Galway: Eat, Drink and Be Merry was to be about the pubs of Galway, but you will notice the content is about the pub experience, and not my favorite pubs. I felt I needed to talk about the experience of visiting a pub in Ireland before talking about my favorites, and it's too much to include both the pub experience and my favorite pubs. As in all things Irish, pubs are far from being made from the same mold, and vary significantly; but I’ll discuss some things that are consistent. If you live in Ireland, or have been to Ireland, and you see something I've missed; then send a comment.
Pubs are effectively an extension of the Irish sitting room (living room), Many Irishmen do not drink at home, but will drink … sometimes a lot… at a Pub. In particular, if you are sitting at the bar; expect conversation or Craic. It is almost considered rude to not have a cursory participation in the bar banter. This extends to the tables and booths. If the pub is crowded, you should expect to share your table and/or chairs. Again, it's almost considered rude to not offer your table or stools. You’re on vacation, have fun, and get to know some people in Ireland; even if they are fellow tourists.
Living Room Seating for the Musicians
Sitting Room Type Seating at one of my "Favorites"
Most Pubs do not have wait staff (unless they have food), so you will order your drinks at the bar. If you order a round of Guinness and you are not sitting at the bar, you will want to return to your seat, as a Guinness pour takes awhile, and they can back up at the tap. The bartender(-ess) will give you a nod when the Guinness is ready. Then you can pay for the drinks and bring them to the table. This is Ireland, you are on holiday (vacation), relax!! The bartender will take care of you.
You will mostly be ordering Beer, Hard Cider, Wine, Hard Liquor, and/or mixers. Almost all Pubs have taps for Guinness, Smithwick’s, Heineken, Carlsberg and Coor’s Light. I was very disappointed that Coor’s Light has taken over so much of the Irish market, but the Irish give it the respect it deserves ….. and mostly drink it over ice. Most pubs have additional taps with additional European, American, and Asian beers. You will order a pint or a glass. If you say nothing (I’ll have a Guinness), you will get a pint. A glass is a half pint.
A Pint and a Glass
Craft brewing has come to Ireland and each region has its own craft beers that are usually not as bitter as the American brews. Not sure about the Craft Brew on tap? Then ask for a taste …. If you are really into Craft Beers, here is a site that is dedicated to Irish Craft Beers.
Most pubs also have at least one tap for a hard cider. Usually the one cider tap is Bulmers (called Magners outside of Ireland). If you’re not a beer drinker, you may want to try the hard ciders. Many of the pubs have additional hard ciders on tap or in bottles, including pear ciders, and apple ciders with various other fruits. Hard Ciders are served over ice or neat. Cider on tap also comes in pints and half-pints. Cider in bottles comes in pints and "long necks", a 12 oz. bottle.
Wine in a local pub can be iffy. I’ve seen a bartender take a small single serving wine bottle from a side shelf behind the bar, and blow off the dust before serving the wine …. In the larger towns like Galway, you should be OK, but wine is expensive compared to beer and cider. A Guinness will be 4 to 4.5 Euros. A glass of wine will likely be 6 Euros or more … and it will possibly be a cheap Chilean wine.
You will see a wide variety of hard liquors, but not necessarily a wide selection of a particular spirit …. Obviously there will be a wide selection of Irish whiskey, and some pubs will have a very wide selection up and down the price range. Mixers are ordered separately and served separately. If you want a gin and tonic then you will get a shot of gin over ice and a bottle of tonic. The house brand of gin will be about 4 euros and the tonic will be 2 euros and will probably only be enough tonic for one drink. Some of the “top shelf” whiskeys can easily be over 10 Euros, but most are 4 to 8 Euros. In general if you want a mixed cocktail, you came to the wrong country. There are a few pubs/bars that make a nice cocktail like a cosmos or martini … but they are not common.
A Larger than Average Irish Whiskey Selection
For those who want something sweeter, I’d suggest Bailey’s Irish Cream …. most Irishmen don’t drink it, but it is available in almost all pubs. Be careful ordering an Irish Coffee. Not all pubs have “cream” (whipping cream) and many pubs serve instant coffee … not a good start for a decent Irish Coffee, but you can order a “Hot Powers” which consists of a shot of Irish whiskey, some sugar, hot water, some cloves, and a slice of orange. Very good if you need to get rid of a chill.
When I moved to Ireland, I was a little surprised how many pub goers were not drinking alcoholic drinks. Many are drinking the standard soda drinks (diet coke, coke, 7-up, …), or bottled water, or soda water, or Lucozade, an energy drink. You can almost always order a pot of tea or a cup of coffee. Be careful with the coffee, it is likely to be instant. There are several “local drinks”. My favorite is Mi Wadi that comes in several flavors with black currant being the most popular. My favorite is lemon. Another local drink is red lemonade.
Many of the smaller pubs have no food other than bags of crisps and nuts. The pubs that have restaurants, tend to revert to just crisps and nuts after 9 pm. Crisps are potato chips in Ireland. Chips are french fries. BTW, the proper way to eat crisps in the pub: open the bag flat, put it on the table, and share with your group … yes, you must share.
The smaller pubs normally don’t run tabs, and don’t … or don’t easily …. take credit cards, so have enough cash.
The Closing and Opening times of pubs in Ireland is confusing. I believe the confusion starts with the actual rules, as there are regular licenses, early licenses, and late licenses. The closing times seem to vary by the day of the week and if food is served. On a weekends, a pub normally closes at half past midnight (12:30 am), but this seems to be a mere suggestion to the publicans. If you leave after closing, you will probably find the proprietor unlocking the door to let you out. In a “late pub” you may also find that the vibe, flavor, clientele will change about midnight. The average age will likely drop drastically as the young people with more stamina migrate to the late pubs.
Good news for the non-smokers; all the pubs in Ireland are non-smoking. Consequently many pubs now have a beer garden where the smokers can smoke at a picnic table; mostly out of the rain and cold. Vaping seems to be allowed in most pubs.
Outside Seating for the Smokers and the People Watchers
A short discussion on safe drinking. Ireland is a very crime safe country, but it is not wise to significantly exceed your limit while visiting an unfamiliar city or country… you probably prepaid for your room. It’s a good idea to use it … a least for a few hours. Driving after Drinking is severely frowned upon, both socially and legally in Ireland. If you are drinking, don’t drive. I’ve been told, the average male is not legal to drive after a glass (half pint) of Guinness. Parking is usually a pain and taxis are relatively inexpensive. So, use the taxis or walk. You should be able to walk from a hotel or Bed and Breakfast in central Galway to all the pubs I discuss in the next blog.
See You In The Pub!
Jet Lag Jack