As America’s most Irish-American city, it comes as little surprise that Boston offers a patchwork of 40 shades of Irish pub, many more ersatz than Eire. However, away from the stubborn clichés of “Riverdance,’’ Aran sweaters, and a properly pulled pint, what does this city offer in terms of authentic Emerald Isle charm? As an Irish travel writer who often finds himself here, I reached out to some members of Boston’s Irish diaspora, and we came up with a list of eight spots that would offer familiar comfort to even the most homesick Hibernian.
GREENHILLS IRISH BAKERY
As one of the most iconic locales in the Boston-Irish scene, Greenhills is arguably to Dorchester what Mike’s Pastry is to the North End. A traditional Irish bakery with a strong air of a community hub, fresh-from-the-oven specialties here include floury soda bread, tasty scones, and traditional Irish barmbrack (a delicious fruitcake studded with sultanas and raisins). Staying true to its roots, this isn’t coffee country, so it’s best to pair your selection with a cup of the bakery’s default brew: Barry’s breakfast tea. Greenhills also features a small sit-down cafe area where lunch specials vary from baked ham or roast turkey dinners with mash and gravy ($11) to real-deal sides of Irish stew, made with potatoes, carrots, celery, and lamb ($5). As for the crowd, expect a true Boston and Irish mix, including plenty of native Irish discussing the weather and Gaelic football, Adams Village neighbors, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, a seasoned regular here during his time as a state representative.
780 Adams St., Dorchester, 617-825-8187, www.greenhillsbakery.com
THE BUTCHER SHOP
For Americans, a traditional Paddy’s Day feast might mean a corned beef dinner, but in The Butcher Shop (right next door to Greenhills), owners Alan Gibson and Gerry Donohue are keen to set the tradition straight. “The real traditional meat in Ireland is boiled bacon,” explains Gibson. “Corned beef was actually an Irish-American invention, which became popular during pork shortages.” Fortunately, this welcoming meat store, popular with both immigrants and Bostonians, sells both.
Musts for the shopping list here include stuffed pork chops, gluten-free Irish sausages (made with a secret mix of spices imported from the Motherland), and cured holiday hams. In keeping with Irish trends, game is also making a comeback with pheasant and venison available for those fancying an alternative Sunday roast.
Gibson and Donohue like to call their store a one-stop shop, so keep their shelves stocked with typical Irish groceries from cabbage to Cadbury, Lyons tea to Tayto crisps, and in their Mrs. Murphy’s Kitchen cafe, customers can enjoy a traditional Irish breakfast — with all the trimmings ($11).
782 Adams St., Dorchester, 617-288-5100, www.butchershopmarket.com
Named after the remote barren landscape of north County Clare, the Burren offers something of a timeless refuge from the bustle of Somerville’s main strip. Staff are Irish; traditional memorabilia lines the walls; and in a nod to the Ireland of old, the bar maintains a no-TV (or Bud Light) policy. This is Somerville, however, so visitors can expect urban edges and a funky clientele (my lunchtime visit coincided with an impromptu session of flute and pipes playing from a pair of local hipsters). Music is the pub’s main draw. The venue features nightly live Irish gigs while The Burren Backroom runs regular events from Irish-inspired Americana to native folk, with upcoming shows including a lineup of well-respected Irish performers (including Sean Keane). As for when it’s your round, the bar has almost 20 beers on tap, from Harp to Smithwicks, but don’t overlook trying a pint of traditional Magners cider.
247 Elm St., Davis Square, Somerville, 617-776-6896, www.burren.com
GOAL POST BAR & GRILLE
For perhaps the most authentic pint of the “black stuff’’ in Greater Boston, the Goal Post in Quincy sets the bar pretty high. “I suppose the pub’s not trying be anything it’s not,” explains Galway native Sheila Walsh, who has been pulling pints here for almost eight years. The bar atmosphere is less Enya and more Johnny Cash, where you’ll find friendly punters sipping pints, playing darts, and tucking into the bar’s excellent pub grub: Check out the fresh fish on Fridays, perhaps a throwback to good Catholic tradition. The pub is Irish-owned (by the Irish niece of Boston boxer Sean Mannion), and has kept many of its Connemara ties, making it a popular watering hole for native Irish speakers. “We can have dozens here on a busy night, ordering Guinness and shots in Irish,” according to Walsh. Now, you can’t get more Irish than that.
