Traditional Irish marching bagpipers are warming up for the start of the giant 162nd St. Patrick's Day Parade & Festival on Saturday, March 16, 2013, in San Francisco. Nobody thinks 11:30 a.m. is too early for green beer.
Since the mission is making San Francisco Irish for the day, we checked out five authentically Irish pubs with several proud members of 80-year-old The Irish Pipers Band of San Francisco . Sure, there are more than five Irish pubs in the Bay Area deserving a mention on any list of truly decent Irish public houses, and yes, this is a debate which deserves earnest consideration over a few pints of Guinness.
The question: What really makes an Irish pub outside the borders of the Emerald Isle a truly authentic one? Answers include the ritual of a well-poured Guinness, a properly boiled corned beef and cabbage dinner, Bushmills behind the bar, the battered fish and chips served with malt vinegar. Most of all, the answer that counts is the Irish people who own it, work there, and go there. Often.
622 Green St., San Francisco
If Irish luck, charm, good spirits, and freely flowing Guinness 'til last call at 2 a.m. are on your list, O'Reilly's is surely a genuine export of the Emerald Isle herself. Aside from the black stuff, the drinks menu is impressively encyclopedic in this North Beach institution. Dive into a steak and mushroom pie, nip into a cozy corner of curios and barrel tables, be inspired by the good company of Ireland's late and great (Beckett, Shaw, Yates, Joyce, Wilde) illustrated on the wall mural in tribute to drinking days gone by. Find no shortage of a lively and colorful cast of characters at O'Reilly's any day of the year, St. Paddy's Day being no exception. There's always room for one more here, whether patrons or pints. Myles O'Reilly is highly regarded as a tip-top Bay Area publican and sponsor of the St. Patrick's Day parade itself. "We have lovely food. I can say that without fear of contradiction," Myles stated. "And I'm proud to be hosting the Irish Pipers Band on the 17th. Come and join us."
3920 Geary Blvd., San Francisco
What would Ireland be without its history? Ireland's 32 has an archival interior, almost a museum to Irish Republicanism. In fact, the name itself refers to the Sinn Féin vision of a 32-county federal republic of Ireland. Authentic as an archive, double-height walls are covered with posters and photos from JFK to the IRA. The cavernous, mostly standing room space attracts plenty of younger, sport-crazed crowds to watch telly on game days; some locals claim to have spent the better part of their youth here. You won't find any tourists, but you will find exemplary fish and chips, a creamy head on your Guinness, and by all means, do have a good old natter with the chappie standing beside ye.
116 Clement St., San Francisco
If you know any wanderlust Irish musicians on either side of the pond, they'll know The Plough and the Stars, guaranteed, because this is San Francisco's home to live traditional Irish music nearly every night of the week. Performers come from all over the Bay Area, the nation, and from the old sod. Engaging patron Séan Haney, hailing from County Down, has welcomed many a seisiún since 1981. Nights in Shanaglish, with County Wicklow's Paddy Egan on the concertina, performs at 9 p.m. on St. Patrick's Day. Or come at 6 p.m. for a high-stepping Irish dance show onstage. Come even earlier for pool and darts to go with the fiddle, flute, and foot-tapping. Order another Guinness and click glasses at the long, dark wood bar. Sláinte!
243 O'Farrell St., San Francisco
Pubs across the pond are frequently called "the local." True, Union Square could never really be called a community hub. But to be fair, some of Dublin's best pubs are located in city center, as well. Johnny Foley's is such a place, and by San Francisco standards, it's larger than life. Ask your Irish friends. They likely feel this is a place most resembling what could easily be Dublin, Cork City, Galway. Fine, in order to join in the spirit, you have to embrace the out-of-towners, too. And don't forget to eat; the chef is brilliant.
We know Harringtons, Durty Nelly's, Napper Tandy, The Irish Times, Blarney Stone, The Irish Bank, Fiddler's Green, The Chieftain, Blackthorn, Kennedy's, Martin Mack's, Danny Coyle's, Bill McNally's in Oakland, Brennan's in Berkeley ... they're great. However, when it comes to authenticity, one mustn't overlook 2700 45th Ave.
2700 45th Ave., San Francisco
Feel the biting breeze blowing in from the ocean for frigid yet fond remembrances of County Sligo. Since 1974, the UICC has been in the cradle-to-the-grave business when it comes to the Bay Area's Irish community. Here, there are wedding banquets, family reunions, Gaelic, Irish dancing, and bagpipes lessons, with some of the Bay Area's best recipes for Irish coffee and corned beef and cabbage emanating from this bar and kitchen. Best of all, the UICC members' club greets visitors warmly to their Ocean Beach outpost for some drinks, a meal, and a good wag. Wow. To be sure, be on your best behavior when meeting lots of new friends while attending the Green Fest Block Party beginning at 11 a.m. on St. Patrick's Day. Here's a handy cheat sheet of Irish slang.