It has no doubt been a taxing few years. Did I say few years? I guess I mainly meant since Covid created chaos, which in actuality was about eleven months ago. Feels like a few years, though, right? Anyway, there’s no doubt that it’s been a taxing few years/eleven months. Political and social unrest is at a high probably not seen since 1968, when MLK and Robert Kennedy were killed, Lyndon Johnson refused to seek a second term, Vietnam was in full swing, there were riots at the Democratic National Convention, and there was general unpleasantness.
But 1968 had some redeeming aspects. Stanley Kubric’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was released, as were movies such as Bullitt, Hang ‘Em High, and Planet of the Apes. The same year saw, or rather, heard, The Band’s Music from Big Pink, the Beatles’ self-titled album (my analysis of which can be heard here), and Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends.
This got me thinking about some positives we as Americans can hold onto. That said, I don’t really listen to popular music. And while 1917 and Knives Out were both incredible movies, they were released before the metaphorical dookie hit the fan. So I began thinking outside the box. Is there anything we can be proud of that transcends all of the turmoil of the past year?
Yes, there is! And here’s what it is: America completely nailed the Irish bar.
Irish-Americans v. Americans who Claim Irishness
The Irish have a turbulent history in this country. For one thing, they were looked down upon because most Irish got here after a potato famine in the mid-19th century. This meant folks were poor and dirty and upset, plus it took a long time to get here in the decks of a poorly-ventilated boat, so they were likely poorer, dirtier, and more upset by the time they got here. Plus, they were Catholic, and at the time Catholicism was looked down upon by the overwhelmingly Protestant citizenry of the younger United States.
The Irish amassed in larger northeastern cities like New York and Boston, and built little homes-away-from-home and pubs-away-from-pubs. There was involvement in organized crime almost from the get-go. Some Irish were even seen as crusty bitches and a handful of ragtags on occasion. But then came the stereotype of the Irish beat cop, the Boston Celtics, the University of Notre Dame, and a president named Kennedy. Nowadays, the Irish aren’t oppressed or held in disfavor. How many movies take place in Boston? And everyone’s last name is Flaherty or O’Malley or Shaughnessy or Costigan. Strong Irish heritage. We have St. Patrick’s Day parades shutting down huge thoroughfares for hours at a time, and godawful “kiss me, I’m Irish” garb. About 95% of all college apartments I’ve ever been in have a Guinness sign somewhere. Ronald McDonald is basically the patron saint of American obesity. The Irish are well-accepted now.
The Irish Bar
And I can tell you firsthand that we have pretty much nailed the Irish bar. I spent a week in Ireland once, and in that week I probably visited fifteen or so pubs. Some were in touristy areas such as Temple Bar in Dublin. Others were off the beaten path or in the roguish middle of untouristy parts of larger cities like Galway. The most consistent thing is that each and every bar looked exactly like an Irish bar in any mid- to large-sized city in America. The Dubliner in Dallas happens to be my personal favorite, but everyone knows what I’m talking about.
You know the bar. Dark wood, dark lights, a little cramped, beer on tap, campy Irish posters and photos on the wall, the exact “My goodness, my Guinness” poster pictured above, some traditional Irish music coming from the speakers. Sometimes a bartender will even use a faux-Irish brogue to impress the girls trying to get to the front to order their vodka-crans. Maybe they even have a trad band come in on weekends to play “Whiskey in the Jar” and some other hits from Now That’s What I Call Stereotypically Irish Behavior!
Why does any of this matter? It doesn’t really, I guess. But it’s nice knowing that America has done something so well. It’s nice knowing that we have recreated something foreign so authentically here. I’m looking forward to the day when the economy can reopen and I can spend more money at places like The Dubliner. But for now, let’s take a moment to pat ourselves on the back for really getting this thing right. In dark times when it feels like we’re plummeting down a hole, think of how great that first post-pandemic Irish beer will taste.