hicksville residents have also found him useful, albeit for other reasons. “Getting out and talking with other people and having a sense of community — that’s so important,” he says. “It’s something that we missed a lot.”
The philosophy of third place: a relaxed setting, a warm atmosphere in a place that is not at home, friendly conversations between strangers and one last thing: a place where everyone is on an equal footing, whatever whether his power, his persuasion or his wallet. It is a concept enthusiastically embraced by Belfast at Lindenhurst, and represented graphically by a painting just above the host stand.
“There’s no tricolor in this pub,” owner Dave Crowe tells you, referring to the Irish national flag. “No, I had a young lady paint this, a provincial flag with all four provinces represented equally on a five by three.” His argument: “I don’t care if you are Protestant or Catholic, from the North, from the South, from the East or from the West. You are welcome in my company. It’s a matter of inclusivity, and we’re in a world of inclusivity now.”
Crowe is considered the island’s Irish pub these days, having opened five Flanagans here since 1987 (Lily and others), Crowe was born in a room upstairs above his father’s house in Limerick . (“My mother poured pints with me into her belly.”) As such, he knows what pubs can mean and what we stand to lose without them. “When I was young, the pub was the center of the village,” he says. “There were no bowling alleys, it was all done around the pubs. We miss that now. I’m not trying to get everyone to come to my pub, but there’s no place to go anymore. go out to teach people what’s going on in the community.” There are young children who – because of COVID – have never seen a parade, he says, an injustice he hopes to rectify on March 26, when Lindenhurst hosts its first-ever St. Patrick’s Day parade.
Naming his bar for a city so associated with conflict and division might seem like an odd choice for a place dedicated to inclusivity, but for Crowe, Belfast means something else too: strength and perseverance and surviving the present by reclaiming the past. . He points to an old cash register in the corner, a relic that caught his eye on a trip to Galway five years ago. Although he was “in pieces” with his keys broken, Crowe shipped him off to a restorer in Pennsylvania. “When he got it, he said, ‘It’s 110 years old,'” Crowe explains. “He survived World War I, he survived World War II when they were confiscating bronze and brass for the bombings, and he survived a bombing in Belfast.”
The machine has been wonderfully and brilliantly restored right down to its small round keys labeled farthing, shilling and ha’penny. “It’s been through so much and now look at it.” As beautiful as it is, and incredibly brilliant too, the register seems to be sending a message into the dining room about life after hardship, or maybe that’s just the message you need to hear right now. If this register spoke, it might sound like Mike McNiff back at The Irish Poet.
“We have to get up,” he said. “Let’s hope and pray that we can, and move on, because in life, you can’t go back.”
Belfast gastro pub, 101 N. Wellwood Ave., Lindenhurst; 631-237-7021, belfastgastropub.com
The Irish Poet, 1891 Wantagh Ave, Wantagh; 516-588-1891, irishpoetny.com
At Kitty Mulligan’s, 615 E. Main St., Bay Shore; 631-315-3571, kittymulligans.com
Rabbit’s Foot Bar & Grill, 646 S. Broadway, Hicksville; 516-605-0015, therabbitsfootny.com
For more information on this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Lindenhurst, visit lindenhurststpatricksparade.org