Though Chicago probably boasts more “Irish” pubs than Starbucks locations, drinking spots that actually remain true to the homeland can prove as difficult to locate as that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Keeping a few key elements in mind (a two-pour Guinness, Irish staff and regional grub), we worked our way through draft after draft of stout until we found the authentic Irish pubs that put those other shamrock-toting shacks to shame.
photo: courtesy of Bridget Montgomery
They know how to pour a Guinness at Johnny O'Hagan's
To create a more authentic Irish feel, Johnny O'Hagan's (named after two Irishmen related to the owners) handcrafted bar was imported directly from the ol' Emerald Isle. In addition to this eye-catching piece, the pub also features a giant fireplace below a mural depicting the story of the Claddagh Ring. As for food, we recommend sticking with the traditional Irish breakfast including rashers, sausages, eggs, black and white pudding, beans, grilled tomato, spuds and toast, $8 for a half order and $9.95 for a full. If you're just looking for something to snack on, the curry chips are also a pub favorite, $6.
Atlantic Bar & Grill
In addition to its Irish owner, this one gets bonus points for having a fireplace and classy photos of the Atlantic Ocean and Ireland. The Atlantic's sleek mahogany bar provides an inviting space to watch the game (rugby, football or soccer) from one of the pub's flat-screens and the kitchen serves up all the usual suspects. Highlights include the beef and Guinness pie, bangers and mash and traditional bread pudding for dessert; entrees range from $8.95-$13.95.
Cork & Kerry
There's no place like the South Side when it comes to Irish pubs and Cork & Kerry stands amongst the best of ‘em. With its woodwork and green trim interior, low-slung chandeliers and all the imported beer your Irish roots can handle, you'll feel like you're right back in the homeland. But before you get too cozy, take heed of the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. This place is nearly always packed and it’s bound to be at max capacity during St. Paddy's Day weekend, with or without the South Side Parade.
Cullen's Bar & Grill
If you're looking for a place where the staff is just as authentic as the Irish cuisine, head over to Cullen's. These Brogue-spewing servers have perfected the pour of a pint of Guinness and they’ve got an entire list of hearty entrees to boot. Staples like Shepherd's pie and Cornish pasties (seasoned ground beef wrapped pastry-style) are house favorites and the bar's Mother’s Meatloaf, served with mashed potatoes and gravy, is a must. If you're looking for something a little lighter (and we use that term loosely), try the Bass Ale-battered onion rings or the popular curry chips. The average entree here will cost you about $12, and it's worth every bit o' green. Cullen's also hosts live Irish music on Tuesday evenings, and makes room for less traditional tunes Wednesday through Sunday.
Ginger's Ale House
The Irish and English owners of Ginger's Ale House know just how to please their green-lovin' patrons - with a jukebox full of Irish hits and classic rock tunes. The guys also stock essential Irish staples like Boddington's, Caffrey's Irish Ale and Magner's Cider. American brews are available, too, but let's not forget why you're here. When you're looking for something hearty to soak up all that stout, try the pub's "homeland" Shepherd's pie, beer-battered fish 'n' chips (all-you-can-eat on Fridays) or the traditional Irish breakfast offered during Ginger’s weekend brunch.
The Kerryman draws a ready-to-party crowd on St. Patrick's Day.
The Kerryman seems anything but authentic with its modern digs and upscale dining, but the brothers behind it are as Irish as can be. Mick and Trevor O'Donoghue, originally from Castleisland, Co. Kerry, voyaged across the Atlantic in hopes of bringing modern Irish nightlife to Chicago. They've accomplished just that with a regular lineup of local DJs, nightly drink deals and a clientele consisting of young professionals. While the venue's non-traditional decor may throw you for a loop, the menu, prepared by Chef Damien Maloney, is just as authentic as the brothers themselves. Salads like the Grecian chicken and steamy bowls of Galway seafood chowder provide a little something to nibble on, while hearty entrees like Shepherd's pie and the Irish breakfast offer more sustenance.
Located next to Wrigley Field, the Irish Oak is often just as crowded as you might expect. But no matter how rowdy it gets inside, the pub won't lose its warm and welcoming Irish roots. Everything about the place, from its floors and frames to its hand-crafted bar and Galway native owners, came straight from the Emerald Isle. In addition to its authentic interior, you'll find plenty of Irish brews on tap and a full menu featuring both Irish and American cuisine. Stop in on a Friday when the pub offers its all-you-can-eat Claddagh-style fish 'n' chips with homemade coleslaw for $10.75.
At first glance, it seems that this family-owned Bridgeport pub could've been plucked straight from the Emerald Isle itself. Shinnick's late 19th-century interior – complete with an authentic mahogany Brunswick bar (circa 1890) – and familial charm are enough to make you forget all those other Irish joints on your list. And if we haven't convinced you yet, just check out the pub’s extensive list of Irish whiskies, bourbons and scotches.
The good chief watches over all.
If you've got a hankering for real Irish music, this Northwest Side pub should be your first stop. Owned by All-Irish musicians Brendan and Siobhan McKinney, the bar and restaurant has a commitment to traditional tunes, with bands playing jigs and reels throughout the night. The food is not to be outdone, though, as the menu includes "Emerald Isle Favorites" like fish 'n' chips, Irish stew, corned beef and more. Don't miss the popular Sunday brunch buffet; for $15.95, you'll get your fill of everything from made-to-order omelets to poached Wild Atlantic salmon. The bar is named after former Chicago Police Chief Francis O'Neill, who was known for both his toughness on the job and his love for music.
Celtic Knot Public House
Sometimes you've got to leave city limits to find a worthwhile Irish pub. Such is the case with Evanston's Celtic Knot, where the food and brews are just as authentic as the Irish folks who run the joint. The friendly staff is trained in the art of the infamous Guinness two-pour and the stone-walled room and warm atmosphere are enough to make you feel like you're slingin' 'em back in the homeland. Once you've had your fill of booze, you can belly up to the bar and order up some traditional grub like fish 'n' chips, Shepherd's pie or the pub's popular Guinness pasties. Or, head over to the venue's dining room and choose from a more upscale menu, featuring dishes like lemon-infused sole, pecan-crusted salmon and steak with black peppercorn sauce.