Thursday, November 13, 2008

Finally, a Real Irish Pub

I love an Irish pub. Even before I lived in Dublin, Ireland, I used to think the USA version of an Irish pub was the best place to quaff pints. Once I moved to Dublin, I found out how unauthentic the USA version of the Irish pub really was. When my stint in Ireland was finally over and I moved back home to southern New Jersey, I tolerated the phoney Irish pubs that were built here as "tourist" attractions. Authentic Irish furniture, expensive beers and no real Irish atmosphere.

Well, my drought is over. Wandering around Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, I was about to walk into the sister version of Atlantic City's Irish Pub, when right next door I noticed a drinking establishment named Bards. I walked into the door of Bards, a door I will be going through quite often. As soon as I walked in, it felt like I was in one of the many pubs I used to frequent on Baggot Street in the D2 section of Dublin. It was low key, cozy and as friendly as a good pub goer would like it to be. I met the bartender Evan and told him that I would be right back with my family. One of the coolest things about pubs in Ireland was that a lot of them were family friendly and Evan told me that Bards fit that bill.

My wife and I and two kids made it back to Bards and before I knew it we had two pints of Guinness in front of us, poured the traditional way. A rarity here in my section of New Jersey. Not only did I have a traditional pour in front of me, but let me tell you another mark of an extraordinary Irish pub. I was about three quarters through with my Guinness pint when I turned to look at some of the Irish wall hangings. By the time I had turned back around to grab my stout, without even asking, Evan had walked up with another full pint for me. It was like he could read my not to incredibly complicated mind. I asked Evan how long he had been bartending at Bards. He replied that he frequented the place so often as a patron, the owner decided to hire him.

Old, rickety wood floors, decidedly Irish pub furniture, fire place in the rear, Bards had so much charm and atmosphere I could easily have moved right in. Dart boards to spend the afternoon or evening with and just like in Ireland, no overkill with zillions of TV's. Two well placed TV's to catch the game on. A very nice Irish beer selection on tap. Guinness, Smithwicks, Harp and Strongbow Cider as well as Hoegarrden, Ithaca Brown Ale, Acme IPA, Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA and Troegg's Hopback Amber. A few Belgian bottles to boot. This was even better than Ireland, a smorgasbord of beer.

The Guinness at Bards is a huge attraction. Be it myth or fact, The Guinness is said to be the tastiest and freshest in all of Philadelphia. To have the freshest Guinness in Philadelphia means that Bards must go through a lot of the dark stuff and this I do not doubt. When we were there for early lunch on a Sunday, the place was beginning to fill up. What I found out was that it was not just for the Guinness, but for the food.

The food at Bards is incredible. One of my favorite dishes of all time is Chicken Pot Pie. Well let me tell you, the Chicken Pot pie that I shared with my wife and daughter (it was way to big for a 4 year old) was possibly the best Chicken Pot Pie I ever had. This pie had so much delectable pie crust surrounding the awesome chicken, vegetables and gravy, you could die and go straight to heaven. I personally ordered the chicken curry. Chicken curry? With all of the authentic Irish offerings on the menu? You bet. When I lived and Ireland and visited the UK a lot, I developed a taste for spicy curry dishes, which were very popular there. Bards curry was top of the line. I raved about it the whole way home. We also had a tortilla appetizer that had an amazing fresh, homemade salsa. Delicious.

At this point in my ramblings, do you think I like the place? I haven't had a chance to write a beer blog in a few months. With the new baby and all the activities around the house, sitting down to the computer to write about my favorite subject has been difficult. But once I got home from Bards, I made the time. This place was awesome. I will be going there every time I go to Philadelphia, you should too!

Bards is located at 2013 Walnut Street in Philadelphia, a block away from Rittenhouse Square, next door to the Irish Pub. 215-569-9585

Before I close, one suggestion to the owner, If Setanta Sports package was on the TV, I would be there for every Rugby game televised!! Maybe even for Hurling and Gaelic Football too. Not soccer though!

The Beers in Review

Slow Buffalo Brewing Company, IPA:
This beer will never be found anywhere unless you are friends with Rich Anderson and his brewing partner Jonesy. These home brewers brewed an IPA which was down right fabulous. Easy drinking, the perfect balance of hops. I loved this beer. These guys keep trying to make an uber IPA, but I am just thrilled to death that they fell short of one of those high alcohol, crazy, overly hopped, maniacal beers. This one was just plain drinkable and enjoyable.

Flying Fish Brewing, OctoberFish: I love Octoberfest beer. The whole German fest season strikes me right to the core of my Germanic roots. This is all I have to say about Octoberfish.... I purchased two sixtel kegs for my in house pub in Mid-September. By the End of October they were gone! Does this make me sound like a lush? It could, but OctoberFish attracts a lot of visitors. Get this one in bottles for yourself next Octoberfest season. Always one of my favorites.

Avery Brewing, The Kaiser, "Imperial Octoberfest Lager": By definition of Fest Beer, I knew going in that anything billed as imperial would not be a session beer. Sometimes the word Imperial scares me (this will be a topic for another blog), but I was prepared for this one as I only bought one bottle. Sweet malty aroma, strong malt taste with a taste of spices that are familiar in Belgian beers. Hop bitterness in the aftertaste. Warming finish. Taste improves immensely as the beer temperature warms. 10.03% alcohol. Be careful. This was a good one, but not a drink all day beer.

Weihenstephaner Fest Beer: If you are going to review a fest beer from Germany, might as well make it from the world's oldest brewery. Weihenstephaner has been brewing since the year 1040. Wow. At 5.8% alcohol this was the opposite of The Kaiser. Light yellow color, slight wet hay aroma. Malty taste as well as a grassy taste. All and all, once you had a couple bottles (Hey, it's a fest beer!), it was very good.

Dogfish Head Brewery, Punkin Ale: October also means Halloween and the start of fall. You can't get by fall without seeing a pumpkin or two. I have been searching the world for a quality pumpkin ale. I don't know why, because I can't stand pumpkin ale. I have tried many. They all start out fine, but by the time I get through the bottle they become too rich for my blood. The taste gets annoying. I want to like it. I want to have it. But up until now It has been a no go. I should have known Dogfish Head would have pulled this off. Not only was this beer drinkable ( I had four on Halloween night while trick or treating), it was so pleasant tasting that I can't wait for Thanksgiving. I have two bottles saved to have with pumpkin pie desert