226 Water St., Quincy, 617-471-6306
IRISH FILM FESTIVAL, BOSTON
“When you’re done with waving all the shamrocks and shillelaghs on Paddy’s Day, come to us to experience the real Ireland,” jokes Dawn Morrissey, director of this year’s Boston Irish Film Festival. The event, which premiers at the Somerville Theatre this week, first began with a humble screening in the Emerson Theatre back in 1999 and has since become the largest celebration of Irish moviemaking in the world, outside of Ireland.
The festival will feature a program of 30 films, from recent releases and classics to Irish-language movies, shorts, and documentaries. Opening night’s top billing is “Volkswagen Joe,’’ winner of the festival’s best film award, a tale of life in 1980s Northern Ireland. There’s also a program for kids so families can get in on the action.
Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square, 617-625-5700, March 20-23; www.irishfilmfestival.com
When Kerry native Maureen Connolly opened Aisling (the Gaelic word for “dreamy vision’’) in 1989 she had an aspiration. “I wanted to give those people who were homesick or mightn’t be able to afford to come to Ireland a chance or a place to feel like they’d been taken back there,” she explains.
Twenty-five years later, the quaint Hingham gallery, located just off Route 3A, continues to draw a steady flow of art lovers from the South Shore and beyond. Within its half-dozen rooms, visitors can peruse (and buy) artworks of Ireland by Irish and international artists, while prints are also imported from the National Gallery of Ireland.
“We’ve exhibited contemporary and abstract works in the past, but we find our visitors prefer traditional scenes of seascapes and landscapes, which they seem to share more of an emotional connection with,” explains Connolly, who categorizes the works as an homage to “a vanishing Ireland.”
As with any Irish gallery tapping into nostalgia, visitors can expect an element of cottage kitsch to the exhibits, but Aisling is not short on impressive finds. Cork-born painter Vincent Crotty and his dramatically brush-stroked oil paintings of rural Ireland are perhaps the collection’s highlight.
An open house evening will also take place at Aisling Monday evening to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and all things Irish, with obligatory offerings of salmon and brown bread, Guinness, and live flute and fiddle.
229 Lincoln St., Hingham, 781-749-0555, www.aislinggallery.com
MR. DOOLEY’S IRISH PUB
At first glance, with its pretty townhouse façade occupying a Colonial corner of Downtown Boston, Mr. Dooley’s has an initial air of Dublin’s Temple Bar (minus the cobbles, of course). Located in the Financial District, the bar has long been a popular spot for young Irish professionals grabbing a power pub lunch, for tourists who’ve wandered off the main trail, or for local students who’ve pub-crawled beyond Faneuil Hall.
Although a chain pub (from the Irish-owned Somer fold), inside the pub manages to retain the original cozy feel of a town hotel in Ireland or coach house lounge.
The classic-style bar is stocked with every whiskey from Jameson to Midleton Very Rare while the Guinness on tap draws a loyal following of regulars. On the lunch menu are a range of tasty bites from an Irish chicken curry ($12) to Kerry mac and cheese cooked with Irish cheddar, bacon, and whiskey ($11). U2 and Van Morrison tend to be the day-time backing soundtrack while live performers take to the stage seven nights a week.
77 Broad St., Boston, 617-338-5656, www.somerspubs.com
MATT MURPHY’S PUB
The small, dimly lit gastropub on Brookline’s Harvard Street instantly hits the contemporary Irish nail on the head. Its sage walls are covered with poetry and retro prints, while quirky French blues add to the eclectic vibe.
If the décor doesn’t delight, the menu should (particularly if kicked off by the complimentary oysters served on Mondays).
For starters, try mussels served in a spicy coconut curry sauce ($13) while rosemary rubbed sirloin ($24) or seafood pot pie ($24) should hit the mark as a main. The fare offers the most authentically Irish dining experience by the virtue that it’s not all shepherd’s pie and stews. But to keep the traditional romantics happy, try the crispy cod and chips ($16) served in a bundle of newspaper.
Thirsty? The cocktail menu here is also something of an inspiration, with the Immigrant (Irish whiskey infused with mango and spices) one to be reckoned with even by Irish measuring standards.
Perhaps of all the finds, Murphy’s is one of the few where you could imagine yourself being in Cork, Dublin, or Galway for the duration of three delicious courses. Or as long as those Immigrant cocktails keep coming . . .
14 Harvard St., Brookline, 617-232-0188, mattmurphyspub.com
Thomas Breathnach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.