Above: An Irish breakfast at Fado. Photos by Mark Woolsey.
While nobody’s going to mistake Atlanta’s Irish Pub scene with the Emerald Isle’s watering holes or fabled spots like McSorley’s in New York, the ATL makes a pretty fair showing. Local offerings range from upscale showplaces to compact, darkish cubbies where you could easily imagine hulking Irish farmhands pairing a Guinness and shepherd’s pie.
St. Patrick’s Day beckons, and while Atlanta area Irish spots will pull out all the stops to celebrate, where do you go the rest of the month—and year—for some true-natured immersion in the auld sod?
Here are some suggestions.
It’s the oldest Irish pub in metro Atlanta, dating back to the late 80s. Named after an Irish railway intersection, it brings the theme off beautifully from a mural showing country folk boarding a train to railway signal lights. It’s really more of a drinker’s haven than a foodie emporium, with manager Joshua Jacob accommodatingly explaining the ins and outs of everything from Irish whiskey to craft gin.
But the food isn’t a forlorn afterthought. Bangers and mash feature savory sausages—seemingly with a bit of filler but nicely herbed—nestled on a bed of horseradish-flavored potatoes. They’re served with tingly Coca-Cola Gravy. Also, a dining companion pronounced the fish and chips among the best she’d ever tried.
Limerick Junction is a tiny spot, but the folks behind the bar have some of the biggest hearts.
Fado—Buckhead and Midtown
Any Irish-in-Atlanta discussion has to include Fado, which Irish investors debuted right before the 1996 Olympics. Whereas Limerick feels a bit frayed, Fado is much more what one wag dubbed “Disneyland.” There’s plenty of stained glass and metal handiwork, with an obvious love of detail.
Alas, the menu didn’t show the same love. The Irish breakfast scored many points with over-easy eggs, tasty soda bread, black-and-white pudding that was meaty and satisfying and sausage that virtually caressed the tongue.
In contrast, the American breakfast suffered from stone-cold eggs and soggy hash browns. In all fairness, a manager was quick to address food and service issues. The place almost feels more like a sports bar than anything else—they open eye-achingly early on weekends for the soccer games across the pond.
And If you go there, don’t get too attached to the surroundings. A full-on remodeling to be done by summer will include a covered patio and a substantial reshaping of the interior, with brighter colors and fewer knickknacks.
The Marlay House—Decatur
In contrast to the somewhat nook-and-cranny layout of Fado (and the Olde Blind Dog, more on them in a minute), The Marlay’s seating area is grouped around a central bar—an arrangement meant to encourage conversation, said part-owner Colin Comer, one of three Irish sibs who preside over the neighborhood-vibey spot.
“We strove to create a place we’d want to go in Dublin,” is how he put it. “We wanted to be authentic and not have shillelaghs everywhere.” You’ll find the usual Guinness signs and football banners but overall less Irish kitsch and more original art.
And the food is very much a part of the conversation. The signature item is the brisket, braised in Guinness, spiced just right and slow-cooked overnight. It’s fork-tender and bursting with flavor. The accompanying gravy is a nice bonus, but you don’t need it—this dish stands on its own.
Tomato basil soup didn’t score quite as well; it was less creamy and more astringent tasting than many. Marlay House has all the pub standard beers, ales, stouts and spirits, but are more local-craft-beer-dominated than many pubs.
The Olde Blind Dog—Milton and Brookhaven
Points for name, even more points for its own brand of authenticity. You’ll find it much lighter and airier, with high-ceilings and abundant lighting creating a spacious feel. It may lack the warm, murky and huddle-up feel of some traditional Emerald-themed gathering spots, but the shepherd’s pie brings you right back to the heart of the matter.
It’s cooked up with the traditional lamb, not beef, and very tender lamb at that, which is ensconced in a rich gravy with peas, carrots and onions and topped with cheesy mashed potatoes. The combination virtually melts in the mouth. Paired with a perfectly poured Irish lager, it’s a joyful brunch item. No wonder this place was voted International Irish Pub of the year in 2015.
Try the cheddar and ale dip; it’ll make you want to lick the spoon once the accompanying chips are exhausted. And should you be undecided about spirits, they have flights of Irish whiskey—a nice touch.
Keegan’s—Kennesaw, Woodstock and Vinings
There’s nothing super-special about the décor, nor is the menu particularly heavy with Irish food. What will keep you coming back again and again are the Irish Spring Rolls, wontons stuffed with lean corned beef and cabbage and Swiss cheese.
Served with a side of Thousand Island Dressing, they whet the appetite for a pint quite nicely. They’re perfect as a small plate, but should they arrive as an appetizer for the crew, grab them quickly or you’ll be left out.