Movable Feast: Ireland in Philly

It’s hard to find a true Irish pub these days. Most any amateur restaurateur can tack up a few Guinness signs, serve Harp on tap, put shepherd’s pie on the menu and declare themselves “authentically Irish.” But the experience, more often than not, feels more like Indiana than Ireland.

As St. Patrick’s Day approached, we wondered if there were any truly authentic Irish experiences here in Philadelphia, a city steeped in Irish traditions. We had our doubts, but ended up pleasantly surprised. Here’s what we found:

The Bards
2013 Walnut St.

Smokers of the world rejoice. Think you’re universally shunned? Not so at the Bards, where smoking is as de rigueur as throwing darts, lifting pints of Murphy’s or polishing off a plate of boxtys (potato pancakes). The pall of smoke notwithstanding, this pub has a comfortable, easy ambience that has little to do with the thatched Irish cottage replica that dominates the front dining room and everything to do with the mixed crowd—architects, students, assorted business folk—and stick-to-your-ribs fare. For transcendent bliss, try bangers and mash ($9), hearty Irish sausages stacked up invitingly alongside a heaping tower of mashed potatoes. Wash it down with a creamy pint of Guinness and suddenly you’re living the life of Reilly.

Fergie’s Pub
1214 Sansom St.

Fergie’s is an outpost of true Irish pub culture, plopped down in an uninspiring stretch of Sansom Street. At the far end of the bar you’ll find a beer list with all the expected Irish brews—Guinness, Smithwick’s (pronounced “Smittick’s”) and Harp—along with a sign that should tell you all you need to know about this slice of Sligo: “NO, we don’t serve Michelob Ultra.” There is food—the Pub Fries, topped with melted cheese ($4.50), are better than most—but Fergie’s is, ultimately, a place to drink. The pitch-perfect Irish pub décor—from the dark wood bar to stained-glass windows that pretty much block out all signs of life on the street—mimics what you’d find in the least touristy pubs of north Dublin (this is a good thing). And the craic—that’s Gaelic for “pub talk”—may be the best this side of the Atlantic.

The Black Sheep
17th and Latimer sts.

Pay it no mind if U2 is blaring from the jukebox as you walk through the door—this isn’t your average Irish bar. It’s the real deal, judging by the constant stream of patrons who push open the can’t-miss red door in search of hearty Saturday brunch and a reliable lineup of Irish brews. The food is good, but it’s the cozy atmosphere (dark wood booths, old-fashioned wallpaper and wood ceiling beams) that keeps people lingering over their repast. Weekend brunch is your best bet to sample some Irish favorites, including a generous portion of bangers and mash ($8) or a traditional Irish breakfast with two eggs, baked beans, black and white pudding, bacon, bangers, tomato and mushroom ($12). Other not-so-Irish options include a crab cake sandwich on a potato roll with lightly seasoned fries and a small green salad ($12).

Originally published on March 17, 2005