Nearly every country in the world has at least one Irish pub. What is so special about Irish pubs that they are everywhere? How is a “foreign” Irish pub different from a true one? Let’s dive into it.
How did it start?
Irish emigrants were the first to start Irish pubs abroad; for example, the first Irish pubs in the US opened as a result of emigration from Ireland in the 19th century. However, the worldwide Irish pub boom started with the architect Mel McNally.
In 1973, McNally did a project on best designs within Irish pubs in Dublin. Later on, McNally and his team created designs for pubs across Ireland and the UK. Those pubs were authentic and looked very much like the pubs McNally studied for his project.
In 1990, McNally founded the Irish Pub Company and collaborated with Guinness to do more substantial research on Irish pubs. The Irish Pub Company and Guinness created the Irish pub concept and exported it to Europe, then to the US, and everywhere in the world.
Of course, it was a chance to increase the recognition of Irish culture, while Guinness used its opportunity to globally promote their product. The result was quite impressive; now there is hardly a place in the world without an Irish pub!
What is special about Irish pubs?
There are more and more companies specialising in consulting Irish pubs abroad, such as Ol Irish Pubs Ltd. and Love Irish Pubs. Should you decide to open an Irish pub in your country, they can supply decorations, furniture and lighting. These companies also recommend potential owners of Irish pubs abroad to hire Irish immigrants.
Design is the key feature that we can see in Irish pubs across the world. Anyone can recognise an Irish pub from its interior; dark wood panelling, dim lights, Irish beer mugs, Irish flags, and framed pictures. All these nuances create a warm feeling of actually being in Ireland – or, at least, somewhere close to it.
Perhaps another important aspect that creates the atmosphere is music. Irish pubs often play Irish instrumental music in the background. It is the kind of music you would dance to, so it creates a cheerful mood, especially compared to popular songs heard in most of the bars and restaurants.
It’s also often the case that Irish pubs host live music on specific days in the week, usually Fridays and Saturdays. Some pubs have live music every evening. That music is not always Irish but does tend to be pieces that you wouldn’t hear in mainstream music.
Of course, there is no Irish pub without alcohol. Beer on tap is an inseparable feature of every Irish pub. You can expect to see Guinness and Jameson, but not only that – usually there’s a variety of alcoholic drinks available.
What about authenticity?
Besides the interior and drinks, it is difficult to say whether a “foreign Irish pub” is close to the authentic one. For pub owners who only care about money, it is common to decorate a bar in an “Irish” way and think it’s enough to call it an Irish pub.
True Irish pubs are known for their atmosphere of friendliness and informality, both between the staff and customers and the customers with one another. For example, it is common practice in Irish pubs for strangers to join you for a drink at your table.
I know some foreign Irish pubs also hold to that same standard and the pub owners want to create that authenticity; the problem is that locals might not be up for it.
In countries where drinking culture is nonexistent, Irish pubs are something they can hardly imagine. In some countries, such as Sweden, people don’t usually go to a pub after work to meet friends and neighbours. The Irish mentality is quite different; in some cultures, it’s not common to talk to strangers. Perhaps that’s where the lack of authenticity comes from.
Another strange thing about Irish pubs abroad is their names – they are often quite unoriginal. It seems like pub owners wanted to come up with an authentic Irish name, but they were too lazy to think of something more than “St. Patrick’s” or “Dublin Irish pub”.
Why did Irish pubs go abroad?
Was it to introduce others to Irish culture, or was it only about marketing? The answer is – both.
For Guinness, it was a global advertisement. For the companies that supply new pubs abroad, it is a way of making money.
Those who started promoting Irish pubs knew it would be a new experience for other cultures. Maybe Irish pubs became popular everywhere in the world because different countries have a vague understanding of Irish culture, which is something different from what they have in their own society. It is because of this that even the interior is like stepping into a pub on Dame street. It serves to give an authentic Irish experience to anyone who visits.
Are Irish pubs abroad worth going?
Some people say a “foreign” Irish pub can’t give you a true understanding of Irish culture. They argue that these pubs are merely a shadow of what an Irish pub really is.
However, the same goes for Italian pizzerias, American diners and Japanese restaurants. They all spread across the world, and unless they are opened by immigrants, we can’t be totally sure about the authenticity of such places.
Yet some of these are authentic enough that they appear in a few different “Top-10 Irish pubs in the world” ratings. These lists include places such as “Healy Macs” in Kuala Lumpur and “Delaney’s Kowloon” in Hong Kong. Those pubs usually welcome ex-pats from Ireland who are looking for that authentic Irish pub experience.
Like anything, there are good and bad Irish pubs in different countries in the world. The bad ones only focus on revenue and pay zero attention to authenticity; the good ones aim to create an authentic experience as if the customer was in Ireland. For some people that can’t afford the trip to Ireland; going to an Irish pub might the closest way to a genuine Irish experience for them.
Have you been to an Irish pub, in Ireland and abroad? What do you think they have in common and what is different? Share your experience with us!